Japan is…one of the most foreign places I’ve ever been in all my travels. The culture hits you like a velvet hammer as soon as you step off the plane. The hushed efficiency amidst the insane energy of the gigantic city made me recognize my otherness more than any other place I’ve been. You are an clearly an observer & outsider when you walk the streets, navigating the unspoken rules of courtesy and order. The trains silently and swiftly glide to a stop exactly on time as the everyone files in and rides in silence.
And so, like a lover playing hard to get, Japan continues to intrigue me.
I remember trying to buy a ticket on the next train leaving to see the giant Buddha at Kamakura, and the ticket agent politely telling me, “I’m sorry, but we are almost out of tickets for that train.” I pressed her, “but I only need 2 tickets…” Firmly, but gently, she repeated, “We are almost out of tickets.” Then somewhere deep in my brain the light clicked on, and I remembered reading that it is rude to say outright “No.” in Japan, and that this nice lady was actually telling me ever so nicely that there were no more tickets. I put on a smile and corrected myself, ordering tickets for the very next train and was on my way.
It was a memorable lesson for me about how different this place was than my own home where we are so direct and in your face. How rude we Americans must seem some time!
And then again, there’s the case of how to properly eat noodles in Japan. To get the best flavor of the ramen noodles & soup, one is to loudly slurp the noodles, aerating the soup as it hits your palate. All of my training at home said that this was sooo rude, but I dove in & slurped away at giant bowls of hand made noodles and broths that cooked for days & days. One time, I ordered from a vending machine and couldn’t read any of the words, so I just randomly picked a button and hoped for the best. TWO giant bowls of ramen AND curry showed up steaming before me for a hefty lunch as I stood at a counter next to other locals. Everyone slurping away and throwing down all these carbs as I did my very best to keep up. I returned my half-eaten meal tray in shame to the kitchen after I gave up. Next time, I’ll train harder for these kinds of meals!
Returning from my adventures in Japan, I am left with how Japanese food has such a focus on getting the best ingredients and applying precise technique to let those elements shine, without too much adornment to get in the way of the pure flavors.
Next month, we are excited to bring you a Japanese adventure where we will teach you some of the building blocks of Japanese cooking that layer on each other to create a beautiful meal. Sign up now to receive the Japan box as your first shipment in May and let us guide you on this culinary adventure on the other side of the world through spices, recipes, travel tips & music!