As a kid growing up, I hated spinach.

No matter how many Popeye cartoons I watched, I still couldn’t stomach it. In part I think it was because I was supposed to hate spinach like all youngsters, rather than a real loathing of the leafy green. It wasn’t until I started loving salads as a teen that I changed my perception of spinach. It was healthy, and raw, and it tasted mighty good with a little bit of salad dressing and some chicken.

A lot of people have an impression when they hear the word sushi. Raw fish! Gooey, white, sticky, smelly, slimy fish. Eat it? Yeah, right! Anything eaten raw, that people normally consume cooked – like beef or chicken or potatoes or squash – probably sounds a little strange and turns the delicacies of finer people.

It’s about perception. In America, raw is not really good unless it’s vegetables. We are too worried about bacteria and probably rightly so. I took these beliefs with me to Japan, wrinkling my nose at the word sushi. Yet, I was willing to try it, because I wanted to experience Japan in its rawest, purest form, and that meant eating sushi.

The first day I stepped off the plane, I was met by my employers, the Ato-cho Board of Education, nearly all of them. They stood together holding a large sign bearing my name. When I walked through the doors they clapped and smiled and laughed. I was quickly escorted out of the airport and into a van. It wasn’t more than twenty minutes later that we stopped for lunch and my boss ordered sushi, with the direct purpose of having me try it in front of my whole new office.. I wish I could say I loved it from the get go, but that would be a lie. It took time.

With time, I found out that sushi was not too bad. In fact, the more I ate it, the more I liked it.

I found out that sushi is a lot about presentation. It is art. White rice, clumped together by a slight addition of vinegar, then a slice of fresh, bright red, or pink, or white fish, perfectly cut with sharp angles, and sometimes a dab of green wasabi (Japanese horseradish) or the black, circling bands of seaweed. I have been to so many dinners, where the sushi was presented in such a way – that is Japan. Presentation is important, almost as important as taste. Taste in itself is also a part of the art. Sushi is supposed to be eaten in a single mouthful – the solitary bite, the solitary explosion of tastes. Rice, fish, wasabi, and soy sauce. I believe it is the combination of tastes that makes sushi so popular. Of course it is healthy, and there is a certain social status that comes of being refined and international enough to eat sushi, but that only goes so far. It is taste that brings it home. A shock of tastes, their variety, how they hit the tongue, and then you swallow and it is gone. A beautiful piece of art, a quick bite. That is what sushi is: five seconds. It is a wonder about Japanese. They understand that brief moments of time are to be enjoyed, but not dissected. Enjoy the beauty of the sushi before you eat it, then enjoy the taste, then move on.

Sushi is Japanese culture – one of the widest, most popular instances of Japanese culture around the world. People laugh when I tell them that sushi is art. It is food, they say. I say it is perception in so many ways. Some love it, some hate it, some don’t even try it. But again that is perception.

© Seth Crossman