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WIT Life #30: Waste Not, Want Not

*************************************************************************************************************** WITLife is a periodic series written by professional Interpreter/Translator/Writer Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken, 2000-03).  Recently she’s been watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese and sharing some of the interesting tidbits and trends together with her own observations.

In these tough economic times we are all looking to save money where we can. In eco-conscious Japan, this is taking the form of restaurants looking to reduce their amount of waste. Not only is this better for the earth, but they are also able to decrease processing costs so it’s a double bonus. An interesting phenomenon is that this idea is being applying to the ubiquitous enkai, known to be the worst waster of food. Instead of putting out a great spread and having much of it end up as leftovers, now many establishments are asking customers about their preferences when they take their reservation. Sometimes for as long as 20 minutes on the phone, they inquire regarding whether there are any foods people won’t eat, how many women and children are coming so portion sizes can be adjusted, etc. This way they can tailor the meal to their customers’ likes/dislikes and thereby reduce the amount of food that doesn’t get eaten.

Similarly, some restaurants are now accepting the American idea of a doggie bag. Even izakayas and places you wouldn’t necessarily think would react to this favorably have jumped on the bandwagon. Granted these early adopters are in the minority, but they are growing. The containers they are giving out are plastic and reusable, and customers seem happy to be able to take home food they can have for breakfast the next morning. However, the owner of one pro-doggie bag establishment insists that whether or not to eat such leftovers is “ultimately the customers’ responsibility.” In Japan, the particular problem with doggie bags has been with liability. Should the customer get food poisoning, would the restaurant be at fault? Up until now, these concerns have overridden the desire to introduce doggie bag service. I can remember when I once went to family-style Italian restaurant Capricciosa, a national chain that was one of my favorites for gatherings with friends as we could all share a bunch of dishes. I asked to take some of the meal home, but my request was refused because they claimed the “noodles would get soft” (men ga nobiru). It seemed like a waste to me then, so I’m glad more restaurants are looking into the doggie bag option these days.

In other Japanese food trends, forget yakiniku, the latest rage is horumonyaki! This name is derived from horumono, or things that you throw away, and it refers to barbeque of organs, etc. Popular varieties include cow stomach and honeycomb tripe, and in a poll 60% of respondents declared their love of these innards. Reasons as to why this kind of barbeque is seeing a current boom is that the large selection makes it fun, the price is cheap and the taste good, and they contain collagen and other healthy ingredients. Horumon have less fat than meat and some like liver are filled with vitamins, making them especially popular among women. It also doesn’t hurt that they are easy on the wallet. When prices between yakiniku and horumonyaki were compared, at one establishment a serving of kalbi would cost 490 yen whereas a horumon portion would only be 290 yen. Price comparisons at other restaurants confirmed that across the board, horumon tend to be almost half as expensive as meat. In today’s economy, that translates into bring on the liver! ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Happy Hinamatsuri (Girls’ Day)! Japan Airlines (JAL) commemorated the holiday with a “Hinamatsuri Flight” that featured 30 women in all positions except pilot. They worked in cargo and other traditionally male areas, and the women interviewed said they were happy to get exposure and in turn inspire young girls who want to work in the aviation field.

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