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Thursday, July 5, 2012

16: Billy And Simon Go To A Japanese Restaurant

After being inspired by critters in Japan to write this novella, I felt bad that I never revisited the country in the story - until now. Because I know so much about fishing, fugu and 1868 Japan, it was a natural progression for me to incorporate it all into one story.
I don't and did not actually know anything about either of those three things. However... I did eat fugu (puffer fish) once. It is what inspired this chapter. My fugu was in the form of a stew... and I don't know if it was my active imagination or not, but I felt a tingling in my mouth - perhaps a mild paralysis - or perhaps this is the whole taste sensation that the Japanese speak of with awe in regards to this fish.
What did it taste like? It tasted like a dark stew. Aside from the tingling sensation, and the standard  stew-like ingredients of carrots, celery and potato, when I tasted the somewhat thinly sliced chewy flesh of the fugu, I can honestly tell you it tasted like fish. Chewy, chewy fish. If it wasn't for the chance to die, I can't really see why anyone would want to eat this comical-looking gas bag.      
Ryoichi in this story is named after Shibata Ryoichi(surname first) (a damn fine English teacher at Ohtawara Chu Gakko in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, who is probably principal of the place just like his father was).
I chose Goto Island as the base because the Catholic priest who lived next door to my apartment that I chatted with once or twice in three years was on Goto Island when the second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki during WWII.
Akira was chosen because of the manga (comic book) and anime (animated movie).
Maria... in the New Horizon English book for Japanese junior high school students, I learned how Maria and her dad went into the Altamira caves in France and found some cave drawings. Because I learned something cool from this, I felt like using her name briefly. 
Fishtown was a real area in 1820s Philadelphia, and I didn't see the joke of Fishtown and a story about a poisonous fish. D'uh. 
On with the story. 

Chapter 1             Chapter 6              Chapter 11
Chapter 2             Chapter 7              Chapter 12
Chapter 3             Chapter 8              Chapter 13
Chapter 4             Chapter 9              Chapter 14
Chapter 5             Chapter 10            Chapter 15
Simon and Billy had never met each other, but had done so quite often. More often than that, they died at the same time in the same locale. They were even born at the same time. Usually. However, they were never aware of their past encounters with each other. Why? Because the grinning 2-Footer said so.
The grinning 2-Footer is/shall be/was a strange creature who seems to have a strange power over Billy and Simon, though it has never used that power. It lives in a place where a white mist may or may not exist depending on whether or not you believe it to. There is also a floor that is not alive, but sometimes forgets that fact. But none of this is important now.
Swimming in the warm waters of the Japanese sea, Billy grew, aged, mated and died and was born again in the same form. Nothing special happened. Unless you consider reincarnation to be nothing special, which wasn't to Billy because it had happened so many times before. Of course, he didn't remember that. And, even if he did, he probably wouldn't have cared much, being, as the 2-Footers called him, a fairly stupid type of fish.
On one of those days of birth, Simon was thrust into this world. Although he was born in New York State, in later years he assured everyone that he was not from New York City. New York in 1844 was an interesting time if you were fascinated by the dawning industrial revolution. Simon wasn't. He loved the sea. In fact, when Japan finally opened its ports to the world in 1868, he hopped a tramp steamer and sailed for Yokohama, Japan.
Billy was born, grew, aged, mated and died again. He may have been his own grandfather.
Simon just loved the sea and once in Japan, decided to become a fisherman - on Goto Island, just off the coast of Nagasaki. Being a gaijin, he didn't know he had to join a guild - and no Japanese person wanted to be rude enough to tell him so.  Life for Simon was tough, but he persevered.
Again, Billy was born, grew, aged, mated and died. He was his own great-great-great-great grandfather this time? Maybe. Add in another 'great'.
At the age of 27, Simon had completed his third year in Japan. He took a wife, who will only be mentioned in this line.

He was quite a successful fisherman, and often made hauls of fish that made other long-time Japanese fishermen green with envy and sea-sickness. His nets were often filled with high quality sea bream and eel which he could sell for top yen.

One evening, with the clouds turning a shade of purple quite common to the twilight, Simon was hauling in his nets. Pulling and straining with the heavy load, he hoped it wasn't more samurai relics.

Although he welcomed Japan's foray into the international waters, he never could understand how a country so steeped in history could throw away its past to embrace all things foreign.
No - it wasn't more relics - he got lucky! Inside the net was an entire school of flippy-floppy puffer fish. He was rich!
At the same time, Billy the Fish was swimming in the warm waters of the Sea of Japan when quite suddenly he felt himself caught in an upward flow. Escape was impossible.
The Writer wishes to assure the reader that Billy is indeed a puffer fish, or as the Japanese call it, a fugu. He is not called Billy the Puffer or Billy The Fugu, because as will be revealed in later stories that have already appeared, the animal kingdom does not seek to differentiate between similar species.

Though, in pure conjecture, the Writer assumes Billy would have like to have been called Billy the Barracuda or Billy the Piranha. Name calling aside, he is caught in a fishing net at this time.
Billy couldn't believe it! He was caught! Raised from the foot level of water he was basking in, he peered at his captor through puffy eyes.
The young girl squealed with glee. Tanaso Yumiko (surname first, but also formerly an elephant under the command of Hannibal) had never caught a fish before - and what a silly-looking fish it was!
It was about two hands wide, and white with brown spots, and all puffy with some points on it. She couldn't help but think how pathetic it looked. She put it in a pail of water, and took it to her uncle's house.
Simon rowed back to shore in a gleeful frenzy. He had over 46 (actually, he had 47) fugu in his possession, He took the catch back to Mashiko's Sushi Shoppe, and left with a lot of yen.
He returned scant seconds later, as he realized he was famished after a long day of fishing, and since it was usually out of his price range, he decided to tempt Fate and order the fugu sashimi.
The Writer here: Fugu sashimi is a Japanese specialty dish of puffer fish sliced thinly and eaten raw. It is better than it sounds. It has to, right?
Simon was aware that fugu sashimi was perhaps the most difficult dish for a Japanese cook to prepare, as the fish contains a poison that is extremely deadly. In fact, to protect people from their own stupidity, the Tokugawa shogunate - the military leaders of Japan from 1603-1868 actually banned the eating of fugu.

