Why are the Japanese so happy to hear you can’t eat their food?

Donald Keene sounds mystified in his autobiography, even after 60 years of dealings with the Japanese:

“Japanese, even taxi drivers who clearly have no intention of inviting me to dinner, often start a conversation by asking what Japanese food I dislike. (Nobody ever asks what Japanese food I like.) They are particularly eager to know whether I can eat sashimi (raw fish. When I say that I am fond of sashimi, they seem disappointed, but they persist, asking next about natto (fermented soybeans), and if I say I eat natto, they ask in desperation if I eat shiokara (salted fish guts).” Chronicles of My Life pg 11

I’m afraid I see something unpleasantly nationalistic in it, as if they wish to hear that no one else could ever become Japanese as hard as they might try.

1 Comment

  1. Lillian said,

    February 23, 2012 at 12:11 am

    Isn’t it just a desire to be unique? A Japanese friend once remarked to me that American food was really boring and he was disappointed that there was no challenging food here. It was all too easy to eat. Similarly, I’ve seen Americans, British people, and Europeans smirk to Taiwanese and Japanese people “Oh, you don’t LIKE cheese, right?” (and then look crestfallen when, generally, they are informed that the person likes cheese just fine, at least certain cheeses.) Are the “Westerners” thinking “Cheese is our thing and you can’t handle it?” I don’t know — maybe … it’s all a bit stupid, but I’m not really sure it’s about nationalism.


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