Japanese, like many languages, has incorporated rather a lot of foreign words into its lexicon. Many of these are from English, and often the adoption renders them unrecognizable to English speakers.
One of my favourite examples is the word hochikisu (like hotchkiss). I first learned this word from a Japanese teacher who gave a charming account of going to an office supply store in Canada and being so embarrassed at the staff’s puzzlement when she asked for the hotchkiss section. That’s when she learned that a hochikisu is called a stapler in English.
Mental Floss has a good list of some common terms that might confuse English speakers (or at least most are common: Y has never heard #5 and #11 on the Mental Floss list). I’ve made a little quiz, and you can click through to Mental Floss for more information about some of them.
Pronunciation notes for those not familiar with the transliteration conventions:
Wasabi is probably one of the most famous Japanese condiments (for lack of a better word). On the off chance that any readers haven’t tried it: eating this bright green horseradish-like paste is like getting punched in the nasal cavity. In a good way. In addition to eating with sushi, I like to use it in stir fries (especially with cabbage), or mix it with soy sauce and dip avocado in, or with soba.
However, most of what is sold and served as wasabi is not real wasabi. The plant is quite difficult to cultivate and thus rare. Also, the spicy kick only lasts 15 minutes after grating the root, so it’s not really practical for mass production and distribution.
There lots of articles out there about wasabi cultivation, but I learned a lot from this one from the BBC.
We recently visited the Shizuoka prefecture, one of the few places where wasabi can be grown. It was amazing indeed to see the plants in situ…and of course to eat it! As you might guess, real, fresh wasabi tastes a bit different from the usual bright green tube kind. The essence of the pungency is there, but it’s more subtle and soft.
One of the reasons that wasabi is difficult to cultivate is that it grows best in flowing water, but without being completely submerged. Also, the water has to be very pure and the weather can’t be too hot or too cold. It’s finicky. We saw many small wasabi patches in the clear mountain streams in the mountains of the Izu peninsula, where water was diverted over the plants before continuing on its way down the mountain.
Among the interesting products on offer, we saw (and tasted) wasabi beer, ice cream, and salad dressing. Photos below!
I’ve had some lovely short summer trips lately, which I really want to document. As usual, the posts have been composed in my head; the difficulty lies in getting them onto paper (as it were). But to get going, here are some very amusing items on offer in a catalogue that I perused on a train en route to a holiday.