Japan 2: Not one world, please.

Written by

Andrew Millar


December 31, 2007

I have flown JAL to Japan before.

It is a very pleasant flight from Sydney to Narita – there is no radical time shift, the flight is quiet as most Japanese go to sleep as soon as the flight lifts off, the flight attendants are serenely beautiful…

And the food is delicious. Or at least it was.

Now, I’m never one to complain about airline food. I agree with Billy Conolly when he points out that it is enough just to be at 39,000 feet. Be happy with that unnatural event, and just accept what is put in front of you.

And I must say I liked what was served. However I have one observation to make.

Five years ago they offered two choices for every meal. And the choice was characterised by one criterion – national cuisine. There was a Western choice or a Japanese choice.

This time, just two western choices. Pork or Chicken. I went for chicken, which was nice, but have you ever tried to eat mashed potato with chop sticks and still look credible going through Customs on embarkation…? Albeit both meals had a slight Japanese character, but it seemed to be homogenised and therefore a little characterless.

Why do we have to lean towards a safe and mediocre average?

What is wrong with an airline saying ‘We represent our country, you should enjoy living like one of us for 9 hours. Your journey should be an experience.’

My consternation was further exacerbated (wow) when we left the plane. Each attendant we passed farewelled the Japanese passengers with the Japanese equivalent of “It was a pleasure to serve you.” We Westerners received “Goodbye”.

I felt gypped. (I’ll write an entry some day as to the origin of that term…) I wanted Japanese. I wanted culture. Not One World! I felt the same in Paris when a beautifully gas lit bottle shop revealed itself to be run by a Chinese couple. I wanted Edith Piaf!

This time on JAL, not only didn’t I get a fix of Teriaki or Tempura, but apparently I was not a pleasure to serve! My revenge was to answer ‘Domo arigato gozaimass.” (‘Thank you very much’ but in a formal way.) That stumped her. Or was my Japanese so bad I asked her to ‘boil my dog’s tablecloth?’

And as for the food… I got my Nippon fix for breakfast the following morning.

Now remember, these are not ‘pig mouthed’ American serves. Some of these are just table spoon sized tastes, but here’s what was on the table…:

Miso soup with seaweed and tofu
Grilled salmon
Lightly scrambled egg with shredded radish
Boiled fish paste with wasabi
Fermented bean curd
Pickled seaweed
Various pickled vegetables
And a strange dish called a ‘Hot Springs Egg’ which turned out to be a raw egg poached in white rice wine vinegar. (Cooked by the acidity of the wine, not heat – so it’s almost raw.)
All washed down by tomato juice with a healthy dash of Tabasco.

It was a great way to start a Japanese holiday.

I’ll tell you about lunch later…