NHK WORLD-JAPAN Video on Demand Review: Donburi Rice Bowls & Micro Fishing

Kaisendon at the most famous donburi restaurant in Tsukiji features up to 12 types of seasonal seafood

Many countries are gradually easing up on restrictions and we’re beginning to see a glimmer of hope that life will eventually return to some sense of normalcy. As much as I’m looking forward to going out again, I’ve looked to the wide range of free-to-view programmes available on the NHK World-Japan website to get some inspiration.

So far I’m loving the insider information and exposés on the sights and cultures of Japan (especially of the outdoors!), which gives a deeper insight into what foreigners commonly know of Japanese culture.

Watchlist #1
Japanology Plus-Donburi: Rice Bowls

Duration: 28 mins, available until December 10, 2020

The many different faces of donburi: stewed, fried and grilled
The many different faces of donburi: stewed, fried and grilled

Donburi is a staple of Japanese cuisine. You may already be familiar with iconic donburi such as unagidon (eel), gyudon (simmered beef), katsudon (breaded pork cutlet), oyakodon (breaded chicken cutlet with egg) and tendon (seafood and vegetable tempura).

Edo period Tokyo, when eel was commonly served to labourers to keep their energy levels up
Edo period Tokyo, when eel was commonly served to labourers to keep their energy levels up

I’m particularly struck by how food history of donburi is closely intertwined with the socioeconomic history of Japan. The video traces from the simple vegetarian donburi eaten by Buddhist monks 400 years ago through important historical eras such as the Edo period when eel began to be used, the introduction and shortage of beef during the Russo-Japanese war, and the rise of katsudon during the period of westernisation. As katsu also means “win”, it has become a must-have dish for students to eat before examinations.

Kaisendon at the most famous donburi restaurant in Tsukiji features up to 12 types of seasonal seafood
Kaisendon at the most famous donburi restaurant in Tsukiji features up to 12 types of seasonal seafood

Donburi is as versatile as pizza. 50 out of 300 stores in Tsukiji market serve donburi, but no two stores are the same depending on the type of seafood, mixtures and seasoning. Kaisendon itself only became popular 40 to 50 years ago, when developments in technology allowed seafood to be stored longer and at more affordable prices than at sushi restaurants.

Sampling Turkish chicken kebab donburi in Roppongi
Sampling Turkish chicken kebab donburi in Roppongi

Donburi is widely available, from convenient stores to high-end speciality restaurants. The video features so many types of donburi, including the esoteric kebab donburi, which is truly a product of globalisation. Indeed, the possibilities for donburi are endless – but mostly delicious.

Watchlist #2
15 Minutes - Fishing Crazy: In Pursuit of the Smallest Catch

Duration: 15 mins, available until May 6, 2021

The tiny tanago fish which is prized by a select few
The tiny tanago fish which is prized by a select few

I’ve never heard of tanago (Japanese bitterling), but sushi chef Fumihiko Nagatani is crazy about them. And for every type of fish, there is a unique way to catch them.

Tokyo used to be a maze of waterways, and fishing was a natural pastime of the population
Tokyo used to be a maze of waterways, and fishing was a natural pastime of the population

Tanago attracts a special type of fishing crowd – rather than aiming for the biggest catch, tanago fishermen look for the tiniest. The techniques and tools featured for catching such small fish date back to the feudal era. The miniature bamboo rods, tiny intricate floats and fishing tackle sets all fit neatly in a small customised wooden box that can be carried like a bag.

Miniature floats that are miniscule but not lacking in detail
Miniature floats that are miniscule but not lacking in detail

Once found everywhere in Tokyo’s waterways, tanago are now only found an hour outside Tokyo. In the video we follow Nagatani to get a glimpse into a typical (or rather, atypical) day of tanago fishing.

Nagatani finally succeeded in his prized 1 yen coined sized catch after a few hours
Nagatani finally succeeded in his prized 1 yen coined sized catch after a few hours

I love that unlike other types of commercial or competitive fishing, every catch is released on the spot. These avid anglers are truly motivated purely by their admiration of fish.

Reviewer

Yonghui

Quarantine-time-only chef and baker who is temporarily enjoying travelling on the interwebs.

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