Here’s a new item that falls into the category of “Answers to Questions Nobody Asked”: An American-born Japanese chef, Chase Kojima, working in Australia, has just released for public consumption—are you ready for this—Vegemite sashimi. And if Vegemite, which tastes like salty yeast with an ever-so slightly-regurgitative finish, isn’t enough to send you scurrying for the egress, then the source of protein may be: a local Aussie delicacy called Moreton Bay bugs. That part isn’t as bad as it sounds, actually; the “bug” is actually a species of lobster, thenus orientalis, native to the seas east of Africa and south of Japan. While the rest of the world tries to come up with names to make patently unpalatable things seem palatable (think: “sweetbreads”), the contrarian Antipodeans find hilarity in doing just the opposite. You have to love that. Still and all, I have never met a food that was improved by the addition of Vegemite, and I’m thinking sashimi isn’t going to be the one that turns the tide.
In other news, the Japanese were quite unhappy to discover that their homeland was not in the top ten of the world’s happiest countries, as determined by the United Nations Human Development Index. Norway edged out Australia for the top spot, with the Netherlands, USA, New Zealand, Canada, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland filling out the remainder of the top eleven. I don’t know about you, but when I think of smiling happy people, veritably bubbling over with good humor, Liechtenstein isn’t among the first few (hundred) places that jump to my mind. That said, I’ve never been there. It’s kinda easy to miss.
All in all, 2011 is a year that most Japanese will be happy to see in the rear view mirror. It was the year of the Tohoku earthquake, one of the strongest in planetary history; the cataclysmic tsunami that washed tens of thousands out to sea; and the reactor meltdown that triggered the world’s most serious nuclear crisis since Chernobyl. Said reactor provided some twenty percent of Tokyo’s power, so the city sweated through one of the hottest summers on record, with thermostats voluntarily set several degrees higher than normal or comfortable. There was remarkably little whining; people rolled up their sleeves, kept towels close at hand for surreptitious wiping of foreheads, and apart from a few cranky subway riders, pretty much got on with their business. Bosses cooperated by making every day casual day; it is only just now that suits and similar business attire are beginning to proliferate once again.
One thing that hasn’t changed, I am happy to report, is the weirdly wonderful assortment of Japanese products: soft drinks; t-shirts; fast foods, and so on. Many with mangled English (“Manglish”) ads to promote them. Consider: