Radies and radishes: Part 26

Posted on 8 April 2011

The (sea) grapes of wrath

…the journal of a South African vegan in Japan by Carey Finn

7 April 2011

First of all, I’m still alive and ok in Osaka. I’m sure you’ve all seen news reports about the earthquake and tsunami up in north-eastern Japan. Thankfully, I live about 600 km away from the devastated area and so, for me, life has been going on relatively, and surreally, as normal.

Seaweed mozuku, Ryukyu, Okinawa, Japan. Photo courtesy of Carey FinnThe radiation situation has been, and continues to be, terrifying though. While official government readings show radiation levels are significantly higher than usual in the north-eastern prefectures, the central Kansai area apparently has recorded no change at all. I did mention those were official government readings though, right? That isn’t necessarily a synonym for ‘accurate’.

Singapore recently banned some veggie imports from Hyogo prefecture which is, unsettlingly, Osaka’s neighbour, because they found the vegetables were 6 times more radioactive than they should have been. While no one knows what those levels really mean and whether there will be any impact on human health, it certainly doesn’t help you to relax while steaming the spinach for dinner.

And thanks to the mass dumping of 11,500 tonnes of radioactive waste water into the Pacific Ocean on Monday, it looks like more local foods will be testing positive for radiation. That part of the ocean washes around the Osaka coast so, while I’m sure it will be dirt cheap, sea weed will be struck off my shopping list until further notice. This is a real pity since sea weed is a staple in my diet. It’s delicious and great for the thyroid too.

A couple of weeks ago, I took a trip to the remote Ryukyu Islands in Okinawa. It was a holiday I’d arranged months before and I was glad to be able to get away from the scary, dark vibes on mainland Japan for a while. Anyway, I tried 3 exciting local dishes there – 2 of which were sea weed. One, called mozuku, was a slimy, sour brown dish which sounds revolting but was absolutely delicious! It’s served with a slice of lemon and a vinegar dip. Another was something called ‘sea grapes’. Sometimes likened to caviar, it’s a light, green sea weed with little sacs along its stems, which pop when you bite into them. Again, sounds unappetizing but I loved it. It was salty and fun to eat!

The third dish was a kind of stir-fry called ‘tofu champuru‘, which reminded me of Chinese takeouts, but was lighter on the sauce and oil. It was the least Japanese dish I’ve eaten in Japan. The Ryukyu Islands are actually closer to Taiwan than the mainland of Japan, and before they were conquered, they were their own kingdom, so the culture there is quite different.

I’d like to go back there but the future is a little uncertain. I signed my re-contracting papers in February, which means I’m supposed to teach English until July next year. I’m trying to ward off the flight part of my body’s response to the situation here, but I’m also keeping an eye on the news, particularly the reports about radiation. At the first symptom of a second head or extra limb, I’ll be on the first plane out of here.

Next time: No predictions at this point.


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