Bruce "Tog" Tognazzini.               

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This Month's AskTog Front Page
Japan on $1000/day
Day 1: Sticker Shock
Day 2: Among the Dead & Dying (Fish)
Day 3: Budda & Broken English
Day 4: Magic Toilets & Poisonous Fish
Day 5: Aircraft and Elevators
Sidebar: An Attitude of Quality
Day 6: Squirming Shrimp & Karaoki
Day 7: Pirate Ships & Long Flat Silver
Day 8: Country Inn at City Prices
Day 9: The Inside Scoop
Day 10: Hot in Hiroshima
Day 11: Castles in the Sky
Day 12: Where the Deer & Bon Jovi Play
Day 13: Doom
Day 14: The Summer Cottage
End: Have Toilet, Will Travel
Japan on $1000 per Day

Day 4: Magic Toilets & Poisonous Fish

Day 4: Up early. 10:30 in the morning early. Rested, refreshed, and ready to go. I think we have successfully recovered from jet-lead. Today is shopping day, and we are off in search of a proper souvenir to bring home to the states, like, oh, say, something in the way of plumbing. We have all the high-tech electronic equipment we could possibly want. It is high time we branched out to water-based products.

We travelled to the Ginza district and, after some effort, discovered the five-story Toto kitchen and bathroom fixture showroom. After running up and down stairs for some time, we found the perfect prize:

This highly-sophisticated computerized Toto toilet seat carries out a multitude of important functions quickly and quietly with the simple press of a button on its hand-held, wireless remote. Yes, wireless remote. (The remote is particularly entertaining when triggered outside the bathroom after a guest has been seated within.) We tried out several of its more advanced functions in the privacy of our personal bath products showrooms, then picked up the card of a wholesaler from whom we could actually purchase said sophisticated seat. We shall do so later on in the trip.

We next set out in search of plastic food, in the form of those marvellously life-like table-ready dishes you see outside Japanese restaurants all over the world. These displays emanate from four different stores in the wholesale restaurant supply street, Kappabashi Dori Avenue.

By evening, our extra suitcase was bursting with custards, fruit parfaits, various Chinese delicacies, assorted sundaes, which we would later serve to those same unsuspecting guests who had visiting our remote-controlled bathroom. Except now they were a little more suspecting.

Fugu: plastic and for-real

We had also layed in a supply of polyvinyl "fugu," Japan’s notorious blow-fish delicacy, which takes, on average, six lives per year by virtue of its paralysing neurotoxin. You’d have to be crazy to take a chance actually eating the deadly fish, or so my wife, the Good Doctor, explained before crawling into bed and ordering her nightly portion of spaghetti. I, of course, failed to listen.

All I wanted was a little fugu sashimi--just some nice slices of poisonous fish served raw with perhaps a touch of wasabi, the delicate Japanese green vegetable that tastes like a cross between mustard, horseradish, and TNT. However, I discovered that once I arrived at the Taiga (Home of Finest Fugu) Restaurant, events would be entirely beyond my control, since no one in the place understood a word of English.

They began by serving me a marvellous peeled and pitted plum covered with a sweet sesame sauce. After this alliterative confection came the fugu sashimi. I touched the wasabi with my chopsticks, lifted up a delicate slice of the exotic fish, dipped it into the soy sauce and brought it to my lips. All conversation in the restaurant ceased. Everyone leaned forward to see whether the American gaijin (literally, "outsider") would smile with delight, or suffer a violent death. For the first few moments, everything seemed alright. Then I started coughing and gagging violently. My eyes rolled back into my head and flames shot out of my mouth. Too much wasabi.

The fish had the delicate taste of hirame, but with a slightly crunchier texture. It was delicious. But far too fleeting. After only a few minutes, I was ready to pay my bill and slip back to our hotel. Then, the third course arrived. It consisted of a small chicken leg chopped into four pieces, dipped into a powdery batter and fried to a golden brown. Except it wasn’t a chicken leg at all: it was my friend, the fugu, back again. The chef had fried up the meaty portion of the fish that lies directly in front of the tail. It was at least as good as the sashimi.

Then they got serious. They brought out a huge cooking kettle filled with boiling water and fired up a gas grill. Into the kettle they put various and sundry oriental vegetables, along with more of the fugu. They were now down to the bony shell that makes up the center of the body. Through gestures, they communicated that I was to scoop the vegetables and fugu out of the water and eat them (bones optional). By the bottom of the kettle, I was lying back in my chair, bloated from the sheer volume of food, mewing plaintively, but they were still not ready to leave me alone.

Into the water, they poured more vegetables, an ample splash of soy sauce, and some pristine pieces of fugu they had either reserved earlier or were now stealing from another patron. The resulting soup was delicious, with a sort of carbonated, tingly flavor to it. It was only later that I learned that the tingling was actually the accumulated neurotoxin in the water. Dinner done, I paid my $85 and waddled back to our hotel, where Julie was standing watch, respirator in hand.

  The next day, Julie chose the restaurant.

Next: We visit Tokyo Disneyland, then branch out to heavy industry, where the secret of Japanese quality is revealed. Sort of.

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