Wednesday, February 20, 2008

sapporo snow festival (vegetarians not allowed)

Randomata: a word unheard. Last week when ordering a pizza I confirmed four or five times that the selection I was making contained no meat. When the pizza arrived an hour and a half later (because we gave wrong directions... woops), my teeth just touched the cheese when my friend noticed the beef minced throughout the sauce. I blamed myself for not double checking one more time and specifically asking if the sauce had any pre-added meat. On the weekend, at a nice tapas bar, I scared three or four servers by asking for vegetarian recommendations. Finally we picked something that the head server said had no meat in it. I explained that I didn’t eat any meat whatsoever, and he confirmed after a direct question that there wasn’t meat in it. When the omelette-ish dish arrived, I took one bite and tasted sausage, chunks of which were spaced throughout. These are just two examples of an ongoing battle vegetarians face here.
Supposedly the word ‘vegetarian’ is one of those adopted into Japanese without a change to its meaning (just change to hiragana syllables). There are also, of course, ways to say that one doesn’t eat meat without reaching outside Japanese vocabulary, such as ‘nikku o tabenai.’ Nikku is a catch-all for beef (gyunikku), pork (buntanikku), and bird meat (torinikku). But no matter how you say it, you’re likely to provoke a surprised reaction from whoever is taking your order. In fact, they might seem downright scared (that they won’t be able to find any food for you, and that you are some strange anomaly they can’t fathom).
More confusing, however, are the people who nod in agreement, for they make it seem like the concept of vegetarianism is actually crossing the cultural-linguistic border. In reality, even if the word is known in a basic way, few people seem to understand the mentality behind it. People find it hard to understand why someone would choose not to eat meat, and it seems to suggest that that person is religious, allergic, simply doesn’t feel like eating meat at that moment, might just want a little bit less than usual, not a meat-focused dish, or perhaps doesn’t eat a lot of meat in their diet but might want to eat some now. Above all, that person is downright strange.
Japan might have been prescriptively vegetarian at some point in Buddhism’s heyday, but that time is long gone. Now it is very difficult to convince people that it is possible to not have meat, to remove it from a certain dish or, better yet, to cook without it in the first place. Difficulty arises when servers too quickly signal their understanding because there are many times the meat doesn’t even register in their minds as part of the dish, likely if it is: pre-mixed in a sauce, part of soup broth, minced finely, or placed amongst other ingredients (so that the meat doesn’t stand out as a main feature of the dish).
Sometimes I think that everywhere I go, me being vegetarian gives people a new view to think about; other times, I’m just hungry.

I haven’t checked in for a while now. I don’t think anything worth mention has happened –

– except the WICKED Snow Festival. At several sites throughout the city, ice and snow sculptures coupled with festivities and performances to provide entertainment to the hordes of visitors. Odori Park, the large Boulevard that runs through blocks and blocks of the city centre, was covered with massive displays of skilled carvings of temples and imagined scenes, as well as blocks of familiar and comical characters, and an amateur section, where some of my chums tried their hand. Susikino (the party centre of town) had a long line of sharp ice sculptures as well as an ice bar (a popular gimmick in Hokkaido). Perhaps most fun of all was Satoland (trans: sugarland), which was the kids’ section of the Festival. I went with three guys who were staying with me over the weekend. Sure, we’re all 22/23/24/27, but that doesn’t mean we can’t admit to still being kids…

Highlights include an ice maze, an ice tube slide, insanely enthusiastic dancers everywhere who periodically gathered on stage for a more official performance, and an organized yukigassen. Yes, in typical Japanese fashion, the snowball fight had a court, pre-made barricades, deployment tactics, stringent rules, helmets and bibs, and uniform pre-made, pre-counted snowballs (made with these awesome and awesomely simply snowball makers that every kid should want).

Having buds at my house was great, not so much because the four extra male bodies stank up the place almost beyond tolerance, and not because they bought me booze, but because their perspective on my apartment and the city was refreshing. They were thrilled with what the city has to offer (as compared to the small town they live in at the very opposite end of the country, southern Kyushu), and ensured me that I am very lucky to have such a comfortable apartment, close to anything I might need.

Also, my friend Lex is halfway through his second year as a JET. I enjoyed seeing the progress he has made with the language, and the fact that his enthusiasm for living here has not waned in the least. He has nothing but good things to say about the living, working, and playing situation of a JET: decent pay, heaps of paid time off, the chance to travel, the chance to learn about a new country, and relatively straightforward demands – just hang out with the kids a bit! All these things I know, but sometimes don’t think on. Course he speaks fluent French as well, and he’s just an enthusiastic guy in general, but it still gives me hope for my second year here in Japan.

Not everything gives me hope and excitement for that second year. Next post: 'life is boring here.'

1 comment:

Caitie said...

!!! is that giant temple thing made of snow?!