Fugu & Takafumi

20070718_fugu Takafumi
the only person
I know who ever
contemplated
poisoning me
is my friend
Takafumi
I was his guest
at a fancy restaurant
in Osaka
when he ordered for us
the most expensive dish
on the menu
an appetizer
of fried fugu fish
without telling me
in my memory
he continues
with chop sticks
dips in soy sauce
takes the first
bite of heaven
and offers me
the next
Franklin Abbott
13 July 2007
Stone Mountain
My friend Takafumi, who now lives in San Francisco, recently visited me and we reminisced about the times I visited him in Japan.  He was a great host and showed me things like the exquisite Moss Temple in Kyoto that would have been nearly impossible for me to see on my own.  We laughed about the fugu experience.
Fugu or pufferfish are a delicacy in Japan and a foreigner or gaijin who consumes the fish is given increased respect.  That is because the fugu is highly poison in parts, 1250 times more deadly the cyanide.  It can take a decade to learn to filet the fish and fugu chefs have special licenses.  If they make a mistake removing the poisonous glands you can get very sick or worse the tetrodotoxin, a sodium channel blocker, paralyzes your muscles though you are fully conscious.  Victims of fugu poisoning are kept in their coffins for at least three days since some of them come back to life.  The most famous victim of fugu poisoning was the Kabuki actor and "living national treasure", Bando Mitsugoro VIII, who so loved the fugu that he ate four servings of the highly toxic liver and died as a consequence. 
Fugu is the only Japanese delicacy denied to the Emperor and his family.  Some say the fish "tastes like chicken" but to me it was more like the speckled trout my grandparents caught on the Bon Secour River when I was growing up.  The chefs try to leave a tiny bit of poison in to create a tingling sensation when the fish is eaten.  If the tingling turns to numbing they left a little too much in and it could be the beginning of the end.
Fugu fish are very aggressive with sharp teeth.  They are also very expensive, a serving of fugu can cost hundreds of dollars.  Long part of Japanese culture their testicles in sake are considered the supreme aphrodisiac.  They have been banned by the shoguns and the subject of art and poetry.
Below a woodcut a fugu and a Japanese amberjack by the famous woodcut artist of the 1800’s, Hiroshige.  And here is a a fugu haiku from the same period:
  I cannot see her tonight
   I have to give her up
   so I will eat fugu

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