Twenty years ago I went to live in a small village in rural Japan, ostensibly to teach English, although my real reason was to learn Japanese. As I was working for the Japanese government, my first few weeks were crammed with rather formal parties known as ‘enkai‘ which were mainly attended by middle aged Japanese men and the odd token woman, whose primary purpose was to flutter around serving the men food and beer. As the foreigner (with long blonde hair and blue eyes to boot!) I was the star guest – a lovely position to be in as everything was free and I was treated like a princess. However, the difficulty of these events was that no one could speak a word of English, and at that time I could say little more than konnichiwa!
On one particularly stuffy occasion, after having been subjected to a multitude of tediously long speeches, I noticed a tiny, kimono-clad woman shuffling across the room towards me. As the star guest I was the first to be served. ‘Dozo,’ she said, bowing very low. ‘Please help yourself.’ And she proffered a large basket filled to the brim with shellfish. The speeches stopped and everyone turned to look at me. Still not au-fait with chopsticks, I tentatively leaned in and attempted to pick out one of the prawns. With relief I succeeded in extracting it from the basket and dropping it onto my plate. But no sooner had I done that, did it jump off and scuttle to the end of the room. I shrieked out in shock and the whole room erupted in laughter. I later discovered that once the prawn is on your plate, you’re supposed to take off the shell, dip the poor creature in soy sauce then stuff it quickly into your mouth, breaking its back with your teeth. After that you swallow it. My friend tried it once. ‘Never again,’ he said afterwards as he couldn’t forget the sensation of the wriggling legs as the prawn disappeared down his throat. Having said that, you can’t beat live prawns for freshness, cruel though the manner of death might seem by western standards.
This post is part of SoCS