The Kimochi Warui Diary
Before leaving Tochigi, we stopped at a conveyor-belt sushi restaurant.
It wasn’t quite lunchtime or suppertime—the restaurant was mostly empty. The only other patron was an overweight Japanese man in grey sweatshirt and sweatpants.
Eventually, a waitress appeared to show us our seats at the bar. She pointed at the tablet affixed to the wall and showed us how to order by touching our selections on the screen.
She didn’t try speaking any English to us—we were far from Tokyo, after all. Even the road signs don’t bother labelling their English equivalents. We managed to communicate that we wanted some beers, and she went off to retrieve them.
Jotaro was flipping through the pages on the touch screen, cycling through progressively more expensive rolls of sushi.
“Holy shit, we can eat whale sushi?”
We loaded the tablet with our orders and sent them to the chef. Some minutes later, the conveyor belts brought them out on specially marked plates.
The slice of raw whale meat was dark red and, laid atop the small lumps of rice, looked just like any other piece of sushi. Jotaro picked up the roll and dunked it in some soy sauce. Then, in an exaggerated Japanese accent, said “Fack yu whare!” and shoved the roll in his mouth.
After savoring the flavor for a few moments, he gave his assessment:
“Yeah, it’s just OK.”
As for me, I started with the basics: a simple salmon roll.
Surprisingly, this was the first time we’d eaten sushi in Japan.
I’ve been told that the Japanese sushi is far superior to what they serve in America. Even in California—where we share the same ocean with Japan—it’s nothing compared to the way the Japanese sushi is prepared.
After all, our sushi restaurants in California are often ran by Koreans; the sushi itself is made behind the scenes by Mexicans; and we can only image what’s going on with the fishermen at the ports.
While race or ethnicity certainly doesn’t dictate your ability to make sushi, you can’t deny that culture likely does. The sushi made by a native Japanese, born and raised in Japan, would be leagues different than anyone else’s.
But enough talk—I would find out for myself with my salmon roll!
First, I lifted the salmon piece to find a small dab of wasabi underneath—something you’d never see in typical, American sushi. In America, you’d likely anger someone by sneaking wasabi into their dish!
Suddenly, I recalled a friend telling me that sushi was originally designed to be eaten with the fingers—a habit enjoyed by the ancient Japanese elite. Whether or not it’s true, there’s no denying that chopsticks are now the norm.
I wielded the chopsticks—a skill that, even after a lifetime of practice, I still have not mastered—and firmly grasped the sushi. I placed the sushi in my mouth, savoring all the flavors and textures. At the beginning, I preferred not to use soy sauce or wasabi, because I wanted to taste the rice and salmon in its most pure form.
Yes… Surely, this is the way that Japanese sushi is meant to be enjoyed.
The fat Japanese man in the sweatpants, just a few seats down the bar, called for my attention.
He stood up and walked over to me. Unlike those in the city, nothing about his expression looked pleased or interested in my being a foreigner.
“I show you…” He said. “I show you right way eat a sushi.”
First, he filled a small dish with soy sauce. Then he took my chopsticks, picked up my sushi roll, and dunked it repeatedly in the soy sauce.
Droplets of soy sauce flew from the dish and onto the counter.
Goosh, goosh… goosh, goosh.
The roll was completely soaked with black sauce. When he finished his work, he put the roll back on my plate. He even tossed a few wasabi packets in my direction.
I smiled reluctantly and gave him my best “arigatou,” hoping he would leave after that.
But he didn’t.
He stood there, glaring at me until I forced the soy-sauce drenched pieces of rice and fish into my mouth.
“Delicious,” I said and gave a thumbs up.
He then returned to his seat almost looking angrier than before—as if he’d just handled a minor perturbance. He continued to drink his beer, eat his sushi, and watch the TV without looking at us again.
Shortly after, we paid for our meal and left. We walked to the station in silence.
And then, Jotaro said suddenly:
“Hey, what the fuck was that guy’s problem in there?”
“I don’t know,” I said. My mind was racing with hundreds of thoughts as to why the man had reacted that way. Was the way I was eating sushi really that strange?
Jotaro put on his best Southern-redneck accent:
“Seaweed eatin’ harbor bomber! Sit down ‘n eat yer rice!”
Sorry, but I burst out laughing.
“You’re a racist piece of shit,” I said.
“It’s just a joke,” Jotaro said. He took out a cigarette and lit it.
He was right about one thing, though:
What was that guy’s problem in there!?
For once, I felt better leaving the question unanswered.