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Visit To Japan Part 1 - It and Thing, The Unswallowable Critters


Back in November 2008 I was part of a group that traveled to Japan to tour some factories along with some select customers and meet with representatives of those factories. In the group I was the senior company employee and we were joined by a factory representative, another company senior manager and seven customers or the customer’s representative. It was a great group to travel with for the week we were there and many laughs and fond memories were created. Many of the fond memories were because of the food.

The trip started as we all gathered In Vancouver the evening before the flight and with that, a welcome dinner was organized at Gotham’s Steakhouse and great steaks and fine wine and liqueur were in abundance. Along with some great food and table service were great jokes and fits of hysterical laughter, usually at someone’s expense, and at that point I knew we were in for a great trip. Male bonding is done best with steak and liquor, the more the better and we had plenty of both.

Once aboard the Japan Airlines 747 we were treated to service beyond compare as we luxuriated in First Class watching TV, sipping cocktails and eating damn good food. Being in the front of the plane we were also able to walk around to keep the blood flowing and chatted and visited with each other at a bulkhead that offered snacks and a place to set our drinks, it was marvelous.

At one point I walked up to a couple of guys in our group that were standing there sipping their drinks and eating some snacks, as I looked at the packages of Japanese snacks laid out before them one package caught my eye. It was a package containing a dried seafood thingy, in fact, I think it was dried squid, but I’m not altogether sure, regardless, it looked like a male foreskin except it was dried out completely and flat, but the shape was reminiscent of it so I commented, “That looks like foreskin!”, at which point one of the four guys standing there replied in a deadpan retort, “Funny, it doesn’t taste like foreskin.” We all dropped laughing hysterically given his response and the trip remained at that level for the duration. Men, liquor and free time; a dangerous combination resulting in juvenile antics and comments. Such fun....

Throughout the trip we were blessed to be dining on fantastic food, touring interesting places and viewing dramatic architecture that fills Japan from ancient to ultramodern. We spent a night on a private boat or better yet, a floating restaurant/ karaoke bar, slowly touring Tokyo Bay and viewing the jaw dropping skyline of downtown Tokyo as it illuminated the night sky, casting spiritually warming reflections on the water. As the night-time panorama unfolded before us on the boat we dined on a feast of traditional Japanese foods like sushi, sashimi, tempura and a host of other items too numerous to mention but all fantastic and delicious, unbelievably so . Then with enough liquor to instill courage, the karaoke began and a full on frontal assault of the sensibilities began. What a night, and not a singer in the bunch, except for Sam.


We ate world class Italian food, had some of the best Chinese food I have ever sampled, great steaks and the Japanese food! Oh my God, the fantastic Japanese food! I will savour the memories till the day I die. Teriyaki, Shabu Shabu, Seafood, Tempura, interesting varieties of rice and my favourite discovery - Japanese curry. The recipe in this link Japanese Style Beef Curry is my recreation of that wonderful curry dish I enjoyed at the Hotel Okura in Tokyo and it blew my mind, so I had to find and tailor a recipe to try to honour the Chef at that fine hotel with my effort and I think it worked very well. But first I must describe a couple of nights that will live in memory - forever.

One evening a dinner was organized in our honour at the Seryna restaurant on the 52nd floor of the Sumitomo Building in Tokyo. Seryna is a Shabu-Shabu restaurant, Shab-Shabu translated means, “Swish-Swish” - you swish the food in, what is in essence, a hot pot full of boiling broth, and the ingredients are served fondue style. You are served thinly sliced meats (in our case it was Kobe Beef), seafood and a wide variety of vegetables. You then dip the offerings into the boiling broth that is placed in front of you until the item is cooked to your liking then you eat it. Simple and very, very, very delicious. Expensive too, but worth every yen. 

The restaurant is on the top floor of the building and our seats overlooked Tokyo Bay and as we looked out at the scene before us I am not ashamed to say it was an emotions triggering view. Awe inspiring does not describe the scene adequately.

The table was set up for fourteen of us to sit seven aside, facing someone, and sharing a hot pot with that person as well. At the center of the table on my side was Mr. Big a senior executive with the company ownership and our host for the evening. Mr. Big is a well spoken and well educated man who spent time in Canada and his English language skills were top notch, he is very bright and is a very enjoyable person to spend time with. Seated across and diagonally from me was Gary, a senior manager with the company and a very bright, well spoken man, and a very funny guy, he was seated directly across from Mr. Big and one needs to know that Mr. Big was our boss ultimately.

