Friday, July 28, 2006

On our son's excellent East Asian adventure—good luck trying to explain kashrut to the Japanese

Those who expressed their concern for our son's health after that stupid auto accident—yes, we have a lawyer on the case—will want to know that he's currently seeing a chiropractor. I’m happy to report that he’s getting to the chiro on his own, via subway.

In other news, our son said that the town in which he studied Japanese scientific and technical terminology for six weeks is extremely clean—there's no littering whatsoever, and storefronts and house exteriors are hosed down just about every day. It's also hot as bleep.

Food-wise, that particular town's cuisine includes lots of eggs, but no decent cheese (which is tough for a "milchig man" like our son, who practically lives on the stuff), and, unfortunately, not much as much fish as one might expect on an island, either—though a seaside town, that town is, evidently not on a sea that's good for fishing. And rice is grown everywhere where there's a good piece of land for it, even in between apartment buildings. The cultivation of rice necessitates daily care—my son wonders whether wheat farmers are considered relatively lazy, by comparison.

In between classes at the local university, our son did lots of touring and partying. So it I guess it was 95% work, 5% play.

Students attending the program spent time living with a host family, and were advised to bring gifts for the hosts that were, preferably, somewhat out of the ordinary. So our son showed up with a box of matzah! (How he managed to pack it well enough that it didn't arrive as matzah farfel, in pieces—or, as Elvis Presley would say, "all shook up"—is beyond me.) Our son said that it was easy enough explaining the rituals and food restrictions of Pesach/Passover. But explaining year-round kashrut took him half an hour. According to him, the Japanese don't observe any dietary restrictions that are not related to health. (They don't even diet, per se—it's just built into the culture that overeating is a disgrace, so it simply isn't done.) The assumption seems to be that the Japanese diet is restricted enough as it is, and consequently, the whole idea that anyone would voluntarily avoid eating any given food or combination of foods on a permanent basis is beyond their comprehension. Why would anyone avoid eating pork, when pork is a major part of the local diet? What's this business about not eating meat and dairy products together? Well, okay, if you don't want to boil a kid in its mother's milk, why can't you eat turkey and cheese together?

Our son said that keeping even a semblance of kashrut is very difficult in Japan. He's under the impression that people eat out all the time because restaurant meals are relatively cheap and because the cooking process for Japanese food is complex enough that it's too difficult and time-consuming to do too often at home. But a consequence of the complex cooking process is that food gets cooked in quantity almost exclusively. According to our son, restaurants simply don't cook to order—everything is cooked in large batches in advance, and served a certain way. You simply can't go into a restaurant and ask the waiter for a noodle dish without the usual slice of meat on the top. There's no "please put the dressing on the side" in Japan. Any particular dish is served in a standard manner, take it or leave it. And there's almost no such thing as uncooked cold food, other than junk food, in Japan. The sandwich is virtually non-existent. Can you live on salad alone?

If my husband and I ever get to Japan, we'll have to go the old-fashioned way—have tuna, will travel.


Blogger Lion of Zion said...

I have not really travelled. I went to Hawaii for my honeymoon and on a number of occasions I found myself trying to explain the dicates of kashruth.

I am used to everyone knowing what kasruth is (I live in New York) and I was not prepared for all the blank stares. This was especially so outside of Honollulu.

On the other hand, there was the (native) hotel receptionist (in Honollulu) who reminded me that my desire for a room with a view a high floor would lead to difficulties on Shabbat. And while I was wondering what to do, he remarked that he knowns some people will ride in the elevator if someone else pushes the button.


Mon Jul 31, 02:00:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Ari, those of us who live in areas with medium-to-large Jewish populations do tend to forget that Judaism is foreign territory to much of the world. You were fortunate to encounter someone who understood.

Tue Aug 01, 08:28:00 PM 2006  

Post a Comment

<< Home

<< List
Jewish Bloggers
Join >>