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The sakura season is here, but which one?

by Amy Chavez

The sakura season is here! The question is, does this refer to the horsemeat season or the cherry blossom season? It’s hard to tell when the Japanese use the word “sakura” to describe horse meat, which is pink. Sakura nabe is not nabe made with cherry blossoms, for example, but nabe made with horsemeat. So, is it the horsemeat season or the cherry blossom season? Is it kanpai or is it mmmmm!

In Nagano, which has one of the highest horsemeat consumption rates in Japan, it may be both seasons at the same time. You can get horse sukiyaki in Nagano as well as otaguri — a stew containing horsemeat and internal organs. I don’t know if you can get the same stew with external organs, or pianos. They say that in Nagano, horsemeat is so popular, it is even prepared at home. Do you think that after you cut off its head the horse runs around like a chicken does? That could really do damage to your kitchen. Or maybe the appealing thing about horse meat is that you can take a ride around the paddock first: Try before you buy.

Interestingly, a recent study announced that men in Nagano live the longest in Japan, with an average of 79.84 years. Apparently, some people believe this could be due to the high intake of horsemeat in the Nagano region. If true, horsemeat doesn’t seem to do the same thing for women as Okinawa has Japan’s longest living women. And just in case your morbid mind is wondering, the prefecture with the shortest lifespan for both men and women is Aomori, where men live to be an average of 76.27 and women to 84.80. Obviously, men in Aomori who are 76 years old should just move to Nagano to add a few years on to their lives.

It has been reported that Japanese consumed 7,461 tons of horsemeat in 2012, but that doesn’t tell us much. Why don’t they tell us how many horses the Japanese consumed? Or how many horses the average person in Nagano consumed? Wouldn’t it be more helpful to say something like: The average man in Nagano consumed one draft horse per year whereas women consumed as much as half that many ponies. We can, however, get an idea of how much 7,461 tons of horsemeat is if we compare it with that of beef. Japan, Asia’s biggest importer of beef, bought 515,108 tons of beef last year. So beef is still far more popular than horse.

Nonetheless, it gives new meaning to the saying “a one-horse town.” A one-horse town in Japan is one you could starve in. And believe it or not, there is a Japan Horsemeat Association. Makes you wonder if there is a Japan Octopus Meat Association and a Japan Sparrow Meat Association too.

While Japan has specialized restaurants for everything from noodles to pork and beef on every corner, there aren’t nearly as many dedicated to horsemeat. And I’ve never seen a cute caricature of a horse smiling and wearing a cooking apron the way you see images of cows, pigs and chickens on restaurant signs. Furthermore, I haven’t seen any clever restaurant names such as “The neigh-borhood Horse Shack.” This indicates either that horsemeat isn’t really that popular, or that caricatures of edible horses crosses the line when it comes to equine cuisine. After all, horse racing is very big in Japan.

I recently talked to a vet named Lisa, who does horse rescues in the United States. She has 23 horses on her farm, most of which she has rescued from mistreatment or starvation on farms. She told me an interesting story about a rescue from Japan. Lisa’s friend, also prone to rescuing horses, found out that one of Japan’s retired race horses was going to the meat factory. So her friend got in contact with authorities and asked if she could buy the horse. While she was at it, she bought a couple other horses in Japan who were also headed to the butcher shop. She paid to have the horses shipped to the U.S., where they are now living out their retired lives grazing in green pastures and being eulogized in pastoral oil landscape paintings. The total sum of the rescue? Over $70,000. While dogs may be man’s best friend, horses have always been the American woman’s.

I’m not a meat-eater myself. I don’t see the difference between eating a horse or eating a cow. I just don’t enjoy eating my fellow mammals. But even I can have a little fun with this horsemeat thing. After all, lots of people eat absurd things. American Rocky Mountain Oysters anyone? Now tell me that eating bull gonads isn’t funny! Would you care for a side of fish sperm with your sushi? LOL. You get the idea.

I’m sure that if people did eat horse in the U.S., you’d be able to buy it in the supermarket. I can see the advertisement now, “Wild horse meat — only 5 bucks!”

And if we did have a Neigh-borhood Horse Shack, their advertisements would sound like this:

“Feeling fenced in? Come on over to the Horse Shack! For breakfast, race in for our famous Sea Biscuits and Gravy.” Our lunch special, the International Velvet Burger with mare-inated mushrooms, is an Anthony Hopkins favorite. Tonight’s mane dish is your choice of Black Beauty Steak or Arabian Horse Kebabs, both served with withered clover and alfalfa salad. We also offer a Surf and Turf option: Quarter-Horse steak with three quarters Horse Mackerel. Our children’s menu includes Pony Pot Stickers, Miniature Horse Sliders, and the Mr. Ed Burger, for $5.99 each. On weekends, meat your friends at our Bar 4 Lounge and listen to live music by Bob Geldof. Thank you and we hope to see you soon at the Neigh-borhood Horse Shack: where everyone can eat like a horse.”

Our guarantee: If you don’t see your favorite brand of horsemeat on the menu, come into our back room and talk with our Ferrier.

Have a happy sakura season!

  • Mark Brafford

    as always enjoyed your story. My first experience, and there have only been two, the display was like a large flower. I began eating and said this is the freshest salmon I have ever eaten. My host, father of a friend and Shimoda Yakuza boss, said it was raw horse meat. I was more than surprised but continued to eat, out of respect, fear and it was tasty and something I thought I would never eat again.

  • El Jefe

    I’ve eaten horse sashimi two or three times now. It’s always been delicious and much more tender than I would have expected. I don’t feel bad about it because most of the horses I’ve known have been real jerks.

    Back in the day, Americans regularly ate horse meat. It was cheap and lean. Horses were used for work, and could be disposed of on the dinner plate. Imagine driving your car until it hits 70,000 miles, then enjoying it for dinner!

  • tsygan

    This article manages to be speciest, sexist, badly-written and in poor taste all at once. Even if you don`t agree that eating these highly intelligent and emotive animals is disgusting, cultural relativism aside, at least treat the topic with some dignity. Someone wrote their article a couple hours before the deadline, didn`t they? (Oh, and before you make any assumptions, I`m a guy.)