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Saturday, Aug. 30, 2008

JAPAN LITE

The Awashima crab murders


Matsumoto-san bellied up to my bar and said, "Amy, I've started Moooo! Bar II on the beach at Awashima Island. You must come see it!" I wasn't really sure what to think about this, not having planned on expanding anything except my beer belly by owning a bar. This being Asia, however, it is supposed to be complimentary when someone copies something you do.

It wasn't until last week that I eventually made it to Awashima (Kagawa-ken) on my boat, along with four other foreigners. Matsumoto-san greeted us at the port of Awashima and took us directly to his Moooo! Bar on the beach which looked like a modern shack that wasn't quite finished yet, even though it was. Orange construction cones lined one side of the bar while miscellaneous driftwood, cleverly painted buoys and other creative junk were strewn about as natural decor. The beach side, however, had a beautiful sunset view over the sea.

Thankfully, Matsumoto-san's Moooo! Bar was not outfitted in cow spots. As a matter of fact, the only thing that had anything to do with cows were the BBQs.

As Matsumoto-san opens his bar only by appointment, we felt lucky we had VIP reservations. "Thank you for the idea!" he said with a sweeping gesture of his hands that ended with a grip on the beer tap as he started pouring us welcome beers. Watching the sun set over the Inland Sea, I had to agree that Matsumoto-san had found a great spot for his bar.

Soon after, we were up at his 120-year-old house-turned-inn called Awashima-taro, one of the few places in Japan where you can experience sitting around a real irori, the old-style heating and cooking fixture of traditional Japanese farm houses. As the coals of the irori were being heated to cook our dinner, we each took turns bathing in the iwaburo stone bath. Relaxed after a hot bath and fitted into our yukata, we were ready to eat Japanese style around the irori. Or so we thought.

Dinner started with a bang as Matsumoto-san placed giant crabs onto the irori grill in front of us. To my surprise, the crabs started scurrying over to me screaming for help.

Wham! Mr. Matsumoto came down hard on one of the crabs with his tongs. "One minute on the grill, and they'll be dead," he assured us. Wham! He gave another escaping crab a blow on the shoulders.

If a crab even lifted his pincers, this prompted another wham. There's nothing quite like fresh, abused seafood.

Wham! I expected the police to rap on the door any moment to ask what was going on. I feared the newspaper headlines: "Foreigners Implicated in Crab Murders."

Once dead and turned orange on the grill, we dismembered the crabs and ingested their meat, then tossed their remains into a bucket.

Next came sashimi, where each of us received our own fish propped up on sticks so the body was arched with head and tail curled up at the ends, the way I imagine Olympian fish would jump from the high dive. Their sides had been neatly carved up into little slices for easy removal by chopsticks. Once all parts were removed and eaten, their skeletal remains were taken down and, head and all, placed on the grill to be charred and eaten as hone senbei. At least we were eating the evidence.

We continued on our path of destruction, attacking sazae (giant turban shells) that were quietly gurgling away on the grill as they cooked. With ice picks, we pierced their insides first, drawing them slowly out of their shells in a winding, circular motion.

When there was nothing left on the grill to decapitate, pierce or mutilate, we enjoyed drinking Japanese sake, chuhai, and some gin-inspired drinks which helped us forget our rather brutal table manners.

Before going to bed, when Matsumoto-san asked us what he could prepare us for breakfast in the morning, we all nearly shouted out at the top of our lungs in unison, "Vegetables!"

We were delighted to wake up to find nothing on the breakfast table jumping, gurgling or screaming for help. Instead we sat down to a peaceful breakfast of congenial vegetables and aromatic coffee.

But Matsumoto-san was having no part of it. Instead, he was drinking a beer. "Easier on the stomach," he said.



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