101 Things To Do*

* before I die


Go to Japan and Eat Fugu

Why anyone would actually want to eat fugu, in Japan or anyplace else, is a mystery to me - but I did it anyway.  Actually, I know why it's on the list... because most westerner's believe that, if it's not prepared exactly right, it could be poisonous.  But that's not entirely true - and Kumiko told me that most Japanese people think it's funny that gaijin (foreigners) think that way.

When I asked Kumiko if there was a restaurant near her home that served fugu, she got really excited.  Not only does she like fugu quite a lot, but one of the best places in Japan to get it is only a two-hour drive from her home - in Oita.  Also it turns out that fugu is seasonal - and the best time to have it is January.  Guess what month we were going to go eat it - that's right: January.

We got an early start so we would have time to stop in Beppu to see the hot springs.  The first one was a beautiful aqua color, with water so hot it would boil eggs.  And for a mere $60(US) you could eat one.  That's $60 for just one tiny, little egg.  Needless to say, we passed on the eggs.  You can see them in the photo, in the basket suspended from a bamboo pole.

The next set of springs was quite a contrast from the first.  This one was a rusty, reddish color, and didn't seem at all conducive to cooking anything.  At least I wouldn't want to eat anything that came out of that thick, murky water.  Besides, our goal that day was to eat fugu in Oita - not something cooked in the hot springs of Beppu.  So off we went, finally, to Oita.

Kumiko had no problem finding the restaurant, so before long we found ourselves seated at a traditional low Japanese table in our own little private room.  A typical meal of fugu actually consists of several different dishes - made with every edible part of the fish - and for me, at least, a few inedible ones as well.  Here are a couple of the more interesting ones...


There was even a special drink made with sake and bits of fugu to go with the food.  And Kumiko was quite keen to try it as well.  Fortunately, I was under doctor's orders not to drink alcoholic beverages - so I had a good excuse not to try it.  Here our server is setting fire to the concoction to "burn away the poisons"...

Not really.  It's just that sake is usually served warm and I think this is just a flashy way of heating it up.  Here's a look at it with more light - so you can see why I was glad to have an excuse not to try it...

One curious thing that happened during our meal.  We asked our server to take a photo of me and Kumiko (the one at the top of this page).  Before she did so, however, she moved one of the dishes off the table, out of sight.  With Kumiko acting as interpreter, I asked why she did that.  She explained that that particular dish is the one that fuels the rumors of fugu being potentially lethal - and it's not entirely legal for the restaurant to serve it.  So they are very careful not to allow photos showing that dish.

After our very interesting meal, we left Oita headed back to Kumiko's home in Kurume City - but only made it as far as Beppu.  There was a mountain range between Beppu and Kurume City and an unexpected winter storm had dumped quite a lot of snow in the higher elevations.  The one highway we could take to get home was closed.

We had to spend the night in Beppu, with no toiletries or even a change of clothes.  As we searched for a place to stay, we found that the "make love" hotels were the cheapest options.  Fortunately, in Japan, those types of places are an integral part of their society - so much so that they are designed to ensure the complete privacy of the guests.  So we didn't have to endure disapproving looks from clerks or bellhops... but that's another story entirely.