You Ate What?! April Fool’s… Right?

I’ll never forget that time when I ate a living, breathing fish.

I was well into my third year of life in Japan. And it was a special occasion, so my dining companion and I decided to order the most expensive dish on the menu. We shelled out 5,000 yen (over $50) for our favourite type of raw fish: hamachi.

Although I had never seen hamachi alive until that night, I always thought it made for a stunning piece of colourful sashimi. The white meat always seemed to shimmer and sparkle, and the multi-hued red meat would create a rainbow of colour along the ultra-enticing edge. But on this particular evening, its beauty was magnified.

The whole fish was resting on a platter decorated with yellow flowers, hills of green wasabi, and petals of pink ginger. Mouth-watering sashimi squares were artfully displayed along its body, like a patchwork quilt to keep it nice and warm. While some westerners would get squeamish at the sight of a fish head on their plate, I thought the presentation was delightful.

So there I was, oohing and aahing over this beautifully presented fish—when something on the plate caught my eye. A movement. I heard myself scream as the fish sucked in a last breath of air.

I didn’t mean to startle my kimono-clad waitress or disrupt the quiet atmosphere of the restaurant. But I couldn’t silence my thoughts: This fish I’m about to eat is moving. So does this mean it’s still alive?! How is this even possible?

As our waitress set the platter of horror down on our table, it struck me that we had passed the point of no return. We couldn’t demand our money back. By Japanese standards, we had been served the freshest, most delicious—yes, the best cut of fish. And we couldn’t refuse to eat it either. This poor creature was dying a slow death, for us—and it would have suffered in vain had we rejected our meal.

So what did we do? We sloppily refilled cup after tiny cup of sake, making sure to wash each bite down, to drown out the taste of our guilt. If we were going to eat a living, breathing fish, it seemed we’d need a bit of help forgetting.

That night, I spent more money than I’d ever spent on a meal. And I didn’t enjoy one bite. April Fool’s, you ask? I wish!


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