As is expected in a formal dining setting, as each dish or course was served, all diners would wait to ensure all others were served before beginning to enjoy theirs, so once the last person received their dish the rest of us would begin to eat ours - all together now, anna one, anna two, anna three... Very polite dining choreography if you will.

The dinner was served in many courses and each course was presented in a visually appealing manner, deftly and professionally placed in front of us to enjoy. It seemed the appetizers would never stop but the servings were small and they kept coming and coming and coming. When each one was placed in front of me I went in with gusto and slurped it up quickly, eagerly awaiting the next ones arrival. At about the third offering a little cup was placed in front of me and I looked down at it to take in the artistic presentation which was absolutely wonderful, then after admiring it for a suitable and respectful period of time, the chopsticks went in for the retrieval. Up to this point the food was met with great delight by my taste buds.

I placed the chopsticks into the little ceramic cup, about the size of a shot glass, and lifted the morsel out and placed it in my mouth. As I bit down on the “thing”, my internal “this is not going to end well” alarm went off, a disturbing five senses full blown alarm, but I gamely soldiered on. I decided that chewing the “thing” was not going to end well so I swallowed “It” quickly, or rather tried to swallow “It”, but “It” was not interested in being swallowed, no, “It” wanted to come back to my mouth to be chewed some more. So as I sat there trying to force the “It” down my gullet, “It” was resisting with some equal and indestructible force. I was beginning to sweat.

My heart was screaming at my swallower to swallow and my mind was yelling at my uvula, “Be still uvula, be still!”, but my uvula was having contrarian ideas thus “It” was going up and down my throat, repetitively and quickly - like a hookers panties when the ships are in port. I was in full heavy sweat mode by this time, desperately trying to force “It” down my throat and avoid an international and potentially career limiting dining faux pas.

I was in trouble. Big trouble. Unfortunately for me as I was having this seemingly lethal internal fight, I happened to look up across the table at my Shabu-Shabu dining co-pilot and I discovered that he too was having a gustatory disagreement with himself. I looked at him as I was trying to swallow “It” one more time, he looked at me, our eyes met, and there was an immediate awakening that told each of us, that each other is in big trouble. Very big trouble. As is the norm in a situation like this where plenty of liquor has been consumed (sake in our case) and death seems imminent, the combatants bond as one to take on the enemy whilst laughing as they head to what will be their last stand. And so we ventured into the abyss together. It’s a guy thing.

As he kept his stare on my eyes and I kept my gaze on his eyes, he cracked an involuntary, fear induced, wide eyed and shocked “Oh fuck! This will not end well" bemused smile and I uncontrollably did the same in return. Soon the smiles became snickers and then full on roaring laughter, all the while we were trying desperately to keep it quiet, respecting the dignity of the environment and our host, but we were quickly losing that battle too.

As we were trying to do the Marcel Marceau laugh I happened to look over at Gary who was chatting with Mr. Big as he was eating his morsel and I see that he is also having difficulty trying to put “It” down his gullet. He looked at me, tears were running down my face, and I seen immediate alarm registered on his face as he gave me the “You prick! Do you know what you have done now?" look. He started to crack an involuntary smile while he continued to try to avoid his own potentially career limiting swallowing incident in front of Mr. Big. He was failing fast.

Being the professionals that we were, we pushed on, and “It” finally succumbed to our masticating efforts - we swallowed it, in unison, en masse. As we sat there still shaking, trying to calm our swallowers, we all reached for our sake cup and took a shot, and then another and another, celebrating our victory over “It”. We had more or less gathered our wits or rather half wits by this time, and waited for the now empty cup that had contained “It” to be removed and another dish presented to take its place, knowing for certain that anything that came after “It” would be far better and easier to swallow. We were all wrong. Very, very, very wrong.