However, that ban is over with the fall of the Shogun and the installation of the Emperor as the supreme ruler.
Somewhere, laughter that sounded like thunder rumbled over Mount Fuji.
Simon did not know that the Emperor was forbidden to eat fugu... the only food he may never, ever eat. Why would that be?

While the fugu toxin is deadly, if prepared properly with the poison bits removed, like the liver, for example, fugu sashimi is quite the taste sensation. But being a fisherman, Simon didn't really understand the intricacies of Japanese cuisine.
Still, he wasn't going waste this opportunity.

"Fugu me!"
The grinning small 2-Footer had placed him lovingly within a cage of fused sea sand so that Billy could swim lazily and stupidly around his new surroundings. He would occasionally stop and stare at the other fish in front of him who looked like he did.

Of course, being a stupid puffer, Billy wasn't really aware of what he looked like or even that all puffer fish look alike.
Yumiko's uncle Ryoichi (once Mary Queen of Scots) and his brother-on-law Akira (once a bat in a cave in Altamira, Spain killed by a small child named Maria) were sushi and sashimi masters in the Nagasaki area.

Both loved their work and were quite proficient at preparing fugu. However, because few locals could afford the expensive dish, they rarely had a chance to prepare it.

Oh well, this would be an excellent chance to practice.
Netting a fish from inside the aquarium, Akira carefully sharpened his work tools. He placed his blade to the fish and punctured it.

The puffer hissed like a bicycle tire with a hole in it. It did not make a flatulent sound like a leaking balloon and jet all over the room and end up on Ryoichi's head. That only happens in the cartoons that would be invented in 40 more years.
Simon waited patiently outside the in the dining area drinking hot sake as Yumiko's mother (former heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson's great-grandmother) entertained the customers (Simon was the only one there) with a performance on the shamisen—a three-stringed instrument in the basic shape of a guitar.

Simon occasionally tried to slid a hand into the performer's kimono.
Akira steadily removed the skin, liver and other organs from the fish leaving only tasty fugu. He quickly sliced the fish into an intricate pattern depicting man's-struggle-against-life-in-the-forest-with-naught-else-but-his-wits-and-a-firm-belief-in-Buddha-who-would-only-come-to-aid-him-if-he-could-prove-he-didn't-need-his-help-by-proving-his-loyalty-by-eating-a-lotus root-covered-with-lots-of-spicy-hot-wasabi-mustard.

Crowing in triumph, Akira carted the dish out to Simon. From out of nowhere, a crowd of onlookers appeared and "oohed" and "ahhed" as they saw the magnificent diorama of man's-struggle-against-life-in-the-forest-with-naught-else-but-his-wits-and-a-firm-belief-in-Buddha-who-would-only-come-to-aid-him-if-he-could-prove-he-didn't-need-his-help-by-proving-his-loyalty-by-eating-a-lotus root-covered-with-lots-of-spicy-hot-wasabi-mustard.

As far as creating scenes of man's-struggle-against-life-in-the-forest-with-naught-else-but-his-wits-and-a-firm-belief-in-Buddha-who-would-only-come-to-aid-him-if-he-could-prove-he-didn't-need-his-help-by-proving-his-loyalty-by-eating-a-lotus root-covered-with-lots-of-spicy-hot-wasabi-mustard out of bits of raw fish goes, Akira was pretty good at it.

As a foreigner, Simon was already accustomed to the "ooh's" and "ahh's" thanks to his ability to use chopsticks very well, grinned and quickly wolfed down the entire platter, pausing only to grunt for more sake (Japanese rice wine).
About two minutes later, in another room, a furry paw darted into the water. It darted in again and again, finally succeeding in snagging its prize.
Billy flomphed stupidly on the tatami grass mats, with his last puffy sight being white, glistening teeth.
At exactly the same time in the dining area, Simon began to turn several shades of purple, which might have one time in the future greatly interested him/her. He died painfully and sexually frustrated, as kimono are notoriously difficult to slip anything into.
The Writer feels it is his duty to tell you that the Meow (she used to be a fly on the wall of Samuel White's bedroom at 12 Frankford Avenue, in the Fishtown area of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for exactly six minutes and 23 seconds) died sated but painfully soon after, and that Akira was a little bit rusty in his preparation of fugu sashimi.

He seem(s)(ed)(ingly) to have forgotten that there was one other area in a fugu that contained the deadly poison - the ovaries in the female of the species. Oh well, since he now has 45 more fugu  (actually 46 more), he can still practice.
Simon followed the tunnel, not quite able to reach up to the crimson light emanating from the opening ahead.
Billy being a stupid puffer fish, bumped into the immaterial walls of the tunnel that weren't there.
Suddenly Simon saw a puffer fish up ahead but beside him. He paused to throw up and found himself at the mouth of the entrance.
Having to stop as some stupid 2-Footer vomited upon him, Billy suddenly found himself at the edge of the sea.
Life's funny that way.

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