What were your early impressions of Japanese food?
I grew up in Scotland and as a kid very much immersed in my own culture I think I was horrified at the thought of eating raw fish - but what did I know then?! We certainly didn't have any Japanese food at school or at home but as soon as I had any disposable income I spent it on food and travel so I was always fascinated by it. When I came to London my fascination blossomed as there are now so many Japanese restaurants.
Was your recent visit your first time to go to Japan? What were your expectations?
Yes it was. As a child I had an idea of one side of Japan - through things like Nintendo and Pokemon! I was fascinated by what I appreciated as a mixture of wonderful, lively, anarchic creativity, and also - through the experience that I had working in the bank - the perception that Japanese people could be very serious and buttoned-up. I was looking forward to seeing the intersection of that and simultaneously the intersection of the traditional style of Japanese life - the tatami mats, the religion, mixed with the modern, lively aspects.
Your visit to Japan was focused very much around food. Without giving too much away as we are looking forward to reading your blog entries, can you tell us about some of your experiences?
My visit to Japan was over six days and I visited many wonderful places. The journey started at Tsukiji market - very early at 4 o'clock in the morning - which actually worked out as a very convenient time for my jet-lag! What can you say about Tsukiji?! It¡Çs lively, it¡Çs full of people shouting and picking at the frozen carcasses of the fish to test the quality of the flesh. I took lots of photos. It was a hugely beneficial experience.
I visited a small town in the region of Japan that was affected by the tsunami. It was harrowing. There were houses which were just shells with things scattered everywhere, lampposts bent over - it was desolate. But what was extraordinary was how close it was to things that were completely untouched and perfectly normal.
My visit to an oyster farm was very interesting. I had the freshest oysters I've ever had! I was taken out in a boat and given oysters straight from the sea - very fat, juicy and delicious. I went through and also saw the factory where they shelled the oysters. I loved that part of Japan and visited some temples there too. I loved the stillness and peacefulness of those places.
I also visited a sake brewery. The big shock for a westerner is the realisation that sake is much closer to beer than wine - because it¡Çs fermented like beer. It was wonderful to see how the sake is made and I really enjoyed that. I tried three different types of sake - including a non-pasteurised one which was particularly good. I bought a few bottles to take home.