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Sat Jan 7, 2017, 09:13 AM

Happy Tempura Day: Natsume Soseki's "Botchan"

"One evening while I was taking a stroll in a neighborhood called Omachi, I saw a little shop next to the Post Office with a sign that said TOKYO BUCKWHEAT NOODLES. I love buckwheat noodles. When I was in Tokyo, just passing a noodle shop and getting a whiff of the spicy, simmering broth was enough to make me want to dash right in. ... The first item on the list was tempura noodles. 'Give me a bowl of tempura,' I shouted. As soon as I ordered, a group of three customers over in the corner, who up to that point had been slurping away at their own noodles, all turned to look at me. I hadn't noticed before -- it was so dark in there -- but when our eyes met I realized that they were all students from the school. ... The noodles were good and it been a long time since I'd had any, so I polished off four bowls, all with tempura.

"The next day I walked into my classroom just as I would any other day, only to find that someone had written the words MISTER TEMPURA in giant letters on the blackboard. As soon as the students saw me they burst out in raucous laughter. The whole thing seemed so stupid. I asked them what was so funny about somebody eating tempura. One of them answered: 'But four bowls is too much ... .' I told them that as long as I paid for them and I ate them, it wasn't any of their business if I had four bowls or five or any other number I wanted. Then I rushed through my lecture and headed straight back to the faculty room. When I got to the next class ten minutes later, I found another message on the board: FOUR BOWLS OF TEMPURA -- LAUGHTER STRICTLY PROHIBITED.

"The first time I hadn't minded that much, but this time I was really upset. When you overdo a joke it just becomes obnoxious. ... But country people haven't figured out this principle, all they seem to think is that it's okay to keep pouring it on indefinitely. I guess if you live in so small a town that once you've walked around it for an hour there's nothing more to see, the sight of somebody eating some tempura seems like a big deal, right up there with the War with Russia, just because people don't have anything better to talk about. ... In the next class, the blackboard said EATING TEMPURA MAKES A MAN TOUCHY."

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