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  • by Lindy Schneider
Published in the Jetstar ‘What’s your story’ online magazine

The restaurant chosen by our hosts, three rounded Japanese business distributors, has a classic Tatami room, fabulously expensive and noted for its strict adherence to traditional custom and ritual. Apparently the food was supposed to be pretty good too.

As the only woman in the party, I am afforded a discrete amount of respect, notwithstanding it is highly unusual for a woman, of my age and from Australia, to be included in a business mans lunch.

‘You like Sushi?’ says my Japanese colleague Yas.

‘Yes, of course.’ I say, because I do.

A woman shuffles into the room, weighted down by her heavy kimono, and places large platter it directly in front of me. Four smiling faces motion to me to begin.

I pick up my chopsticks and lean forward, doing my best impersonation of someone who has used these utensils many times. This is the biggest, freshest tuna fish I have ever seen in my life. Fillets have been sliced from its side, rearranged and placed back on the fish as decorations, like rosettes and ribbons.

Chopsticks poised, all eyes upon me, I am about to select a juicy morsel when all of a sudden…oh my god…the fish starts JUMPING ABOUT on the plate.

I recoil so suddenly I topple backwards over the cushion I have been sitting on and nearly meet my fate by crashing into the bamboo and rice paper tatami wall behind.

‘It alive, Miss Lindy.’ says Yas in his best high school English. ‘We call…dancing fish.’

‘Delicious,’ I say, recovering  my composure, ‘pass the wasabi.’

Poor fish. Out of a sense of respect I persisted and ate several more pieces of its ultra fresh flesh. Then it was taken away from the table to reappear later in a soup, and later still as a curry. The last thing I remember of this fancy dinner in Tokyo was a little black fish eye staring at me. ‘It is customary for the guest to eat the eyeball.’ says Yas, a gallant host until the end. ‘It would be my pleasure if you have it,’ I say, ‘really I insist.’

Getting the etiquette right while travelling in foreign countries on business can present all sorts of challenges. Food is often the first affront to Western sensibilities however if you can embrace the differences, you will have an immediate insight into what makes a country and its culture. I did.

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