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The Japanese Pride Themselves in The Distinctiveness of Their Cuisine

April 18, 2019

The author, in the inaugural flight to take up residency in the Far East, left San Antonio, Texas in October 1968. The flight plan included a Boeing 707 to San Francisco, another 707 to Anchorage and then on to Tokyo for a few days before relocating to Bangkok. Needless to say, everything was a blur following what was at least two days of travel but there was a commitment to have dinner with a Japanese colleague shortly after landing. As a walking zombie, an appearance was made in a fancy Japanese restaurant and my friend ordered. When the appetizer arrived, there was great discussion among my friend, his wife and daughter about what the treat represented. As the morsel was captured in my chopsticks and heading for my mouth, he said it was an unborn bird with feathers. As they examined their serving on the table, I dropped mine in my lap and urged the bird to find its way to the floor. I am sure we have all eaten similarly strange things, but I would challenge anyone to do it after 48 hours of flying.

Therefore, the generally recognized "rule compliant" Japanese people recently took a radical departure from the world norm and declared they would resume their hunt for minke whales for the first time in many years. Occasionally, the author did try whale meat in Japanese restaurants while living there but it was far from being a favorite. It is similar to reindeer or moose though few people would contemplate ordering reindeer sushi while kujira sushi is whale meat. The Nikkei Asia Weekly recently published several articles outlining the Japanese thought process to toss seafood convention out into the ocean.

Fisherman in the Japanese village of Taiji have historically depended on whaling to support their population of some 3,000 people. When Japan stopped commercial whaling some thirty years ago, annual whale meat consumption had fallen from a high of some 230,000 tons in the early sixties to some 3,000 to 5,000 tons. Whale meat had been popular for school lunches given its nutritional value and low cost but it was falling out of favor long before the ban. Following the ban, the villagers sustained themselves by catching dolphins and those whale species that were not protected under the International Whaling Commission (IWC), such as pilot whales. Also, the villagers were able to catch minke whales for research purposes to demonstrate the sustainability of the species.

At the end of the day, Prime Minister Abe stepped into the fray and supported the decision to withdraw from the IWC and resume whaling. The Japanese government's insistence on whaling demonstrated the resolve to refute what has become an active movement to restrict the use of marine resources. Japan's position on whaling is a strong step to prevent other bans on fishing as the country relies on fish for protein. At the same time, Japan will join Norway and Iceland as rogue whaling nations. It is a bit difficult to think of those three countries being rogue nations while Kim Jong Un continues to wave his nuclear warheads at the world.

Japan is often criticized for being the biggest consumer of bluefin tuna which the International Union for Conservation of Nature considers endangered. In light of the powerful Japanese demand for fish in their sashimi and sushi-oriented diets, they are putting their money into fish farming utilizing artificial intelligence and drones to improve the efficiency and reduce the inherent costs. A system is currently being tested that employs video cameras to measure the size of fish and monitor feeding programs.

As feed is the biggest cost for farmed fish, the timing and appropriate amounts are critical to a successful fish farm. Therefore, artificial intelligence applications have been developed to measure the length and width of farmed fish to manage the feeding program. Reduction of wasted food will increase in importance as the world population and its appetite for seafood grows. The World Bank and the Food and Agriculture Organization predicts that aquaculture production will reach 903 million tons in 2030 representing 62% of demand. Computerized applications have been developed to function on iPads or even iPhones. Can you imagine an "old salts" (ancient mariners) utilizing such technology to manage their fishing operations?

In Japan's main oyster-producing region, sensors are being attached to buoys to measure water temperature and salt concentration, while drones search for oyster larvae and observe tides. These data are then analyzed as to time and location to attach oyster spats to shells. Therefore, improving the economics and efficiency of all seafood production is a most worthy objective.

While the United States is now a strong opponent of whale consumption, it attempted to promote it during times of food shortage. The head chef of Delmonico's restaurant once prepared a luncheon of whale meat under the auspices of federal authorities at the American Museum of Natural History in 1918 given the shortages of beef during WWI. Similarly, the Japanese fell back on the old staple following WWII given food shortages at the time. In Japan the practice of distributing whale meat conforms to the Buddhist concept that it is better to sacrifice a single animal to feed many. Accordingly, some traditional schools of Buddhism support eating whales while condemning the consumption of shrimp. On the other hand, there is nothing sinful about being a vegetarian particularly if unborn birds with feathers are the alternative.

The way a table is set contributes to the ambiance of your meal as much as the food and wine.  Spice up your dinner table with our unique collection of tabletop items made of exotic woods from the Far East such as coconut wood, sugar palm wood and tembusu wood.

Wood Elephant Cutting Board
Wood Tongs (2 sizes)
$9.50 - $15.00
Wood Elephant Salt and Pepper Set
Wood Salad Serving Set
Shallow Slotted Wood Serving Spoon
Wood Elephant Bread Board/Trivet

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