Sushi Shame in Tokyo

A raw deal

By Luisa Avia   Aug 23, 2018 - 4 min read

One of the many things I have been looking forward to on my trip to Japan is to try ‘REAL’ SUSHI! An avid sushi consumer in New Zealand, I was extremely excited upon my first sushi stop. An authentic sushi restaurant in the wonderful historical Asakusa, Tokyo, was my bet, and I entered, enthusiastically. I predicted it to be an experience I’d always remember. Just how memorable it would be, I was completely unaware.

Being an adventurer and all, I opted for the Japanese menu to surprise myself. I looked at the little pictures and picked what I thought looked a delightful selection. After downing a complimentary pot of green tea, the sushi chef approached me with a colorful array. Surveying the sushi in front of me, I glanced knowingly at the tofu, the salmon, the egg, and that’s where the recognition ended. Reminding myself this was an adventure, I over-generously swabbed wasabi on the top of each piece. Almost smugly I noted, no other foreigners had opted for wasabi with theirs.

The first piece I chose was the salmon (start safe), and immediately my mouth began burning. Half choking, as politely as possible, I examined the half eaten morsel. To my surprise, the sushi already had a nice layer of wasabi sneakily hidden under the slice of salmon. I looked weakly over my plate at the wasabi I’d added to the already wasabi-ed sushi. I ordered another pot of green tea and felt a long afternoon was ahead of me.

Contrary to my self-proclaimed adventurous spirit, I then went on to eat the egg and the tofu. All the while I gulped back green tea faster than an alcoholic at happy hour. Another 8 or so pieces remained ahead of me. Although I wasn’t clear exactly what it was, I sensed fish. Fresh fish. A white and safe sort of looking fish was my next choice, but upon consumption tears began to well in my eyes. Definitely raw. So raw, it was probably swimming with its family that morning. Leaning closely I tentatively sniffed the subsequent pieces. Definitely raw was my conclusion. Every single piece. I gagged my way through two further pieces, but my green tea had run out and I was too ashamed to order more.

Raw squid perhaps, possibly raw tuna, and who knows what stared back at me. I observed other foreigners all leaving with half-eaten plates, and the knowing chuckles from the locals. Never one to disappoint I attempted to soldier on, but I knew it was a losing battle. In one moment I had a brilliant face-saving idea. Periodically between fake sips of an already empty tea cup, I scooped raw fish into my hand bag front pocket. I timed it perfectly so as not to arouse suspicion. Stifling laughter as I imagined friends or family seeing me here, I continued until the plate was clean.

Going up to pay the bill I smiled and thanked them profusely in the few phrases of questionable Japanese I know. One of the waitress beamed exclaiming that no foreigners eat ‘all the sushi’. I wondered if she knew my secret, but I grinned, raw-fishy handbag in tow and exited the shop.

Immediately I found myself at a nearby Burger King ordering hot chips to remove the ocean-fresh taste on my tongue. Ashamedly I scoffed them at record speed. Fast forward a few hours and there I am on the train, exhausted from the sight seeing and sushi ordeal. A few minutes into the ride and I smell a distinctly fishy odor, and remember exactly where it is coming from… Disembarking at the next stop I run to the nearest restroom and plunge my hand into raw fish, disposing of it. Gagging and choking and crying of laughter all at once, I head home.

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Join the discussion

Sherilyn Siy 3 weeks ago
I'm so sorry it was a horrid experience for you. I remember going to Tsukiji for the first time and being served raw uni (sea urchin). I can deal with raw fish but sea urchin is not meant for human consumption (sorry uni lovers!).
Trung Hậu Lê 3 weeks ago
This is sad, I was still confident about being able to enjoy raw sushi until I read this :((
Kim B a month ago
I laughed out loud at this recollection!