Some sushi lovers are extending their passion for Japanese cuisine into the world of arts and crafts. From clothing to candles and jewelry to children's toys, rice rolls and sashimi are inspiring all manner of crafty marvels.
Giulia Negro, a 24-year-old Italian, fell in love with sushi years before she tasted it. “I love sushi’s elegant shape and vibrant color. I decided to explore making bracelets,” she said.
Sarah Worley lived in Japan, but only when she returned to her native United States, did she find sushi that she had never seen in Japan - uramaki with rice outside the seaweed. Now, her handmade "inside-out" sushi earrings seem to have almost as many fans as the rolls themselves.
During a Japanese tea ceremony, remember to slurp the last drops of tea from the bowl.
Among all the etiquette and quietude of a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, the slurping might seen out place, but it’s a more than acceptable way of saying thank you.
“Nosily drinking the last of the tea means that the guest has enjoyed it,” says Shirai Yayoi, a tea master for over 50 years.
Over that period she has perfected all the elements of “chado” that when translate to English is closer to “tea-ism” than tea ceremony. It’s more apt, too, as all the training of a tea master and the rituals of the ceremony date back to Japan’s medieval samurai society and are underpinned by four principles from Zen Buddhism: harmony, tranquility, respect and purity.
Ask five Tokyoites to name the best sushi restaurants in the city, and you’re likely to get five different answers - the old "how long is a piece of string?" quandary.
That's because the sushi experience is a very personal one that can include not only raw seafood, but also things like unmatched service, chefs whose skills were honed by years of apprenticeship, an atmosphere that screams “traditional Japan” and, in many cases, a whopping bill. Because of all this, any one traveler’s favorite sushi experience is going to largely depend on budget, interests and previous experience with the cuisine.
As a child, Ashley Richards found ramen noodles frustrating to eat. She had to wait for them to cook, wait longer for them to cool, and once they were ready, "it took so much effort to get the long noodles into my mouth without making a mess."
Eating them uncooked was much easier. So after stomping on the cellophane to break up the noodles, that’s how she enjoyed her ramen - straight from the package. She’s 25 years old now, and still prefers it her ramen raw.
"Crunch it up in the package, pour into a bowl, and sprinkle with oriental flavoring," Richards says. "Yum!"
Much has been written about the relationship between the French and their cuisine, but one could also argue that the people of Japan take their love for food a step - or several galloping strides - further. Where else is it common to embark on weekend trips, the sole purpose of which is to sample several varieties of a single dish?
Modern Japanese kyodo ryori, or regional cuisine, is a tourist attraction all of its own, with a signature dish for nearly every major city.
What do tomatoes, cheese and mackerel have in common?
They are all responsible for umami, the slightly mysterious fifth basic taste now counted alongside sweetness, saltiness, sourness and bitterness. Umami is often likened to savoriness, but defining exactly what it tastes like can be tricky.
If you have two mini-tomatoes and chew them 30 times before swallowing you should feel a strange sensation that spreads in your cheeks. That, according to chef Kiyomi Mikuni, is the umami taste.
Compared to the snaking queues and crowds at Tokyo’s biggest food festival, the four stalls from Fukushima prefecture are an oasis of quiet.
It might just be a pre-lunchtime lull, but among the hundreds of stall owners and the thousands of hungry visitors to the nine-day "Furusato Matsuri" or "Hometown Festival" at the Tokyo Dome, it’s a reminder that for many from Fukushima prefecture, getting rid of the legacy from last year’s nuclear disaster is ongoing.
Business is okay, says Ici Masakani, who is selling steamed sea urchin to visitors, but normally works at a restaurant on the coast of Fukushima prefecture. The main question he is asked by customers is not if his steamed "uni" are safe to eat and radiation-free, but why they are so big.
“I have a little challenge for you,” my editor began, employing the disingenuous tone of an adult trying to convince an eight-year-old that math homework is fun. “I want you to put together a food guide that would reflect what it’s like to eat in Tokyo right now, in 2012.”
I blinked, wondering where to begin. With literally tens of thousands of places to choose from, Tokyo is a food lover’s paradise, and composing a shortlist of restaurants is more than "a little challenge."
These days, the city offers a mind-blowing array of options - from traditional favorites like sushi and tempura to creative, cutting-edge cuisine that’s hard to categorize.
You can find just about anything your heart (and stomach) desires, which is exactly why I love eating in Tokyo, even if it makes my job harder.
Think back to your younger, broker (or possibly drunker) days, when you enjoyed home-cooked beans folded into instant mashed potatoes and eaten hot from the pan, or ice cream piled onto your favorite donuts. It's cheap, tasty and satisfying as all get-out, but most definitely not about to find itself on any Michelin or Zagat lists.
The term "B-grade food" sounds just plain weird, implying something less than great. Yet stroll into any Japanese bookstore and you’ll spot dozens of magazines and books emblazoned with the characters "B級グルメ" - "B-kyu gurume." So why is second-rate dining so hot right now?