I’m sure at least some of you have seen the video now making the rounds of the Japanese woman consuming the bottom half of a frog as sashimi while the top half blinks at her from her dish. I’m not going to post it here as watching it has made me feel a bit queasy, but it’s fairly easy to find, Google “live frog sashimi” if you really want to see it. (Not for the faint of heart or those lacking a strong stomach.)
I’m pro-cultural understanding here, so let me clarify a few important points before we all go on a rampage about Japanese culture:
Ikizukuri (生き作り) is the name of the practice, and literally translates to “prepared alive”.
Yes, the animal – usually a sea creature of some persuasion, frogs, fish, octopodes, shrimp – is not killed and prepared, but just prepared. I am pro-cultural understanding, but I am not a cultural relativist, and in most cases I firmly believe that this constitutes vicious animal cruelty. Wanting fresh fish is one thing, but there’s something a little bit sick about arranging the meat around the still-moving corpse. I’ve had carpaccio prepared from a freshly caught tuna, but that tuna was pretty dead before it got sliced up. Fresh food is great; still-moving food not so much. Some say the movement is unconscious nerve twitches and that the animal is dead when it’s sliced open, but I am not a neuroscientist and I can’t confirm that. (I tried Googling around for it and couldn’t find anything that met my criteria of confirming or refuting – sorry, guys.) I mean, I hope it dies quickly, but I don’t know.
This is not common Japanese cuisine.
The restaurant it was at is called Asadachi. Asadachi (朝立ち) literally means “morning stand-up” or, in our English slang, “morning wood”. The restaurant name is indeed the same and it is intentional. It’s a fly-by-night operation in Tokyo’s lovingly named Piss Alley. Piss Alley .. well, let me defer to the experts here: http://www.tofugu.com/2012/11/23/tokyos-infamous-piss-alley/ (if you like reading about Japanese culture, Tofugu is great, by the way – the author, Koichi, writes in a fun and accessible manner).
The food Asadachi serves is more “virility food”, or folk remedies to make you hale and hearty. It’s actually fairly well-known for bizarre food, and I mean bizarre by their own standards, not ours.
Japanese cuisine does often include very fresh fish, but when I visited Japan, and in all the Japanese cooking I’ve witnessed, they buy their fish dead. My wonderful Japanese host mother, Momoko, made us a big plate of hand-rolled sushi the Friday before I left, and it was all pretty dead (and she knew I didn’t want the watered-down version – if they ate it, I wanted to eat it, no holding back).
This isn’t commonly eaten – it would be like claiming all Koreans eat dog, when in fact most Koreans (62% under the age of 30 according to Wikipedia) are mildly disgusted by the idea (and the dogs are livestock dogs, not commonly kept as pets). So, you know. Choose your words.
It’s not sushi, by the way.
It’s sashimi. To be sushi, it has to be served with shari, or sushi rice, which this is not. Sashimi is raw seafood served alone.
In conclusion: it’s sick, but no more sick than some of the stuff we do.
Oh yes, slaughtering animals and eating them semi-alive (or sometimes even just straight up alive – see odori-ebi [踊り海老] for details) is, if you’ll pardon my crassness, pretty fucked up. But we keep pigs in tiny cages and then let them bleed out when we slaughter them. We clip chickens’ beaks and let them live in their own filth. We drug cows to make them lactate constantly. This is less a question of what we’re eating, but how we’re eating it. Most Hindus, for example, find the idea of eating a cow blasphemous. Yet we think nothing, most of us don’t, of ordering a burger and happily devouring it. We Westerners tend to think poorly of those who eat horse. (Fact: horse is nothing special. They sell it ground in some Québec supermarkets. Kangaroo is also not great.) Yet I feel ultimately that it’s the right of everyone to, on the whole, eat what they want. It’s just prudent and worth encouraging that it be done prudently, with care to the environment, and if you’re going to slaughter animals for food, just be decent. Don’t let them suffer.