On March 6, in a banquet room of the Hotel The Manhattan in Chiba a group of television camera crews surrounded American chef Jeff Ramsey as he carefully spooned a layer of black rice onto a slice of omelet.

"The chef is using something black. What could it be?" a reporter whispered into her microphone, in a tone that recalled old "Iron Chef" episodes.

Murmurs of speculation continued as Ramsey balanced a black-and-gold roll on top of a ball of vinegared rice.