What do you consider to be Japanese food? Those lovely Japanese steak restaurants where the chef performs at the grill are few and far between in Japan and if you can find them at all you are talking about $100 a plate!
I think true Japanese chefs follow the idea that food should be beautiful as well as delicious and one of the best examples of beautiful cooking in Japan is kaiseki ryouri. Yesterday a few friends and enjoyed a very beautiful, very delicious, very reasonable kaiseki lunch. Look at this lacquer tray with all the beautiful dishes on it. Isn't that a feast for the eyes alone! The chef goes to great lengths to choose the most suitable dish to enhance the appearance of each mouthful of food that is prepared and served. In the crescent moon dish there was an assortment of small pieces of tempura with a dipping sauce alongside it. In another dish were three pieces of sashimi (raw seafood) and on a long plate there was a slice of grilled fish and a small piece of sweet egg. Egg pudding, pickles, simmered vegetables were on some plates and little covered porcelain dishes that really hold no more than a teaspoon had things like sweet salad, 10 or 12 fish eggs, and 5 or 6 beans. Other dishes held a tiny slice of jellied fish eggs, a minuscule piece of simmered fish. Rice and miso soup were also served. All these little bite size servings actually added up to a very filling meal and it is sort of an adventure to dip into these little cups and dishes with your chopsticks and enjoy the different tastes and textures.
There is almost nothing in Japan that I cannot eat. Somewhere in my childhood I quickly got past the "don't like" and "can't eat" type of thinking and I am willing to try anything once, and usually by the third try I've developed a taste for something. I think this is a quality people need to cultivate if they are going to spend any time in a foreign culture. I have been annoyed at my husband who comes with me to America and turns up his nose at unusual tasting Mexican food and never before seen vegetables (he absolutely hates avocados and artichokes). I get irritated when I talk to Japanese friends who have been to Hawaii or Canada or somewhere and report that they couldn't find good Japanese food.
"Why are you going across the world to eat the food you are normally used to!?"
And I am embarrassed when foreign students visit Japan and are so picky about their eating habits. Sorry folks, if you want to see a different culture, in my book you'd better be willing to give everything a try and if you don't like it you might like it tomorrow so try it again. And if you absolutely can't handle it then don't start wrinkling your nose and claiming the Japanese are strange because they like sugary bean cakes or pink fish eggs or something. (I know. As a child I used those exact same fish eggs to go trout fishing. Now I know what a delicious treat we were baiting our hooks with!)
Yesterday's lunch was made complete with a small scoop of ice cream and a "slice" of cheese cake about the side of a dime. Also a demi-tasse cup of espresso. But look at the beautiful gold lacquer tray it was served on! All of us oohed and aahed as we enjoyed our lunch but the the housewife side of us showed when one of my friends mumbled under her breath that she'd hate to be the person who has to wash all the dishes after lunch!