Sushi. Geisha. Samurai. Somewhere along the line these three keywords came to mean “Japan”? And yet the world of the “samurai” now only exists in fiction, whereas geisha have only been actually seen by a small percentage of normal Japanese people. Perhaps it’s just sushi, then, that is enjoyed regularly as a part of ordinary life. So what words would we choose to describe contemporary Japanese society? “Sushi” works still. Next up it would likely be no big controversy to have “manga” or “anime”. As for others, perhaps we could have “high-tech toilets”, “packed trains” and “vending machines”.
Well, if we follow this train of thought, then here’s something guaranteed to give you your fill of “Japanese culture”. Manga Night, the unit who organize events and who wrote our ‘Dragon Ball’ article recently, also produced an event that combines sushi and manga. You can’t get more Japanese than that! PingMag went along to check it out.
The event this time was held at a gallery in Edogawabashi in Tokyo. The gallery is part of the same venue as a sushi restaurant called Sumeshiya, a combo of raw fish and art which must be pretty unique, even for Japan. Manga Night held an event called ‘manga-esque exhibition’ at the space, collecting together products connected to comic books.
One of the exhibits was Manga Night’s new brand Mangata. This textile seems at first glance to be completely unrelated to manga but actually it’s designed with patterns of the kakeami brush technique which is used in comic books. Kakeami is frequently employed in horror comics, detailed line work for expressing characters’ emotions.
“When we talk about manga-themed design, we tend to end up using typical elements like speech bubbles and the characters. This time I wanted to try it from a different approach,” says Manga Night’s Yasuhiro Yamauchi. “Actually the basic part of this textile pattern is all drawn by hand. It almost killed me!” [Laughs]
And for sure, it really does look like tough work!
‘Comic Leaf’, Manga Night’s new product, was also on display — a postcard for sending someone your recommended manga. You write dialogue from the manga on the speech bubble-shaped card and then on the pocket on the other side, you put book tokens and a piece of paper with the manga’s ISBN number. This is then a great present for someone. The receiver can buy the manga straightaway with the ISBN number.
“If you send a manga to someone, they can feel this pressure like they have to read the book. So this product was born out of wondering if there was a more laid-back and fun way to give someone a manga as a present,” says Yamauchi.
Sushi Manga Night
It’s time for ‘Sushi Manga Night’ to start! What is the event? Well, basically, it’s eating the sushi that appears in manga. First, everyone takes their seat and reads manga. The manga on the table are examples that highlight sushi. For tonight’s event they were ‘Shota no sushi’ (Shota’s Sushi) and ‘Kirara no shigoto’ (Kirara’s Job). It’s a new way to enjoy a comic as it gets you wondering if you can actually make what you read about. Okay, so now it’s time to get cooking! Tonight we will be preparing fifteen different types of sushi, including “original” ones.
Ta-da! Here they are, folks.
Steamed Bream (‘Shota no sushi’ )
Our protagonist Shota does battle in a sushi competition with his spiteful superior. His weapon is… bream! However, due to a bad haul, the market only has one top bream on offer, which his superior snaps up. Shota is then left with a lesser quality bream that his friend manages to get for him. Grateful for his friend’s efforts and hoping somehow to win even with the bream, Shota creates this sushi. The most tasty part is the body and skin, though it is slightly tough. Shota lightly boils the skin, bringing out its tastiness and making it easier to eat as well.
Red Cornetfish Kobujime (‘Kirara no shigoto’ )
Our protagonist Kirara is forced into a sushi duel in order to oppose the aggressive headhunting of a top chef and big chain restaurant owner. After her enemy produces a seemingly perfect olive flounder sushi, Kirara cooks up this red cornetfish, a incredible specimen rarely seen in ordinary restaurants. With the kobujime technique (putting fish on top of konbu seaweed, transferring the taste of the konbu without excess moisture on the fish) she wins over the palates of the judges.
Well, that’s a quick run-down of the basic storylines but no doubt there are readers already familiar with them. So enough with the waffle — let’s take a look at the delicious results of the evening!
Japanese Tiger Prawn & Miso (‘Shota no sushi’) Shrimp miso along the bottom of the prawn rather than wasabi really brings out the flavor.
Bream Fry (‘Shota no sushi’ ) This one was made by Shota’s antagonist, a bream fry.
Pickled Tuna & Steamed Pickled Tuna (‘Kirara no shigoto’ )
Two kinds of pickled tuna. One is pickled for a short time, the other over a long period.
Raw Mushroom Hamburger (original) This sushi was created especially by the event venue, Sumeshiya. Inside is the slowly pickled tuna from the previous picture.
Bonito with Mustard (‘Shota no sushi’ ) Usually you put ginger on bonito but this sushi has mustard instead.
Tuna Head Meat (‘Shota no sushi’ ) You can’t beat tuna head for that tasty fatty tuna experience!
Alfonsino Kasuzuke (original) Another original sushi. Usually kasuzuke is grilled and eaten, but here it becomes sushi. Is it possible for raw kasuzuke to be this delicious?!
Smoked Saury (original) An original dish by Sumeshiya. You can’t beat the smell of cured saury!
Horse Mackerel (‘Kirara no shigoto’ ) A really typical horse mackerel. The manager of Sumeshiya, Mr. Okada, tells us how the sushi re-thinks the significance of seasoning. “Originally seasoning was for getting rid of bad odors, but fish today don’t smell so bad. So what is seasoning for? It’s for setting off the taste, of course.”
Golden Mackerel (‘Shota no sushi’ ) This fish is the one that it almost killed Shota to get his hands on. Well, is that edible or what?!
Conger (‘Shota no sushi’, ‘Kirara no shigoto’) This eel appears in both manga.
Tekkamaki (Seaweed and tuna rolled rice ball) (‘Tekka no makihei’) In this case it’s a whole manga, ‘Tekka no makihei’, that’s a kind of sushi!
If we’re honest, we weren’t expecting much in terms of taste from sushi that appear in manga. But actually they were all delicious! At one point during the event there were calls to make “noodle sushi”, the cup noodle-cum-sushi that appears in the manga ‘Oh My God’. Thankfully, it wasn’t added to the menu! This writer was also really impressed by the level of manga research that went into the event to make the sushi taste so good — a testament to the culinary skills of Sumeshiya, no doubt.
All in all, it was a chance to discover the sensation of eating sushi while reading manga, and how interesting this can be. We hope they hold a follow-up event because the entire PingMag editorial team will definitely be attending with chopsticks at the ready!