My life 4.6





Oishii is a Japanese word.

It’s always good in business to learn a little of the local language. I once learnt Finnish counting (uksi, kaksi, kolme, nelya, viisi etc.and I always wanted to order ‘kaksi taksi’). In the Nokia factory I surprised an executive by telling him they’d just asked him to call extension number so-and-so on the loudspeaker system. Kudos! That is what it was about.

In Japan, the Japanese executives were so sure that English people could not understand Japanese they would conduct private discussions in front of you during contract negotiations. They asked permission very politely. I always agreed enthusiastically! I found as a negotiator that I was a good intuitive reader of motivation, mood and meaning. In Japan, my few words helped a bit, but the ‘inscrutable’ Japanese are nothing of the sort! I gazed on blandly as the factory man argued with the marketing man, and the boss chimed in. Given I knew the topic they were discussing - price, or a requested feature on the products – and given that most technical and marketing words are of English origin, often with an ‘o’ on the end, I could often follow the argument and the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ indications from the different parties. Once the discussion was resumed in English, I would stay away from the disputed point, and gradually work my way back to a position using what I understood to be their own preferences selectively. From their perspective, I began to offer a point of view on the price or product that they found familiar, so they might inevitably accept it. Very nebulous, but sometimes it worked!

Oishii!” The lady in the Kimono said, as we sat on the floor of one of a restaurant in one of the oldest wooden houses in Osaka. She was stirring the stew with a chopstick. The stew was contained in a parchment, supported in a tripod, bulging down like a big bag, directly over a naked flame.

“She has to be very careful with the chopstick” our host declared. I believed him.

They had a special barbecue style in Osaka. We sat in a restaurant high up overlooking Osaka Bay, where they were building the artificial islands for the airport. Here we had the ‘Genghis Khan’ So-called after a Mongolian shield, it was a round convex iron plate, heated from underneath. It had ridges running radially, and around the edge was a moat of water. As the succulent meat fizzed, the fat ran away into the water. Very healthy! And so tasty! It was just one version of the barbecue which in its various forms is common in restaurants in Japan. In the underground mall near Akasaka, four floors down, close to a waterfall, I would often sit with a colleague, dumping small pieces of meat on the hot plate, dipping them in sauce and consuming them. There we had big paper bibs, as the fat really did spit!

The most sophisticated version of this was probably the stone. A large stone (you would need two hands to pick it up) was placed in front of you, sitting on an iron cradle. It was hot! Small pieces of juicy Kobe beef (tiny veins of fat ran through the meat – it was rumoured they massaged the cattle with beer!) were provided. You laid these on the surface of the stone with a hiss, turned them over, dipped and ate. After the steak on the stone, we would have Snow Crab legs. With segments about eight inches long, as thick than my thumb, the shell was sliced diagonally so you could snap them open and pull out the succulent, stringy white meat.

I was once presented with a tray of tiny crabs, about ½” to 1” across. They had been baked whole, and were sprinkled with salt. They were an appetiser. Under the guidance of my hosts, I popped one in my mouth. “You must crunch all the shell – don’t leave any large pieces” they told me. I did so. Oishii!

I remember my first meal in Tokyo, which followed the Hong Kong visit where I’d had my first sight of live prawns. We sat at a counter, a white-garbed chef standing in front of us. There was a stainless steel hot plate in front of him. This was what the downmarket ‘Beni Hana’ chain copied. The chef cooked garlic, presenting us with tiny slivers of the roasted bulb. It was delicious! Then came the prawns! You can’t escape the prawns in Japan. These were striped grey monsters, eight inches long. They were lying in a bowl of rice wine, covered to prevent them jumping out. The chef pressed them onto the hotplate, first one side and then the other. The prawns was still by now, pink on each side, but still grey down the back. The chef took a copper dome, poured a small cup of water onto the plate, and slammed the dome down over the prawns. A short time later he removed it, a cloud of prawn-smelling steam rising, the prawns now glowing pink all over. A short-snick snack of the chef’s knives, and the shelled prawn lay on my plate. Oishii!

One thing I really liked in Osaka was the motorway above the river. The Japanese are nothing if not practical, and as I gazed from my room at the Sheraton I could see the road, built on a row of single pillars rising from the river. It was like those old Sci-Fi Illustrations of the 50’s. At about the 4th floor level of two glass office blocks, a feeder road emerged from the slim gap and joined the river motorway. It just looked fantastic! Mind you, just as impressive was Tokyo with three and four levels of roads, with occasional ramps up and down so you could change levels to get the turnoffs which spun away between buildings, or ramps which plunged into tunnels. My taxi driver once missed the turn to my Hotel in Tokyo. The road plunged into a tunnel and emerged the other side of the Imperial Palace. It took an hour to get back!

Oishii!” I often said.

It means ‘delicious’.

It was – and I miss it!


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