New: foreigner-friendly Japanese food


“Yokoso Japan!” is the slogan for the current Visit Japan campaign, which according to their Web site was designed “to promote foreign tourist traffic to Japan.” I just hope the foreigners don’t bring their cars.

I would like to do my part in the campaign by suggesting some fundamental changes to the country to make it more attractive to foreigners. More foreigners would come to Japan if, for example, the food were a little more international-friendly. After all, the Americans invented the California roll — a sushi roll made more palatable to their tastes by adding avocado. Every country changes international food to fit their people’s tastes. The U.S. has done the same with Tex-Mex (Texas-influenced Mexican food), and in Japan, you’re likely to find raw fish among your Italian food. This is called “fusion” food, where seemingly incompatible foods are fused together, creating an explosion that people from outside of the country of the food’s origin find pleasing but which the people from the country of origin find appalling. So here are some ideas to introduce fusion Japanese-Western food to make it more foreigner-friendly.

But first we must talk about eating methods. Although most Westerners can use chopsticks nowadays, there are still a good number of the “totally hopeless” (such as my meat-and-potatoes family) who can’t make the change from flatware to stickware. Who came up with the idea of using two parallel twigs to pick up food, anyway? And why hasn’t the concept changed over the years to something more modern — for example, wire coat hangers that you could bend to shape according to the food you’re trying to eat? Have you ever tried to pick up a boiled egg with chopsticks? How about soft tofu? With a coat hanger, you could bend it into a scoop to pick up a boiled egg, or you could make a miniature forklift to lift out pieces of soft tofu.

Eating a salad with chopsticks can be very tedious for the totally hopeless. At least a variation of chopsticks would be useful. Just tie the chopsticks together on one end and make the other ends into salad tongs, for example.

Or better yet, we could change the food to make it easier to eat with chopsticks. Bits of salad could be cubed into bite-size pieces so you wouldn’t have to pick around in your salad with your chopsticks trying to match up all the good parts. Hey, they mold chicken into “nuggets,” why not salad? To make salad nuggets more Japanese, they could wrap them in little bundles with seaweed ties.

“Udon” noodles are way too long for most Westerner, who don’t really enjoy having food trailing out of their mouths. Besides, grabbing slippery noodles requires repeated attempts by the totally hopeless. Short round noodles, where both ends of the noodle connect to make a circle, would be much more foreigner-friendly. Then we could use one chopstick to ring the noodles one by one.

Some Japanese food is better disguised. If fish heads and “natto” were concealed inside a ravioli pocket, we’d have a chance to taste the food before seeing what it really is.

While “okonomiyaki” is one of foreigners’ favorite Japanese foods, some people are put off by the dried bonito shavings served on top, which make it look like someone left the okonomiyaki under an electric saw at a construction site. To me, however, what is far more threatening is that lob of mayonnaise on top. The servings of mayonnaise in this country are big enough to be served a la carte. For first-time visitors to Japan, go easy on the mayo and wood shavings.

Some food is just too small to be taken seriously by foreigners used to large thick steaks and mammoth baked potatoes. Japanese food served in microscopic portions can be, well, disappointing. Even “yakitori” can appear downright puny. If they could get those chickens to increase their bust size a little, it would yield more breast meat and chunkier yakitori. Big food is sure to impress a foreigner, so the Japanese could really take this idea and fly. I’m thinking “turkey-tori”: turkeys on bamboo poles.

Now, there. Yokoso Japan!