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Saturday, Dec. 24, 2005
Christmas dinner -- Japanese style
By AMY CHAVEZ
Christmas in Japan has always left a little to be desired, but you can't blame the Japanese for this -- they're merely importing the parts they like. And why not? They are quite sure God understands this. I imagine the first Japanese importer went abroad to some place like the U.S., held up a Wal-Mart store with a samurai sword and said: "Give me your entire stock of blinking lights and the sparkly trees!" He then took all the decorations back to Japan and set up pachinko parlors.
The spirit of Christmas lights has infiltrated even our little island in the Seto Inland Sea. One house on the port has taken it upon themselves to put up a huge light display in the park, complete with a Christmas tree and a "Santa and his reindeers illumination." The local bar is all decked out with strings of little white lights too. I hope we're not attracting small aircraft. Or aliens.
So when a fax came spitting out the phone the other day, I suspected it might be aliens asking for ransom money.
But instead, the fax was about the next week's recording of a cable TV show called "GoGo Tuesday," where I dress up as a cow and introduce local people and places (in Japanese), all among lots of moos. The fax said, "Restaurant de Christmas Dinner o shokai shimasho." ("We will go to restaurant and introduce Christmas dinner").
The fax included the phrases I should practice for the recording. Anyone who watches Japanese TV knows there is only one phrase permitted on any show that has anything to do with food: "Oishii desu!" ("How delicious!")
Predictably, my lines included: "Oishii desu," "oishiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii desu" ("deeeeeeeeeeeelicous!"), "Honto ni oishii desu" ("really oishii") and "Sugoku oishii desu" ("superbly oishii").
But the oishiis would not end there. Never one to miss out on a chance to force English on the general populace, the show would have a section called "Eigo de Moo-moo." ("Amy's Moo-moo English"). This is where I would introduce the audience to phrases having to do with food, such as "How delicious!" "Really deeeeeeeeeeeelicous!" and "Superbly deeeeeeeeeeeelicous!" I would also introduce listeners to the Christmas dinner items in English.
I admit I was really looking forward to the Christmas dinner part of the show. I was actually salivating at the thought of all that superbly oishii food. Would they serve chicken or turkey? Mashed potatoes or yams? Would there be cranberry sauce and gravy? Do the Japanese really know how to make stuffing? Trifles or fruitcake?
Two cows, the cameraman and director arrived at the restaurant at 2 p.m., the slowest part of the day so as not to alarm the customers. Nonetheless, the one customer who was there left as soon as he saw two cows enter and sit down to a meal. Indeed, the restaurant staff admitted, we were the first cows to ever visit their restaurant. The table was set with a lovely Christmas candle in the middle, and a complete setting of silverware with butter knives, a salad fork, dessert fork, etc. The chef brought out the specially prepared oishii Christmas dinner. "Eigo de Moo-moo!" someone shouted and the camera was on me. "Menu o eigo de shokai shimasu!" ("I will now introduce the food items in English!")
I looked over the dishes trying to hide my perplexity. After all, I'm supposed to be the foreign expert here. "Oh," I stammered, searching for the correct words. "Well, this is the Christmas tempura!" I said and the camera zoomed in on the Japanese fried vegetables. "And of course, this would be the special holiday pottage soup." Pointing to the minuscule salad, I introduced it as "elfin salad." And over here was the "Yuletide bread and butter," very oishii. The next dish was the "season's greetings salmon," I explained, and lastly, the "December Noel cheesecake" and "Kris Kringle coffee."
We started eating the food among jubilant shouts of "Oishii!" and "Honto ni oishiiiiiiiiiii" as if stone-cold food was the most delicious thing we'd had all day. I was beginning to prefer some fresh-cut Christmas grass -- even muesli.
And with that, I wish everyone a much more superbly deeeeeeeeelicious Christmas!
Get Amy's "Guidebook to Japan: what the other guidebooks won't tell you" (10 percent off!) at www.mooooshop.com/MooooBooks/order/index.htm