Teach Me How to Sushi

The octopus on my chopsticks was staring me down.

It didn’t have eyeballs, but it may as well have.  It had those weird suction cup things, which is almost as gross.  I knew I had to put the chopsticks in my mouth, but it wasn’t happening.

“You’re spending a lot of time staring at your octopus,” commented Walt.

“I’m mentally playing ‘Eye of the Tiger’ to try to pump myself up for this,” I responded.  The other teachers laughed.  I chuckled nervously.  Dan commented that he’d already eaten his octopus, and it “really wasn’t that bad.”  Easy for you to say, Dan.  Yours is safely in your stomach where it can’t feel all slimy and gross in your mouth.

I guess I knew I would have to eat some weird foods in Japan, but today takes the cake.  Our hosts decided to take us to a FANCY place right down the street from Harry Winston and Prada stores, where a sushi chef taught us to make our own sushi.

Now, in case you don’t know this about me, I don’t like seafood in any iteration.  I don’t like it baked, I don’t like it grilled, I don’t like it fried, and I CERTAINLY don’t like it raw.  My general rule of thumb is “if it has been in the ocean at any point in time, I do not want to eat it.”  So today, when I watched a guy chop a head off of a fish and then I had to eat that same fish a few minutes later?  Yeah, not great.

I used to think sushi was the rice and seaweed rolls that American college students go buy when they want to feel cultured.  That’s not sushi.  That’s only one very specific type.  Real sushi looks like this:

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What I had to eat today was (from left to right), tuna, salmon, yellowtail, shrimp, octopus, squid, eel, and seaweed-wrapped egg.  The chef dude taught us how to create the rice balls, add the wasabi, and form the disgusting meat of choice around our creation.  The thing about this type of sushi (or any, really) is that you can’t take a “no thank you” bite and then claim to have tried it.  If you don’t put the whole thing in your mouth at once, rice and wasabi gets all over the place, and then you look like an idiot.  So not only did I have to try these disgusting foods, but I had to eat huge mouthfuls of them at once.  This pot was sitting behind me, and I was glad in case I had to puke in it.

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The other teachers were hard-core making fun of me, because most of them love sushi and saw this as a delicious culinary experience.  Freaks.  I had to pump myself up for every bite.  The squid was the worst.  I had to chew it for FOREVER.  I couldn’t even pretend to like it.  I finally just took a huge drink of water and swallowed it, but then I gagged and almost made use of the puke pot.  Which, obviously, the teachers thought was hilarious.  One of them said, “I don’t know what was more fun about this – learning how to make the sushi or watching Christine try to eat it.”  At one point in the meal, our leader came to fill up my water and said, “You’re doing great, girl.  You can do this.”  Oh, great.  I need my own personal cheerleader to finish a gourmet, probably very expensive lunch.

Eventually, after a lot of willpower and wondering why on earth I came to Japan, I finished the whole meal.  Whooo hooo!  I thought, “Man, I deserve an award for that.”  Guess what?  They gave me one!  I think the award is actually for learning to make sushi, but it’s in Japanese so I’m pretending it says, “Christine finished all of the gross food on her plate and didn’t even puke in our very fancy urn.”  I did feel sick for a while afterwards, but I kept it all down.

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After a few more informational sessions (today’s topics: Japanese economy and the declining birth rate), I had the chance to go to an onsen, or Japanese hot springs bath.  Because of the volcanoes around Japan, there are a lot of natural hot springs where people can bathe.  Tokyo has capitalized on this.  At an onsen, you trade your clothes for a yukata, or Japanese robe.  Then, at least at this particular onsen, we went into a main area where there were restaurants, games, and shops.  It was was weird to be walking around barefoot in a robe with a bunch of strangers, but hey – I know I could never do this in America.  Might as well do it here.  My fellow teachers and I got some dinner (cold noodles with pork on top, but it was AWESOME compared to my lunch), and then we went through to the hot springs.  You have to take off your yukata to bathe in the hot springs, obviously, so that was kind of awkward for a minute.  I’ve never seen so many naked people.  At least it was a women’s only portion, or I definitely wouldn’t have gone.  We spent the majority of the time trying to make sure the tattoo on Beth’s shoulder stayed covered, because there were about a million signs saying that tattoos aren’t allowed.  I think that’s kind of a funky rule, but we learned from our guide that apparently having a tattoo automatically means you’re part of a gang.  So we had to hide it.  Luckily Beth has really long hair.  We went to a corner on some rocks under some trees, and it was pretty dark out in the first place.  It was a wild but really fun experience.

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Tomorrow we are meeting with some Japanese social studies teachers in the morning and then heading home with our host families for an overnight stay.  I’m pretty nervous about that.  Happy Fourth of July to everyone back home – I wish it was a holiday here too!

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