A wonderful introduction to Japanese cuisine and more

JAPAN EATS! AN EXPLORER’S GUIDE TO JAPANESE FOOD

By Betty Reynolds (North Clarendon, Vt.: Tuttle Publishing, 2020, 72 pp., $12.99, hard cover)

As travelers to Japan know, eating out can be an adventure. You need to know what you’re ordering, how to order it, and how to eat it properly. “Japan Eats! An Explorer’s Guide to Japanese Food” is the guide to help you navigate your way through the pleasures and pitfalls of dining in Japan. 

American author and illustrator Betty Reynolds lived in Tokyo with her husband for seven years. When she first arrived, she was unfamiliar with Japanese culture and cuisine. She learned by sketching all that she experienced, including eating out. Her initial food forays with her husband included some mishaps. As they made Japanese friends, she gained an understanding of proper etiquette and manners over the course of many shared meals. She also became knowledgeable about Japanese cuisine. Her sketches and musings became the inspiration for “Japan Eats!”

Reynolds begins her book by providing useful phrases and teaching proper etiquette for everything from how to use chopsticks correctly to how to use Japanese-style and western toilets. There are even sketches of toilet control panels. Then she introduces all types of Japanese food. Each food item is lovingly illustrated and labeled in hiragana letters and romaji (Japanese written in English letters). Also included is a definition and a detailed description. 

“Japan Eats!” is also a travel guide. One chapter talks about what to expect when going to a sumo match and describes it as “one big picnic for most of the spectators.” In another chapter, Reynolds devotes 10 pages to staying in a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn. She explains the joys of wearing yukata, eating kaiseki ryori (a multi-course meal), and bathing. Reading the ryokan chapter brought back fond memories of my time spent in a ryokan in Kumamoto and Nagano prefectures. 

Although there are a few typos in romaji, such as “itedakimasu” instead of “itadakimasu” and “omubushi” instead of “omusubi,” Japan Eats! Is an excellent book for first-time visitors to Japan and for those of us who miss Japan and all of its culinary delights. Betty Reynolds currently lives in the States, “but her heart remains in Japan,” and her love of Japanese cuisine is unmistakable in this guide. 

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