The Japanese seem very interested in food – several TV channels are devoted exclusively to cooking.    Most of their food is delicious, and the presentation of even inexpensive meals is generally exquisite.   It is however very different to our own, and there is considerable room for misunderstanding.

 I should perhaps just mention here that at present (December 2010), Japan is prohibitively expensive for British visitors.   We were already cushioned by the fact that our wonderful accommodation was provided by Elisabeth and Rob; and we suspect our children tactfully used their local knowledge to find affordable restaurants etc.    The rise in prices seemed beyond what you would expect in the normal way, even allowing for the weakness of the pound.   For example, 4 years ago we bought Elisabeth a lacquer box about the size of a foolscap folder, with storks on it; the cost was £30.   This time the equivalent would have cost £300 (it may have been better quality of course, but even so…)    Two coffees and a cake cost about £20.

 Shopping for food in Japan (i.e. food to eat at Rob and Elisabeth’s home) was a deeply depressing experience.    The shop is stuffed full of wrapped goods.   They are all named entirely in Japanese.    You do not recognise what any of it is.   When you look closely at any item, you have never seen it before; you have no idea what role it performs in the diet;  left to your own devices you would regard it as inedible.   Eventually you realise you do recognise a few things – fruit juice, say.    But these are not like any you have eaten previously.    When you eat them, they do not taste quite as you expect.    (For example, eggs taste so sweet and peculiar you wonder what bird lays them?)    But finally you round up a few articles which might do.    They cost an exorbitant amount.

 Eating out also brought difficulties.   As each customer is found a place and crosses the threshold to go to their table, all the staff, waiting, kitchen, everyone, shouts.   Elisabeth thought it was something along the lines of, Let’s all welcome these people and enjoy our food together.   We of course did not respond very favourably to shouting as we entered and this then meant that the entire duration of your dining was punctuated by endless shouting.

 We had sushi in a restaurant in Ginza (Tokyo) where we were the only non Orientals.   In the middle of the floor was a large fish pool that the waitresses (in kimonos) had to step around.   One did hope that the fish which lay on our plate had not been swimming in that pool.   Sometimes it is better not to dwell on things too closely.   Although much of Japanese food is genuinely delicious, it is sometimes better just to close your eyes and eat.   Some things, if you allowed yourself to examine them in any detail, you would never be able to swallow.


Breakfast, Western style, was good enough, but it was never quite right.    I found it especially off-putting to see and smell our Japanese fellow diners tucking in to what appeared to me to be the same as they’d eaten the previous night.    In the meantime, we would start our breakfast with a dressed mixed salad,  then sausage, scrambled eggs, bacon etc but it never tasted quite right – too sweet.     One is surprisingly to being served chips, broccoli and carrots for breakfast.

 You get attractive ‘bento’ boxes of rice and cold dishes to eat on trains.  One hot day John bought 2 bottles which we thought contained apple juice – but in fact it was a hot Japanese tea in a bottle – quite good.   We also drank beer – good – and hot sake of which I could discern no taste, just a sensation of fiery alcohol.

In our ryokan in Miyajima we had very good European style meals, beautifully served.   When we left (tipping not being acceptable) I shook hands with the waiter and thanked him for his good care of us.   He took my hand, but he bowed his head completely over it.

One thing about Japanese style meals is the exquisite elegance of the presentation,   and sometimes I would sit, not particularly enamoured of rice – yet again – but coveting the ceramic dishes.   I guess we are as addicted to the potato as they are to rice.

Although I have discussed some minor difficulties, I should emphasise that Japan has a lively and healthy cuisine.    It is rare to see a fat person in Japan.