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Where in the World (Japan) – When sushi meets peanut butter

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On our trip to this particular coastal town in 2008, my wife planned lunch at a sushi restaurant. (The woman in front of my wife is my MIL.) I know that sushi is available all over Japan. Japan is a nation of islands with numerous coastal towns. However, this city, located on the Sea of Japan, is considered to have the best sushi in its Japanese equivalent of a U.S. state. The city is even famous throughout Japan for its sushi.

It’s also known for having expensive sushi.

 

When we went to the restaurant, my wife figured our sons would just eat miso soup and rice, a meal that usually satisfied them six years ago. However, it was in that expensive restaurant when my then six-year old son (my younger son) asked a fateful question. “Can I try that pink stuff?”

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He’s been a sushi fanatic ever since.

When I think of this city, like my wife, I’m also reminded of food as well. However, the food comes to my mind, after sushi anyway, is peanut butter.

Yes, peanut butter.

During my first year in Japan, the #1 item on my travel plans was to attend a certain world-famous festival. A friend of mine, who knew I was going to the festival, said I should plan a side visit to a coastal town that was about 30 minutes from my destination. (The town that is the subject of this game.) It was an old trading capital, my friend mentioned, and important in history. I couldn’t resist. However, it was February, and bitterly cold with high winds and over a foot of snow on the ground. After seeing the sights all morning, I popped into a local grocery store to get warm. Tucked away on bottom shelf in one row was a surprise I didn’t expect: three jars of Peter Pan peanut butter.

It wasn’t like I couldn’t get peanut butter in Japan. At the time, I lived* about an hour away from Kyoto. There was a foreign foods store in Kyoto and a jar of Skippy could be had for the equivalent of $15 dollars. However, I was never a Skippy person. I grabbed all three jars of Peter Pan and headed to the checkout. (When you live in a foreign country, you’ll be amazed at what you do for food you miss. The only Mtn. Dew I could find in Japan in the 90s was in a vending machine in Ueno station in Tokyo. Every time I went to Tokyo, I made sure I passed through Ueno station, buying somewhere between 8-10 cans each time.)

In hindsight, though, I shouldn’t have been surprised. This popular coastal city has more of mixed feel than a pure Japanese feel. A trading port, it sees an eclectic group of tourists from all over the world and some signs in the area are translated into English, Korean, Chinese, and Russian.

* My first year in Japan, I lived in a little town in central Japan called Ibuki-cho (Ibuki Town). It was located near Lake Biwa, the largest lake in Japan. It’s an hour’s train ride from both Kyoto and Nagoya. (I use “was” to describe Ibuki, as the town has since been annexed and no longer exists.)

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Walt Mussell primaily writes historical fiction with inspirational and romantic elements. His favorite setting is medieval Japan and he refers to his writing as “Like ‘Shogun,’ but the heroine survives.” He also writes Biblical fiction and is working on a manuscript with a 19th century American setting.

Mary Preston - April 11, 2014 - 3:28 am

I like my fish very well cooked, but peanut butter I love.

Marilyn Baron - April 11, 2014 - 4:42 am

I guess the moral of the story is “Don’t sweat the pink stuff.”

I don’t eat sushi but my daughters Love it and it is always the most expensive thing on the menu.

I loved this travel post. I remember when I lived in Florence, Italy, after six months we were craving American food. When we went to Munich for Oktoberfest, we pigged out on McDonald’s Hamburgers and French fries.

Walt Mussell - April 11, 2014 - 8:55 am

Mary, there’s a resturant near our house that does all-you-can-eat sushi once a week. We go there once a quarter and probably would go there more often if we could.

Walt Mussell - April 11, 2014 - 8:57 am

Marilyn, after four years in Japan, there are now certain Japanese foods I crave. My wife is Japanese, so she cooks a lot of it. However, with one exception, she doesn’t do Japanese desserts.

Susan Carlisle - April 11, 2014 - 8:57 am

Walt,
When my kids and I were in Germany we found peanut butter in an off the beaten path place. I squealed and we all just stood there looking at it. We hadn’t seen any in over two months. We had a PB&J as soon as we got back to the house we were staying in.

