30 June, 2008

food life in japan

On Saturday we toured the Meiji Jingu shrine (happened to see a beautiful and solemn traditional Shinto wedding procession there), Harajuku and all of its fashionable madness, Asakusa and the temple and souvenir shops, and Odaiba's packed skyline and peaceful bay. It was an exhausting day, but enlightening; I felt like I got closer to the pulse of the city than I ever have before. I'm still not sure what to make of it, but maybe that's the secret of Tokyo's draw: it forces one to suspend all judgments because even if you try to make them, you'll be thwarted by the sheer dynamism of this place.

Even though it was fascinating to see all of these different parts of the area, I think my favorite part of the day was sitting on the rocks by the bay with Diane, taking off our shoes and listening to the lapping water, squinting to make the skyline look prettier. (*A side note: Tokyo is, by any respects, not a strikingly beautiful place. There is no gorgeous skyline or breathtaking landscape. However, the attraction of Tokyo lies in finding those pockets of beauty scattered throughout the city. I have found them on occasion and they are so refreshing because they are almost always startling. "What! Something beautiful in Tokyo!") We sat there for a while, just resting and talking of many things. We even got to witness two high school boys jump ship from one of the dinner boats, swim to an island of rocks, and proceed to strip down to their boxers, cheering and waving the whole time. This place is never dull, that's for sure.

An excessive amount of photographs from this day tour have been posted to Flickr. Enjoy them at your leisure.

One more aspect of Japanese life that I am really drawn to is hara-hachi-bu: the principle of eating until one is 80 percent satiated. When I asked about it, my host father confirmed that this was a very important aspect of Japanese food life. Basically it means, don't gorge yourself on food; eat proper portions and waste nothing. Compared to American food, Japanese portions seems horribly miniscule--but I think this is a purely psychological reaction, since we Americans have been trained to expect truckloads of food every where we go.

At first, I too thought all of the servings looked tiny, and I was sure I'd still be hungry afterwards, but I've found this is really not the case. Now that I'm accustomed to smaller Japanese portions, I find that they are just right. This is one of the contributing factors, I'm sure, as to why the Japanese are almost all very trim. (I've only seen a few fat people here, and one of them was a sumo on the train, so that doesn't even count.) And why nearly 65 percent of Americans look like blimps. Plus! By using chopsticks, one is not tempted to shovel food in one's mouth, as one does with a fork or a spoon. Chopsticks are brilliant. I would eat with them every day back home if it wouldn't look so Asian-pretentious...

So. Anyhow. I plan on working harder to adopt this philosophy of eating into my daily life when I come home. Who knows? I might even write a book: Japanese Women Don't Get Fat...

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