First of all, to those reading Our Courage, I’m really sorry it’s taking so long! I meant to have it finished by the end of December, but was busy what with travelling home for the holidays. But don’t worry, I’m still working on it and we only have two chapters + a handful of pages to go.
Second of all, today is my one-thousandth day in Japan! I encountered the same problem counting this as I did when I tried measuring my five-hundredth day – namely, I was out of the country on the precise day-since-I-came, and so had to pause the countdown and restart it when I reached Narita again.
Third of all, we had a “special” dish at school today, almost as if in honor of my special day. Going on three years here, it’s not as common as it was at first that I have my “eating something for the first time” moment, but today was one to remember.
Most of the tray was everyday – white rice, boxed milk, miso soup, pickled radish. And then there was the meat, which came in perfect cubes in a very dark sauce. It was delicious but unrecognizable. Maybe some part of a cow, but it was chewier. Horse, maybe? I always keep an eye out for the very red meat of raw horse – basashi – but I had no idea what it looked like cooked. Perhaps there was a little of the sour taste I associate with sea-creatures - sort of like eel, which is far too rubbery to be to my tastes, but I’ve grown used to it.
I didn’t ask what it was, not for several hours. I’ve learned how to deal with eating things I don’t recognize by not identifying them until they are well digested and past the point of danger. If my mind doesn’t object to something, it’s less likely my body will reject it.
That evening, after we practiced with the kids for their Interactive Forum next month, we started chatting with them randomly about what their favorite animal is. I guess it shows I’ve been here too long – when my mind goes from “cute animal” to “delicious animal” with no hesitation.
“Sensei,” I asked K-sensei, with whose homeroom class I’d eaten lunch that day. I’d noticed him diving for seconds of the meat dish along side his boy students so despite my trepidation, I knew it was something that others were . “What was that we ate today?”
He got the shifty look of one trying to figure out how to handle an unpredictable foreigner. “What do you think it was?”
His reticence right there told me it was not cow. “Some kind of fish?” I hazarded.
“Yes,” he said, and my heart floated with relief. Not horse, then. And I’ve gotten used to eating all kinds of fish. Except – and plummeted as he spoke again. “Very big fish.” Except two.
“The biggest?” I said weakly. He nodded. “Kujira?” I said even weaker. Whale. He nodded again, a gleam in his eye.
Another way you know you’ve been living in Japan too long – when your instinctive reaction to something would not be out of place in a children’s animated cartoon.
I literally clapped one hand over my mouth, the other over my eyes where tears sprang up unbidden. I spun in a circle and collapsed to my knees, peering with betrayed eyes over the edge of a desk while my students pointed and laughed. “Shokku! Shokku!”
A shock I soon recovered from and stood, ruefully wiping my glasses. No point crying over spilled whale.
“Foreigners are sure picky. You don’t eat natto, either, right?” Natto are the fermented soybeans I’ve spoken of before.
I have eaten natto before – once – in a very small portion consisting of a few beans and some slime, wrapped up in an omelet, which a determined teacher served me at a party one time. But I didn’t care to eat it in great quantities, I explained, because of the smell.
“Would you rather eat natto or kujira?” one clever student asked.
“In my mouth, kujira is delicious, but to my brain it is pitiful,” I explained in halting Japanese. “In my brain, natto is fine, but in my nose it is unpleasant.” And indeed, if it weren’t for that brain factor, I would probably be fine with eating both – but since natto’s unpalatable nature was so played up by Japanese and foreigners alike since I first got here, I’ve an automatic “can not eat” reaction to it.
Much the same as to the whale – now that I know what it looks like, I can’t imagine I’ll be able to bring myself to eat it again, even with the pressure of eating in the classroom where I’m supposed to provide a good example by eating everything on my plate. Then again, I don’t think I’ll be served whale anytime soon – K-sensei said that though when his father was a child it was often served as school lunch, it is much rarer now, perhaps only once a year. It is also very expensive, but this school district is comparatively well off.
As we left the classroom, I was asked, “but Emily, wasn’t it delicious?” as though that should be the only consideration.
Yes, I admitted. It was.
But that’s not.