Simanaitis Says

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MAYBE IT was yesterday’s intelligent octopus talk here that got me thinking about a favorite cuisine. On the other hand, learning more about this octopod also got me thinking about seeking less intelligent foodstuff.

In any case, my love of Japanese cuisine encouraged me to glean tidbits from one of my guidebooks, Terry’s Japanese Empire, 1919.

It was tasty back then and it’s worth a try today.

Japanese Empire, by T. Philip Terry, F.R.G.S., Houghton Mifflin Company, 1919.

The full title of this guidebook is Terry’s Japanese Empire including Korea and Formosa, with Chapters on Manchuria, the Trans-Siberian Railway, and the Chief Ocean Routes to Japan. The title’s territorial aspects were the result of victories in the Sino-Japanese War, 1894–1895, and the Russo-Japanese War, 1904–1905, both of which evolved after Japan ceased its isolation imposed by a 300-year rule of the Tokugawa shogunate.

Japan and its Possessions, 1919. This and other images from Terry’s Japan.

The Trans-Siberian Railway was a portion of a European’s recommended travel itinerary to Japan. Terry’s notes, “From Yokohama to London, 14 days.” By contrast, “From San Francisco… via Honolulu to Yokohama, 17 days.”

The guidebook notes, “While Dai Nippon is a land of singular and abiding charm, its countless strange customs and significant shadowing oftentimes are too veiled and subtle to be readily comprehended…. Many things one sees are misleading, and those which appear the most simple sometimes are distinguished by an astonishing complexity.”

Of Japanese food, Terry’s observes, “It is as much the delight of the native—whose tastes are catholic, and who regards the Nipponese cookery as the best extant—as it is the despair of the foreigner, who considers most of it mawkish and unsatisfying.”

On the other hand, the guidebook’s descriptions are anything but unappetizing. “The soy-bean ranks first in extent, variety of use, and value among the pulse of Japan…. It is to the Nipponese what frijoles are to Mexicans and garbanzos are to Spaniards. Of the numerous varieties some are made into curd, and into the widely celebrated bean-sauce (the Worcestershire of Asia) called shoyu.”

We also know it as soy sauce.

The guidebook continues, “The Japanese first became acquainted (in 1542) with bread and similarly baked goods through the Portuguese, and from them they adopted the first article and called it by the Spanish pan; and a spongy, saffron-yellow cake, which they named kasutera (pronounced kas-teh-rah) from Castile.”

“The average Japanese,” the guidebook says, “lives temperately and frugally, but eats noisily and rapidly…. An elaborate Japanese dinner comprises many trays each of three or four courses, and usually much more than a sane person should eat at a sitting. The custom of sweeping the food (with chop-sticks) into the back of the mouth, then washing it down with soup drunk from a bowl, and without chewing, gives rise to the national complaint, dyspepsia.”

“Rice is called by many names,” Terry’s advises. “Men say meshi; a more polite term is gozen; and the cultured term (used by ladies) is gohan. Foreigners soon grow fond of the unusually excellent native rice, which is cooked in such a way that every grain retains its integrity, yet which is just sticky enough to permit a mass to be lifted easily with chop-sticks without dropping a grain.”

What a perfect description of properly cooked Japanese rice.

Sake and beer are popular,” the guidebook says. “Generally speaking, the Japanese are a sober people, and drunkenness is not a national vice.”

Shinjuku Omiode Yokocho (Shinjuku Memory Lane) Image from SoraNews24

I suspect T. Philip Terry, F.R.G.S., never toured Shinjuku Memory Lane nor Nigerian-run bars of Roppongi. Come to think of it, Terry’s cites neither of these. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2017

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This entry was posted on September 15, 2017 by in Just Trippin' and tagged , .
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