Saturday, May 21, 2011

11/05 VOX POPULI: Beef restaurants and journalists must be sure of their sources


Many comic plots revolve around mix-ups. A stock example might be a shabby company president looking uncomfortable in his business suit and a fat, dignified-looking aide. Wherever they go, people mistake one for the other. Ridiculous situations develop.

I didn't intend to raise a laugh in my column on May 7, but I did mix up the characters of the famous novel "Botchan" by Natsume Soseki (1867-1916).

In a scene in which the protagonist, Botchan, and his colleague Yama-arashi eat sukiyaki together, I attributed the line "Hey, that meat isn't done yet. You're going to get tapeworm from that" to Yama-arashi and the reply "It's probably going to be all right" to Botchan. It should have been the other way round.

Since reading the book as a boy, I had always thought it was Yama-arashi who had cautioned Botchan. I went back to the novel before I quoted the lines, but never doubted that attribution. Predictably, since I was quoting such a famous novel, many readers pointed out my mistake after it was published. I wish to thank them and to apologize for my blunder.

That column was about food poisoning at a chain of yakiniku barbecue restaurants. What of the truth of that incident? While the wholesaler of the tainted beef claims it was meant for cooking, the restaurant operator says it was meant to be served as "yukhoe" raw beef.

Was this also a mix-up? The more we learn about this food poisoning case, the more the ambiguities of the beef distribution system become apparent.

According to reports, shipments of beef clearly specified as being for raw consumption have been close to nonexistent for several years, but yukhoe is served at restaurants across Japan. The dish can be served as long as restaurants properly prepare it in accordance with health standards set by the health ministry. Few customers appear to have understood this situation.

In the old days when Japan was westernizing, beef was a symbol of cultural enlightenment. Back then, people must have timidly nibbled on the delicacy. Now, yakiniku is a popular dish nationwide. While I am ashamed of my absent-minded mistake, I wish to once again stress the need for thorough safety measures.

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 10

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.

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