Our From Japan with Love interviews continue this week with Vanessa Muri, a Montreal-based freelance editor, writer & blogger for sweetspot.ca. Vanessa had the chance to live in Japan for a little while in 1998 and she tells us all about it.
Kaiji Sushi: Why did you decide to go to Japan and how did you go about preparing your trip?
Vanessa Muri: I went to Japan in the summer of 1998 to train as a flight attendant for Japan Airlines.
KS: Were you surprised or disappointed by anything in particular?
VM: Surprised… Yes, by how many people knew who Anne of Green Gables was! Every time I’d meet someone, whether it was in the city or the countryside, they’d giggle or point at my hair and say “Anne” over and over. As for disappointed, not so much. Maybe by the interest that they have in some aspects of western culture. With traditions as rich and beautiful as their own, it’s sad that the McDonalds and Burger Kings of the world are making headway there.
KS: What was your favourite meal while you were there and why?
VM: You might laugh, but to be honest, I loved the rice. I’ve always loved rice; rice pudding is just about my favourite dessert. But simple Japanese rice, the right amount of sticky, with furikake (a spice and herb mixture) sprinkled on top and a splash of soy sauce; that does it for me every time. I also love the cold soba noodles; those are delicious served with seaweed.
KS: How do you find Japanese food in Montreal compares to food in Japan?
VM: It’s not quite the same, but it’s similar enough. I think Montreal is very lucky to have some amazing sushi chefs working here, and as for the noodle dishes, I have yet to try one that equals those in Japan. But I’ve not been to nearly enough restaurants yet.
KS: What was the one tradition or aspect of Japanese life that left the biggest impression on you?
VM: The incredible amount of respect people have for each other. It was difficult to get used to the nuances of society, the classes, the different levers of politeness demanded in certain social occasions. But I don’t think one can ever be too polite to another human being. We can be so gruff here in the West.
KS: Was there one particular object you fell in love with and had to bring back with you?
VM: The kimono! I couldn’t afford to bring a real one back as they are thousands of dollars. So I bought a yukata (decorated robe) instead. And an obi (the waist tie), so at least it would sort of look like the real thing. But I love the history of the geisha in general, the story behind the layers of fabric and makeup.
KS: Would you go back and if so, would you do anything differently this time around?
VM: I would go back in a second. If I could do anything differently, it would be to visit more places on my own, and not wait for my friends or colleagues to go with me. I could have seen so much more of the surrounding countryside, but I was afraid to go by myself. Now I would waltz right in there and be uninhibited.
KS: Would you go back to certain places and relive certain experiences?
VM: I would love to go back to Tokyo and Kyoto. Tokyo for the excitement, Kyoto for the beauty. And I was this close to Fiji-san, but I didn’t have enough time to climb the mountain. The next time I will, without question.