Days 4-5: New Foods
One thing people always talk about when comparing Japan to America is the level of service at restaurants, stores, hotels, etc. For the most part, you don’t have the whole “what the hell do you want?” attitude from service workers here. Instead, people are polite and very helpful in any store you go to. Whether or not they’re sincere, it doesn’t matter really, but they at least play the part very well. I had McDonald’s for breakfast the other day, and even though the guy had some kind of stuttering speech impediment, he was about ten times nicer than the normal McDonald’s workers you would run into in the states. You don’t have to go up to the counter and wait for the employees to finish up their conversation about the latest trailer park gossip before grudgingly having one come take your order after losing the game of paper-rock-scissors with their co-workers. Here in Japan, before I even entered the door, the Japanese McDonald’s worker was standing at the ready, smiling, and happy to push the “Filet of Fish” button on his register. Yes, you can get the fish sandwich for breakfast. It is Japan, after all. The only similarity I can see between American and Japanese McDonald’s workers might be their teeth, because damn.
One more quick story about customer service in Japan. I was leaving my room a bit late on Friday, around 12:30 in the afternoon, and had already received a note under my door saying that room cleaning goes until 3, and they wanted to make sure they could clean my room if I wanted. I called the housekeeping number before I left the room, and while I was waiting for the elevator, I heard the maid down the hall get a call on her cell phone or walkie talkie confirming the request to clean my room. Talk about service.
The past 2 days have been somewhat boring and non-blog worthy. I’ve actually been doing my research, acting like a spy inside department stores and such, and later this week I’ll be making a lot of phone calls I think. But this blog’s audience, all 3 of them, want to hear things at least 5% more exciting than that, so here we go! When I say “wasabi,” what do you think of? Hopefully, after skipping the Budweiser commercials and Jackass: The Movie in your mind, you will arrive at “that green paste you eat with sushi.” And you would be correct But did you know that wasabi doesn’t naturally come as a green paste? For lunch the other day, I ordered some combo meal that had some zaru-soba and chirashi (see left), but it also came with some fresh wasabi (生わさび). The store seemed to specialize in that or something, because they even had little bags at the table where you could take home your leftover fresh wasabi. Fresh wasabi is a type of root, and kind of looks like ginger. They give it to you on a little dish with a grater on it, and you grind the root into a green paste that is a lot less neon-looking and not as chemical-tasting as the normal wasabi-in-a-tube stuff that everyone, even Japanese people, are used to. It tasted a little less spicy and more vegetable-like, which was good. I would recommend trying it if you get a chance. The picture below here is of course the fresh wasabi, half grated down so you can see the paste.
In other food related news, I got to add a new animal to the always in-progress “Animals Anthony has Eaten” list. Whale! Yep, I was at a kaiten sushi place and they had raw whale sushi (くじら) so of course I had to try it. It was pretty expensive for that place, 315 yen for 2 pieces, but I wanted to try it since I’d never eaten the blubbery creature before. It was a very dark red, kind of like a beet, meat. I think it’s a fish, right? The taste was very meaty, kind of like beef, but it was also very fatty and a little stringy. It’s not as chewy as squid, but definitely took a good deal more chewing than normal fish sushi. The taste wasn’t too bad, although there are definitely other fish that I would rather eat. I would have taken a picture, but the place was pretty busy and I was sitting right across the counter from one of the chefs, and I was afraid he’d knife me or something. But hey, at least I got to try a new food.