Once again a plate of small intestines was set before me, even though I had vowed never to travel down that dis-gustatory path. It all began a few years earlier, at an all-you-can-eat parilla in Uruguay, when this tract of “meat” was served up in place of steak. By the end of plate one, I could order no more. But here in Japan, the small intestines bubbled away in a large pan on our table along with udon and cabbage and the miso broth that one of my fellow diners explained “was a very good way to disappear the bad smell” of such a shitty organ. I took a big sip of Japanese whiskey before diving in.
I felt I had to be a gracious guest. I crunched the small intestines down. It was less bad than I had remembered, but still, I had to chase it with a slug of smooth single-malt Yamizaki whiskey.
The restaurant, Nagase in the village of Hitoegane, was quieting down, but our night was just beginning. Sitting on the tatami mats, I did my best to avoid the intestines, opting for the frittata-like dishes–from cabbage and egg to egg and Chinese yams. I picked at the boiled squid and the little dishes filled with chunks of purple eggplant, soft green beans, and raw clam served with shavings of seaweed and wasabi.
But I kept finding the ladle-handler dropping more small intestines into my bowl. I kept washing them down with the whiskey. By the second bottle, I was sure that I had already consumed about four yards of that fecal rope.
The Japanese Whiskey Keeps Flowing
I wasn’t sure if the intestines would have any effect on me, but the whiskey clearly did. It was making my Japanese hosts open up, too. One of the men who was buying our bottles and owned a few hotels, through the help of an interpreter, started to reveal some of his complaints about working with an international market. Apparently, according to this Japanese hotelier, who was a good eighth of a bottle ahead of us, the Chinese try to steal his televisions and the Koreans use their portable barbecues in the rooms, making the accommodations unusable for a few days. While the xenophobia was getting heavy, the most uncomfortable I felt was when the old Japanese man gripped my thigh and thanked me for not colonizing Japan after World War II.
“You could have colonized us, he says,” said the interpreter. “But you did not colonize us.”
I took a big sip of my whiskey, the only thing I could do to avoid responding. The old man kept resting his hand on my leg as he spoke, not for an uncomfortable few seconds, but for a good seven or eight minutes. The only other distraction besides the whiskey were the intestines. So I drank and ate, drank and ate.
After the hotelier released my leg, his translator for the evening said again, “He really wants you to know that he appreciates that you did not colonize Japan.”
“Sure, no problem,” I said as if I had been the ambassador to Japan in the latter half of the 1940s.
When we went to leave, I was stopped by the hostess, who asked if she could take my picture. She wanted to know if I was a movie star. I explained that I was not a movie star, but that I would like to make the wall, where about a half dozen photographs of the owner posing beside Japanese celebrities hung. She insisted that I was somebody of importance as we lined up for the photo. What could she write under the photograph, she wanted to know. The hotelier stumbled into me. I thought about some options: Travel writer? Small Intestine Connoisseur? Kind enough not to colonize Japan?