Walt Mussell - April 11, 2014 - 8:58 am

Gang, I will be traveling today, so I will be out of pocket for a lot of today. I don’t know when I will go off-line, but I will be back on this evening as soon as I can.

Pam Asberry - April 11, 2014 - 9:05 am

I was raised on Peter Pan peanut butter. I would have done exactly what you did.

Piper - April 11, 2014 - 9:19 am

Not being able to get those home foods when traveling abroad can be hard. I probably would have paid that $15 too Walt, and I prefer Jif! When I came back from Belgium a few years ago, I told my husband to take me to a Red Lobster so I could have all of the Walt’s (obviously named for you) fried shrimp I wanted. I was only in Belgium a week, but I understood within a day why a lot of the people there are so svelte!

Sandy Elzie - April 11, 2014 - 9:54 am

Walt,
Loved your post. Like Mary, my fish must be very well cooked. Even my steak must be pink…never, never, never red on the inside.

We were on a two-week cruise in Europe recently and even though the ship had all kinds of American food, I found that I craved Greek yogurt and Coke. Why I thought I wasn’t getting enough of those two items is beyond me. The night before we flew home we wanted dinner (it was about 5:30pm) but the restaurants in the area near the airport didn’t open until 7:00pm. We ended up at a grocery store that took American money (we were out of Euros) buying a banana, Italian bread, cheese, Greek yogurt and four large Cokes. Later we sat in the middle of our bed and feasted.

Great article…looking forward to next week.

Walt Mussell - April 11, 2014 - 10:01 am

Susan,

Was it an American brand of peanut butter or a German one? I remember finding a Japanese brand of ketchup and being excited about it. The taste was a different experience. It wasn’t like getting used to Japanese milk (which tasted different as it’s pasteurized at a higer temperature).

Walt Mussell - April 11, 2014 - 10:14 am

That should be “higher” temperature. :-)

Walt Mussell - April 11, 2014 - 10:32 am

Pam,

Glad to know I’m not the only one.

Walt Mussell - April 11, 2014 - 10:33 am

Piper, given the taste of Beligian chocolate, I’m mystified as to the slender appearance of Belgians.

Walt Mussell - April 11, 2014 - 10:36 am

Sandy, when I lived in Japan, you couldn’t get a lot of American food without working hard at it. Yes, McDonald’s was everywhere, but it’s still a Japanese version of McD’s. Spent my first Christmas overseas in Singapore (traveling away from Japan). Every American restaurant you could imagine had a location in Singapore.

Walt Mussell - April 11, 2014 - 10:36 am

Signing out for now to get on the road. Back on later. :-)

Connie Gillam - April 11, 2014 - 12:16 pm

Walt-

When I was in China, I ate Thai and Japanese (cooked fish, LOL) The Chinese food was not what I expected.

What does your wife miss living in America?

Carol Burnside - April 11, 2014 - 4:38 pm

Peanut butter. I did not see that coming in a travelogue on Japan.
I am a big fan of sushi. Having lived in Hawaii, raw fish dishes do not bother me.

As for the city in question, I did a little sleuthing based on your clues. Were you going to the Sapporo Yuki Matsuri to see the sculptures?

Maxine Davis - April 11, 2014 - 4:39 pm

Walt, I am very much enjoying the visit to Japan. When I’m away, I miss the standard food. To me, that is fresh vegetables and cornbread. Have only tried sushi once – so-so to me. What is your wife’s favorite American food?

Walt Mussell - April 11, 2014 - 7:43 pm

Connie, the thing she misses most is the food. Her parents live in SoCal and often sends her care packages.

Walt Mussell - April 11, 2014 - 7:45 pm

Maxine, it’s hard to say what her favorite American food is. However, I think it’s sweet tea. :-)

Walt Mussell - April 11, 2014 - 7:49 pm

Carol, yes, you are correct. Sapporo was my intended destination. I talk more about this in next week’s post. Sapporo is on the island of Hokkaido and is an amazing city. You’re in the ballpark.

Walt Mussell - April 11, 2014 - 8:01 pm

Also, Carol, “yuki” is the Japanese word for “snow” and “matsuri” is the Japanese word for “festival.”

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