The Empire Never Ended (sarmoung) wrote,
The Empire Never Ended

What is to be done?

There is quite a lot of it. Preparations. Clearing desktops and putting things into storage. Physical and virtual. There's a list I keep tapping items into and then I get to write that they are done. A sense of control. On Monday afternoon, I fly to Osaka and I'll be spending two or three months in Japan.

This morning I'm settling any and all outstanding bills and other financial arrangements. I've also just saved the contents of this website. It's dated 2008, so it's really a worst case scenario in case it's pulled or altered for some reason. There was an edited version in English, but that seems to have gone (No, it's here!). I'm sure that much of this information will be in Japanese guide books anyway, but it gives me something to work on right here and now.

Kuidaore is a word that pops up in many a guide to Osaka. Eating yourself bankrupt, until you fall over. It's part of how the city presents itself, although that doesn't mean that I'm convinced that present-day Osakans are more gastronomically indulgent than anywhere else in Japan. It might have meant something once, it might now be a mirage. Like people turning up in London for tea, politeness or decent fish and chips. It's not really what we do, or it will take a while for you to find it. Even then you might worry that it's just been staged for you, the visitor.

But I like the website, in particular the establishments that are described there as 老舗の味 (shinise no aji), what the English version describes as "Old-Fashioned Taste". Or rather the taste of long-established businesses, places with a reputation, a name. Many of these, although not all, specialise in the branch of Japanese cooking that is generally called yoshoku. Western-food. Except whilst yoshoku might have borrowed all manner of inspiration and tradition from European and American cooking, you generally find it in a category of its own in food guides in Japan. It's Western food that's been adapted, translated, alterered, domesticated. Some dishes are immediately recognisable, others not. It is also distinctly old-fashioned, in that its roots are in the Meiji-Taisho-early Showa era. It's old school and it's a cuisine distinctly familiar to someone from Britain. I've been interested in yoshoku for quite a while, both as a culinary experience and as a area of historical research.


Let's take hayashi raisu (this is from Suehiro, from the "Osaka Modern" section of the site, although that's modern as in a business that's been going from 1897). Like many Japanese learners, I first thought that this hayashi referred "wood", as in forest, but it's in fact from the word hashed (beef). Why hashed? I presume that the vast majority of beef in Japan during this period was imported in tins. It's a beef and onion stew in a demi-glace sauce. With rice on the side! I'm not sure I actually knew the phrase demi-glace before I lived in Japan. Why all these mentions of demi-glace on supermarket shelves? I think hayashi raisu is probably something of a litmus test for many a yoshoku restaurant. Have a look at this menu.


This is outside the restaurant Suehiro in Namba. At the bottom there's omuraisu, suehiroraisu (some house speciality), haishiraisu (intriguing spelling, that can doubtless lead to people asking "Why do you call it Haishi raisu and not hayashi?" "Well, you see..." they reply), ebiraisu. At 750 yen a plate (larger portions available on request), £3.80 or so, it's an affordable lunch option. Perhaps not so much the ビフテキ (bifuteki or bifteque) options above which weigh in (well, at a 200g portion of Matsusaka beef) from about £15. I've only found this one slightly dingy photo, but I'm most intrigued by this カツサンド(コーヒー付) on the right hand side at 1,100 yen. That's £5.50 for a beef cutlet sandwich and a demi-tasse of coffee. Quite pricey, in its way. But being from London, it seems reasonable value. About four packets of cigarettes in Japan. Which would be about £24 or so in its way here.


Hard to tell from that photo, but have they chiselled out a space into the bread to place the cutlet? It looks excessive. It probably is. I imagine myself walking out of there with a somewhat heavy stomach. I have spent far too much time over the last few weeks going through similar lists of restaurants and cafes, blogs about lunches, noting which ones I should visit, which ones look like they have a story to tell, some particular dish that they claim for themselves, some twist. Many of these places are evaporating away. Catch them while you can.

I'll be attending a cooking school for a time while I'm in Osaka. They still haven't confirmed the dates! To give myself time to settle in, chiefly to try and remember how to speak the language, I plan a journey. Where? I decide I'll head way up north to Aomori. There's a Terayama Shuji museum in Misawa. I imagine it will be quite disappointing (especially because there's just been a Terayama exhibition in the Aomori museum proper, so much of the collection might be in transit/storage). But it's a goal of sorts. There's a Terayama walking tour noted here that I'll link to just so I don't lose it. Further north, there's Osorezan, a sulphurous volcanic spot that's used in the opening to Terayama's Den-En ni Shisu I posted a while ago and is a site chiefly associated as a bridge between this world and the next, where prematurely dead children await their parents. Cheery!

Hmm. I realise, there's even an overnight train from Osaka to Aomori. The Nihonkai. Down now to just the one train a day.

With so much of the journey already covered on the internet, quite unlike during the time of Isabella Bird, I'm not even sure I couldn't save myself large sums of money, not to mention the discomforts of solitude, by staying at home. But no, I will eat that sandwich and I will journey across the river of the dead.
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