aviva_m and I have just come back from our honeymoon in Japan; here's the start of my trip report on it (further instalments to come).
Japan's an interesting mix of western and traditional. (Think Lost In Translation.*) This is, it seems to me, inseparable from Japanese history: In the mid-nineteenth century, Japan had been a peaceful, but completely closed, society for two and a half centuries; westerners were (with the exception of one Dutch trading mission, and then only once a year) not even permitted to set foot in Japan. In 1853 Commodore Matthew Perry of the United States Navy forced the country, pretty much at gunpoint, to open up to international trade. Japanese society was shaken to its core by this, and it caused the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate that had ruled since the start of the seventeenth century. Japan's reaction was we must transform our country so that this can never happen again, but the way to go about this, somewhat paradoxically, was by a process of intensive and speedy overhauling of every part of culture and government to follow the western model instead of the traditional Japanese one. The one area in which Japanese tradition remained more-or-less supreme, from the point of view of my experience there, is cuisine.
* No, not this kind of lost in translation (of which we saw perhaps surprisingly little):
Though even there, Japanese culture interacted and fizzled with the western one in odd ways, such as a proliferation of weird and wonderful KitKat flavours (all photos are clickable through for, where appropriate, high resolution):
...And when I say weird and wonderful, I mean, frex, wasabi KitKats!
This is, too, a country in which the default symbol for ice-cream is not white, symbolising vanilla, but green, symbolising matcha (powdered green tea):
(We also encountered other interesting ice-cream flavours such as soy sauce and cherry blossom.)
But mostly Japanese cuisine remained its own thing, and in particular Japanese haute-cuisine, which is called Kaiseki. Such a meal, served in high-class restaurants and ryokans (on which see a subsequent blog post), consists of ten small courses served in sequence, almost no component we were able to identify. (We ate either vegetarian, or with the help of this document from the local Masorti community, so we were not at risk of eating anything we would not have been prepared to eat.) Here's a few examples of courses from our first kaiseki meal:
In this last photo, I am wearing a yukata, which the less westernised hotels, and ryokans provide for guests to wear within the hotel grounds.
Less high-end restaurants, along with fast food eateries, have an interesting way of advertising their food: Instead of putting a menu in the window, they display plastic models of the food they serve (frequently with a pair of chopsticks holding noodles out of their bowl in a gravity-defying manner). Here's some examples from a Hello Kitty-themed eatery we passed: