Sunday, July 09, 2006

Hanaya Yohei

Hanaya Yohei is the name of a chain of family restaurants which flourishes in Japan. The chain is named in honor of Hanaya Yohei, the dude who invented the modern version of sushi. The invention of sushi took place during the Meiji period, which is quite some years ago now.

There is a Hanaya Yohei in our neighborhood, about twenty minutes away on foot, if the foot in question is that of a two-year-old.

Saturday night, Saturday 8 July 2006, we took our two-year-old daughter to Hanaya Yohei. Her first ever experience of dining at a restaurant.

We experienced some trepidation, not knowing how well our daughter would tolerate waiting for her meal. But my wife had this figured out. As soon as we took our seats, she ordered the curry and udon noodle set for the impatient daughter, and the meal had been served by the time our orders had been taken.

I ordered a set meal which same with an assortment of sushi, a clear soup, some tempura, and some noodles which could be dipped into a kind of cold soup, which could be spiced up with the supplied chopped onions and ginger.

With our meal, my wife had a beer, my daughter had a glass of orange juice and I had sake.

It is sometimes incorrectly stated in Western sources that Japanese people typically heat sake before drinking it. However, when I have asked people in Japan about this, I have been told, on more than one occasion, that you can drink sake heated or at room temperature, as you prefer. There is absolutely no rule on this.

One source which perpetuates the "sake is heated when drunk" misinformation is the 2005 edition of Microsoft'[s
Encarta, which says that sake is "usually consumed hot or warm."

The same crappy Encarta encyclopedia contains a bad error in the section on cataracts, stating as if it were a fact that a cataract can only be removed when mature, though the eye surgeon who removed my own cataracts told me that such a notion is wrong, and that, with modern surgery, a cataract can be removed at any stage of its development.

The same piece of misinformation about the "usually heated" sake cropped up in a book set in Kyoto, a book written by, if memory serves, the American horror writer Dean Koontz. This book, obviously massively researched, had a Western hero who was absurdly knowledgeable about all things Japanese, more so than the average Japanese person could be expected to be. And it contained the same error about sake being heated before being drunk.

Personally, at home I always drink sake at room temperature, but sometimes I have it heated when it is served to me in restaurants, for a change.

At Hanaya Yohei, the sake came heated, which was acceptable to me.

Drinking sake made me think of a major faux pas I committed when I went out with the students of one of my corporate classes. I was asked what I would like to drink first, and automatically ordered sake, because I do not drink beer, and never have.

It was a couple of years down the track before I learnt that I had made a crass social error. The first drink MUST be beer. This is a definite rule, one you cannot bend or break. But I never picked up on that fact at the time.

When I made the error of ordering sake as my first drink, what happened was that the most senior member of the party took the lead and declared that he, too, would order sake. So I had no reason to think that my behavior was out of the ordinary. This is Japan, right, and Japanese people drink sake?

Well, these days, the drinking of sake is becoming a thing of the past, and a number of Japanese people are very surprised to find out that I like to drink sake. Because, very often, they don't.

At Hanaya Yohei, we started out with wife and daughter on one side of the table and me on the other. Half way through the meal, our daughter crawled beneath the table and resurfaced on my side.

But she caused no trouble except toward the end, when she got a bit noisy, loudly shouting "Ba!"

She declared that she liked going to the restaurant and that, yes, she would like to venture to the restaurant again some time.

So the evening was, all things considered, a big success.

Out of curiosity, I punched "Hanaya Yohei" into Encarta, but got a "no exact match found" response.


Blogger Steve said...

Hi, Hugh,

I'm renovating the site ... you might be interested. I'm using the Drupal content management system.

9:58 AM  

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