A peculiar culinary milestone took place last month: the 400th anniversary of the first English roast beef dinner served in Japan. You're forgiven for missing the fanfare; there wasn't any, save for a commemorative meal at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo.

This inaugural roast was prepared by the crew of the Clove, the first East India Company ship to arrive in Japan, for the 26th daimyo of Hirado, in present-day Nagasaki Prefecture. Apparently he was so pleased with it that he requested it again a month later. (You can learn more about this and Britain's first trade mission to Japan at www.japan400.com.)

While foreigners in Japan are often caught moaning about the lack of quality whatever it is they miss from home, this is a fine opportunity to reflect on just how far things have come. According to professor Timon Screech of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, who lectured at the FCCJ dinner, the beef spent several long months at sea and would have been heavily salted to compensate for the lack of refrigeration. As recorded in the log of ship commander John Saris, it was served with turnips and onions. Potatoes didn't exist in Japan; they may not have even caught on yet in Britain.