Our Kimono clad server placed another cup in front of us, again, it was on a plate and surrounded by greenery and shredded vegetables, completing yet another artful presentation of the food, eerily similar to the last swallower reversing offering we did battle with. Like the previous four offerings we all waited until all others were served before going in with the chopsticks. Alarmingly like before, we all ended up engaged in our own personal battle with what turned out to be another critter or piece of critter that refused to be swallowed, and we all privately prayed that the hoped for end result would be similar to the “It” incident ending, meaning, no projectiling. Or so we hoped (I discovered that hope is indeed the last refuge of the doomed that evening). Turns out the fight was far worse and the desired end result was more difficult to obtain with the latest iteration of “It”. Far, far more difficult.

I looked at Gary as he placed “It, The Sequel” in his mouth, I did the same, as did my fearless table mate across from me, we did this simultaneously, and the realization that we were each facing our own personal train wreck came to each of us simultaneously as well. The texture of the “It, The Sequel” was very soft, almost squishy, “It, The Sequel” was definitely a raw, ocean-sourced something or other, and very unpleasant to the sake drowned taste buds that occupied our throats at that time. “It, The Sequel” was fishy-like, gelatinous, wiggly, but “It, The Sequel” was fortunately dead, non-animate or non functioning even, but it was a traumatic shock to the uninitiated palate none the less, for had “It, The Sequel” not been so (dead), there would have been a cacophony of sounds emanating from our mouths not heard since the Donner Party sat for dinner in the snow bank. I shudder at the thought...


My brained sensed “It, The Sequel” was not to its liking after the first chew so the brain then put the jaw muscle into the feared “mandible lock” position, and there I sat, alarms ringing in my head, sweat gathering on my brow, my swallower had the emergency brake fully applied and was now shifting into full hi-range reverse. I was picturing in the theater of my mind all manner of unpleasantness that was about to be unleashed by my swallower; from ruining the now bubbling cauldron of broth in front of me, to unemployment, and on to me suffering shame and ridicule due to my faltering swallower, these thoughts all occurring in an instant. I had only two questions in my mind that needed answering at that moment, they were: “Do these windows open?” and “Will my life insurance pay out if I am successful?”

It was Gary who smiled first, he was the first to usher in the chaos that was soon to engulf the three of us, then it was I, followed quickly by my table mate, “Once again into the breach dear friends” was our mantra, and the fight began again. I started to laugh, out loud, unrestrained, as I tried to chew “It, The Sequel” then swallow said critter. Gary was heading for the hysteria induced unemployment line also and my customer and table mate was gasping for air, laughing hysterically without much sound and grabbing his stomach. All of this was happening in as circumspect a manner as was possible given the circumstance.

I laughed, coughed, swallowed, swallowed again, and again, and again, and again. Gary and our comrade in arms did the same. We were diligent swallowers it turns out but what was needed was not diligence, it was help from above. I invoked Gods Grace to help me get though that situation and for an Agnostic that is saying something and He mercifully granted me Providence and began to calm my internal conflict. Then I looked at Gary once more and my internal conflict overpowered the Divinely granted Providence and what was up till then circumspect and stifled laughter, became full blown guffaws exploding from my mouth, my tablemate following suit. There we were the two of us engaging in hysteria induced by our gag reflexes, laughing uncontrollably gasping for air. Pity Gary who, facing our boss, was desperately trying to hold it all together. He was failing fast.

Gary looked at the two of us laughing our asses off having finally achieved victory by swallowing “It, The Sequel” in all its wiggling fish flavoured Jello wiggling glory and he started to laugh as he looked at us, which then caused Mr. Big to look our way and what he saw by that time was two guys laughing at what could only be a funny joke and he too smiled at us. The growing choruses of smiles caused us to laugh harder, inducing stomach muscle cramps which forced me to launch from the table allowing me to look away from my table mate and Gary, and I began to calm down. After a moment or two, calmer now, I looked back at Gary again to see how he was faring, I then had to look away again. Turned away. Looked again. Turned away. Looked across. Turned away. Looked again. Each time I looked at them, things got worse for all of us.

With tear stained faces and aching core group muscles, civility and decorum finally reappeared and we completed the Shabu-Shabu meal that was nearly our career ending evening. It was quite a night as we sat above Tokyo Bay enjoying each other’s company and fighting “It” and “It The Sequel” to a satisfactory conclusion, together as one. Comrades. Drunken, silly comrades. We did not dishonour Mr. Big that night I believe and we marched together, victorious, unknowingly as it turned out, to another encounter with a tenacious enemy at a spa a day later. See spa visit and Dancing Cooking in a later posting...

Click here to read Part 2

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