Thursday, August 14, 2008


Day twenty-four: Purin

Built on the site of the prison where Tojo and other Japanese military leaders were held and executed, the Sunshine City skyscraper is something like 10 suburban shopping malls piled one on top of the other. On the 2nd and 3rd floors the usual boutiques give way to Namjatown, a theme park based on the Namja company's popular video games. A ¥3900 ticket buys you access to such intriguing attractions such as Jigoku Benjo (“Hell’s Toilet”), Jigoku Ryokan (“Haunted Inn”), and Katori Daisakusen (“Pig-riding Shooting Game”), or for only ¥300 you can head straight to the food themeparks that anchor each floor. Gyoza Stadium brings together the top dumpling shops from all over Japan, while over at Tokyo Dessert Republic, “seven shops make lots of dessert and they are waiting for you!”

Given the choice, I’d take up residence in Ice Cream City, where speciality ice creams from around the world promise “a brand-new taste explosion”; there's gelato, of course, and a genuine Turk paddling up genuine Turkish ice cream, a Cup Ice Museum that documents the historical development of ice cream packaging and flavors, and a chilly shop where a variety of cups and pops almost dare you to try them. The inventive abandon apparent in flavors such as miso, eggplant, sea salt (very nice!), or cow tongue (a cartoon cow on the label reassures suspicious consumers that there is "real tongue inside!") belies a relationship to dairy products that is relatively recent. In fact, dairy was once so repugnant to the Japanese that they characterized themselves as smelling (pleasantly) of soy sauce (shoyu nioi), while milk-swilling Europeans went about in a sour cloud of gyunyu nioi. Of the many ways people have come up with for differentiating between "us" and "them", this is surely among the most reasonable.

On my visit to Namjatown, the Japanese conversion to dairy was demonstrated even more clearly by a temporary event called "PURIN 2008". Hundreds of speciality puddings from all over the country had set up camp in long, geographically-organized coolers. Thanks to the northern island's reputation for purity and freshness, the Hokkaido cooler was decimated, down to a dozen or so surviors.

From elegant Nara came "Great Buddha Pudding", while saltier Yokohama was represented by "Bust Pudding", which came in overturned twin packs that appeared to be bursting through the blouse of a doe-eyed schoolgirl on the wrapper. Truth be told I found the whole thing overwhelming to the point of being unappetizing, but I did appreciate that its exhaustively taxonomic approach made PURIN 2008 seem more academic that gluttonous.

And should life in Ice Cream City or the Pudding Encampment become too much, you can also head to "Healing Forest" for a massage or other spa treatments; just hang a left at Hell’s Toilet.

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