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Visit To Japan Part 2 - We're Gonna To Eat What?

Another remarkable night among remarkable nights was an evening at a sea side spa south of Tokyo. We had ridden the Bullet Train to get to the area then boarded a small private coach to get us to the resort spa. It was a magical journey aboard the Bullet Train at 220 plus mile per hour, a Bucket List kind of event.

After settling into our appointed rooms and at the scheduled hour we gathered in a private room, now dressed in our own Kimonos, “camel toe” socks and wooden sandals and sat upon tatami mats (woven rice straw mats) to enjoy our evening.

In front of each of us was our own table and side table, a simple larger wooden table that contained dishes (charger plate kind of things), a tea cup, tea pot and assorted serving utensils and chopsticks. On another smaller table beside the table in front of each of us sat a pot atop a can of alcohol fuel and another pot also sitting atop a can of alcohol fuel. In one pot we determined it was rice and water awaiting heat to be cooked and in the other pot we were stumped as to its contents.

The second pot was larger than the one containing the rice and it had a tight fitting glass lid covering it. As we all looked at our personal pot we were stumped trying to determine what it was we were looking at, and we all ventured a guess or two as we each offered our own opinion on the “thing” contained in the glass lidded pot in front of us. Finally one of us noticed that whatever it was that rested in the pot was alive and moving, alerting the others; we then all looked down at our own pots and studied the contents through the glass lid. I was shocked to see that what I had determined was to be my dinner was moving also. Now that we had all discovered that our apparent dinners were moving we then began the guessing game that was “Name That Creature.” Our companion Mike finally broke the dam of propriety and said, “I don’t know WHAT IT IS, but I’ve named mine Spot!”

What we were participating in was called Odoriyaki, roughly translated it means, “Dancing Cooking” as it turns out. We all studied each of our pots diligently and we all ventured guesses and we all were wrong. Other than anthropomorphizing our intended dinners by naming them Spot, Thing, Alice and other such names we could not determine what it was we were looking at. To describe what it looked like it in gentlemanly terms is difficult at best, and to venture any description that adequately describes what the critter looked like as it wiggled its way, seemingly clinging, to the underside of the glass lid, may come across as crude and vulgar. But since I have never been accused of being polite or proper I will try to set the scene for you.

Clinically speaking it looked like large labia majoras. Very large ones and ones that had enough muscle control to allow them to grasp glass and traverse the circle of transparent silica that imprisoned it. It was grey in colour and had dark colouring highlighting the edges of the “thing”, kind of like an oyster on the half shell look, but with mobility and a nightmarish creature’s ability to cling to glass. Yes, it was definitely disembodied female genitalia it was decided, and we were then stuck for any further profound or pithy observations. Ten men sat there staring at the slowly moving “thing” as it slithered along the glass lid and all were wondering whether to eat it or have sex with it, at least I was.

The servers for the meal were all females in kimonos, and were very attentive to our needs. No sooner had one of us emptied our sake cup then one of these lovely ladies would appear out of thin air, refill our sake cup and then vanish, returning when needed to refill another empty cup or adjust some errant piece of furniture or piece of the table setting. They poured gallons of sake and we drank gallons of sake, not wanting to offend our hosts by refusing their hospitality because we were nothing, if not polite guests.

All the while as we drank we offered up more suggestions of what the “thing” was and what we each would do with our “thing”. Needless to say, the suggestions or activities would be considered rather “unconventional” for anyone that was not part of the event from the start or who did not drink a lot of sake. I will not wax vulgar any further. Suffice it to say it was fucking funny stuff. Very, very funny. Man stuff for sure. Very funny man stuff.

At one point in the dinner event our attendants came by with long matches and lit the burner beneath the rice pot, topped up all of our sake cups and left us to continue the important discussions we were all engrossed in (world peace, global finance, business ethics, breasts, etc...). After a number of delicious courses were served and about the time the rice was ready, our faithful attendants reappeared with the long matches once again and lit the burner beneath our wiggling and clinging acquaintances.

