It was a late evening in Tokyo. Heavy clouds wrapped the city in a grey robe and the darkness just intensified the dullness. It was about time to find a warm, cozy shelter to enjoy some good food and above all, to escape the drizzle. We started looking around for a restaurant and there it was; a small one, just in front of us. It wasn’t a mirage. The light was beaming timidly through its windows, inviting us to leave a tiny, dark street behind our back. We entered.
It didn’t matter to us that the menu was written only in Japanese, that we didn’t know a word of it and that waiters couldn’t speak English. We sat down very relaxed, a waiter dressed in white bowed, we happily pointed to some Kanji letters beneath a nice photo of a sashimi plate and waited eagerly for yet another delicious Japanese meal.
We were everything, but ready for what was about to come.
Immersed in a funny conversation, I just burst laughing when the waiter put an attractively decorated plate in front of us and bowed with a proud smile. He was everything, but ready for my reaction.
I instantly covered my face with a menu. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I wished to go back in time; I wished I hadn’t pointed to the nice photo of a sashimi plate.
I peeked carefully, but nothing had changed in the meantime. Two black, ball-shaped, shiny eyes still stared at me, whilst a lobster’s antennae danced. The poor creature was still alive! Its white flesh was taken out of its greenish shell to elegantly present a highly valued delicacy. It was a perfect dish from Japanese point of view; supremely fresh and beautifully decorated with purple orchids and wasabi sculptured in a leaf form. Western taste was substantially different in this case. We could not perceive beauty in a live being on our plate.
Since we cannot read Japanese, we didn’t know that we had ordered ikizukuri.
The word ikizukuri means “prepared alive” and it says it all! An octopus, a fish or a lobster is sliced, but the creature’s internal organs are left intact to keep it alive. A Japanese friend tried to illustrate to me the extraordinary feeling of swallowing a fresh piece of meat that was alive the instant before you eat it. I can still remember everything he said, but I cannot comprehend it. Ikizukuri is a top-notch delicacy to many Japanese, but it’s looking cruelty and death straight at eyes from my perspective.
To ease the situation, while I was still hiding behind the menu, my “partner in the crime”, bravely, disguised the dish and moved the edible white flesh to a small, white plate. I tasted it, but a picture of frightened eyes was haunting my mind. I couldn’t eat an animal I had seen alive.
I poured some sake into small glasses, beckoned the waiter and pointed to some Kanji letters beneath a beef photo on the menu. An ikizukuri beef shouldn’t exist, should it?