(This is part three of a series of posts about my impressions of Japan. Please forgive any generalisations, inaccuracies and the taint of a mindset unaccustomed to the East)
This post is loosely concerned with food and socialising in Japan. Cherry blossoms, sushi, cats, apples, bars, and more, including pictures.
Hanami (cherry blossom fever)
The Japanese are bonkers about cherry blossoms. I was lucky enough to be there during the hanami season when cherry blossoms are blooming and everybody makes a point of going to parks to see them, sit under the trees and be merry. People even take pictures of the blossoms, even though, presumably, they see them every year. The cherry blossoms only last two or three weeks, which makes this a very special season. I am very glad I got to see it.
Besides the horrible Maid Cafés I mentioned in a previous post, Japan has a number of other very worthwhile themed cafés.
Cat cafés have cats walking and lying around which you can pet. I went to one of these and the cats seemed well cared for. These cafés are, after all, essentially for people who really like cats but can’t keep one in their apartment. Lots of couples seem to visit these cafés.
The Moomin café near Tokyo Dome has several dolls of Moomin characters which are placed on chairs with diners. You have to wait quite a while to get in, though, as it’s very popular. There are also not enough dolls for every table, but the waiters make sure they get circulated, so you should have some time with one. If you happen to like the idea of eating with large cute stuffed toys, this is the place.
Weird food, including sushi
You get all kinds of interesting sushi in Japan that are hard to find elsewhere. I had my first taste of eel, sea urchin, horse mackerel and even actual raw horse meat. I also had a strange fermented bean mixture called natto (which is horrible, but quite interesting). There also all kinds of things made from rice, including sweets and, of course, sake.
I am used to seeing only small apples in supermarkets. I am told that this is because South Africa exports all its large apples. Well, in Japan, you get humumgous apples that you can barely fit in your hand.
Ryokans are a traditional form of Japanese accommodation where you have to take your shoes off, your host is dressed in a kimono and you sleep on a futon (a mattress on the floor, which actually consists of tatami mats). There is also, typically, an onsen (a hot spring). I spent one night in a Ryokan (this one) in the town of Yugawara. My host even gave me an umbrella when I left.
A bar culture
It appears that there is quite a bar culture in Japan. There are small bars where the owner knows just about every customer and the customers also know each other. In some bars new customers are even turned away if the owner doesn’t like the look of them. I was taken to a small Africa-themed bar called Tribes in Tokyo. The owner has been to quite a few places in Africa, including South Africa, makes his own boerewors and even stocks appletizer, grapetizer and peartizer. It’s worth going if you’re ever in Tokyo and you want a good setting to tell your Japanese friends all about Africa.