On Tuesday evening we stayed at a hotel in Nikko. The hotel combined features from a western hotel and a Japanese guest house. Our bedroom reflected both styles. One half had carpet, beds, a desk, and a TV, the other half had tatami mats, Japanese cushions, a tea table, and space for futons.
In the countryside restaurants close very early and we decided that it would be more convenient to eat at the hotel. The meal probably cost more than the room as they were serving kaiseki ryori, the Japanese version of haute cuisine. When we first moved to Japan I avoided this sort of food as I could rarely work out what I was eating and at times even how to eat it. I assumed that by now I wouldn’t be surprised by the food I was served, but I was wrong.
We were given 13 courses, four of which we could choose ourselves. I’m not very good at recognising types of fish from pictures so I will admit that for one of the choices I just pointed at a picture and hoped for the best. We were served tofu, tempura, pickles, grilled fish, steak, beef stew, and soba, all of which I have eaten before. The third course was sashimi, raw fish. This was the course that I picked from the pictures. The waitress had two plates, one with sea trout and the other with something I thought she called “dreaming fish”. I picked the sea trout as I don’t really like looking at fish heads, and the dreaming fish had the whole body of the fish with the sashimi in the middle.
After the waitress put the fish on the table she kept looking at us expectantly. She pointed at the fish and again I thought she said “dreaming fish”. We smiled at her, not having a clue what she was waiting for, and then looked at the fish. It moved. The head of the fish was moving. It was then that I realised she had been saying “living fish”. We were given food that was still moving and continues to move while you eat its cut up insides! I hope I managed to hide the look of horror on my face. I could not have eaten that fish, I could barely look at that fish. After that course the strange stringy stuff in broth, the unknown squishy vegetables, and the rice served in a bowl of tea were incredibly easy to eat – at least they weren’t alive.