This is when things got disturbing for some of the dinner companions. As the heat from the flame increased and the pot heated up, Spot, Thing, Alice and the other doomed critters began to squirm and wiggle as the heat bore upon them. Hence the name - Dancing Cooking!!! They writhed and wiggled like a drunk white guy at a disco. We all watched our individual dinners meet their demise with some manner of misgiving, perhaps some shock or anguish even, and then finally the creatures stopped moving and the steam rose from beneath the lid to offer up an oceanic-like smell, quite pleasant actually, at least for me. “Thing” had expired, leaving me with a fond memory of our brief relationship but yearning to taste what was making that great smell as the steam escaped the pot. Goodbye Thing. I hardly knew Ye...

Then with theatrical aplomb our attendants appeared once again, kneeling in front of each of us, and wielding long slender forks and knives they removed the now still creature from our pots, placing it on a wooden cutting block, removed the meat from the shell (up to this point none of us knew the critter had a shell) and began to slice it into bite size pieces. It turns out the creature was an abalone, a sea snail that has a shell on its back and the muscle (labia majora) is what keeps it clinging to a rock that it lives on, see pictures below. I had eaten them (abalone!) in the past as part of a Chinese dinner but had never seen a “live” one. So now I knew what it looked like as did the rest of the guys, and some of them were not relishing the thought of eating theirs, sitting quietly for the moment as they stared at their own personal abalone, sliced and ready to eat, lying in front of them.

I dug into mine and finished it off in short order. My dining companion to my right passed on his and I ate that one too. My dining companion to my left also passed on his so I consumed that one as well. They were delicious. The whole meal was delicious if not a trifle psychologically disturbing and we decided the only way to remove the graphic images of the dying shell fish, cum writhing female genitalia from our minds was to drink more sake. So it was and so we did. Lots and lots of delicious sake.

Once the dinner was cleared from our tables the real drinking began, (Japanese love good booze just like us Canucks), we played drinking games, drank more sake and then the Geisha performance began. Now for many people when they hear Geisha, they think escort or prostitute, and the Geisha is not that at all. Having said that, it was not uncommon in past practice for a wealthy man to keep a Geisha as a mistress but I don’t believe that is current practice. The Geisha is a hostess trained in the art of conversation, dance and song. It was at that point after the drinking games were completed that our Geisha began to dance and sing accompanied by an older Geisha that strummed a single string guitar like object as the musical accompaniment to the singer.

I will not criticize the performance but I cannot say I enjoyed it either. It was an “experience” for sure, but one that if I never repeated I would not be disappointed. The singing is an acquired taste for sure and given it was sung in Japanese made it just sounds for me. The guitar thing however was horrid, again an acquired taste to be sure. I am used to western music whereby the musicians layout a melody that the singer sings into. Flowing and harmonic melodies, enhancing the singer and the song, honouring the lyrics and producing enjoyment to the listener, this Geisha plucking guitar thingy did none of that.

It seemed to me that the plucking of the single string was a random act intended to put the singer off balance vocally and physically, and if that was the intent, it succeeded admirably. If it was intended to be music it failed for me and the others, but it was an experience that while not Bucket List, was time well spent I have to admit.

Prior to the performance beginning and at some point throughout, our guide and translator offered up a description and the intended meaning of the dance and the lyrics the Geisha was singing and performing for us. He went on to describe the guitar thingy as an ichigenkin and the ichigenkin is strung with cat gut. At that point Gary closed the show and brought down the house by declaring loudly, “Finally! Someone found a good use for a cat!” Thus spoke a drunken sod and so too did the rest of us drunken sods laugh hysterically.

After a couple of eating adventures in Japan I have developed a fond admiration for those people on television that travel the world filming exotic locales and the foods of those exotic places. No one does it better than Anthony Bourdain in his TV shows and anytime I watch him eat something that would normally be sent to the garburator in most kitchens, like the episode in which he ate deep fried pork anuses in some Asian location, I ask myself as I watch “I wonder if I could do that?” Usually my swallower does a quick flip at the thought and I immediately tell myself, “Not fucking likely!” Go for it Anthony. I will live vicariously through your exploits.

The term for the abalone slaughter /meal is - awabi no odoriyaki. Mmmmmmmm..... The recipes that follow are very, very good and no abalone will be harmed in their preparation.

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