A Japanese Birthday Celebration

Our third day in Okinawa happened to be my birthday and Debbie certainly did a great job in going all out to ensure that it was a special day for us. We made our way down to breakfast and it felt like every hotel employee knew that it was my birthday (possible that we’re the only Americans here too but either way, it was a nice gesture). Post breakfast, we did what all birthday celebrators want to do- LAUNDRY! We’ve been gone now just over a week and felt like the self-service option here at the hotel would be easier than whatever we’d end up finding in China.

After a few phone calls back to the States and a quick trip to the pool, we made our way into downtown Naha (the main city of the Island) about 75 minutes away for lunch at the fish market and a surprise activity planned by Debbie. The second adventure of driving on the other side of the road was much more pleasant – google maps did a great job of getting us to our destination. The one thing we hadn’t figured out before we got there, and struggled to figure out once we got there, was where to park…The downtown area was like any major metropolitan area so while there were parking lots off of the sides of the road, you had to know where to look.

After the brief challenge of finding a parking spot, we made our way into the local fish market and had another lovely set of tuna and rice – becoming a staple here during our Okinawan adventure. We walked down Kokusai Street (international street here in Okinawa) on our way to our surprise adventure. Debbie told me a few weeks ago she had planned a birthday treat but wanted it to be a surprise and despite my desire to know, I only asked a few questions before arriving to our location.

We walked into a sushi restaurant (as if we needed more sushi) and I found out that we were going to be Sushi Masters for the next two hours. We got dressed in our appropriate sushi making attire and were paired up with two Sushi chefs to learn how to make two items. We started with tamago (egg sushi) and learned how it was made. We thought you just got a big souffle pan and loaded it up with eggs but it was interesting that you actually cook a mini omelette each time and continue to roll it over and over to help give it the fluffiness we’ve come to know and love. It was actually very challenging to get the egg to roll the way they were instructing us and they were using super long chop-sticks as cooking utensils (still not proficient in this area).

Post tamago, we made our way over to the fish area and learned how to cut our own pieces of nigiri. Our first cuts with Tuna were nothing short of professional but both Debbie and I took different turns as we moved forward. Debbie’s unusual strategy was to cut the fish as narrow as possible (likely unintentional) and proceeded to have the Chef tell her she needed to re-cut on multiple occasions. I took a different path here and wanted to maximize the amount of excellent fish I was eating so started to cut very thick pieces of fish. This strategy however also landed the same outcome and the Chef was continuously telling me to cut smaller and smaller. We cut 8-10 different fish from salmon to various types of tuna, two different types of crabs, yellow-tail, Okinawan sunfish, and some others that we had no idea what he was saying.

After we had arranged our fish plate, we moved over to start making the rice for the nigiri. You used your right hand to roll the rice ball, load the fish up in your left hand in the fingers, use your right index finger to add wasabi to taste (Debbie literally added 10x more than I did), and then put the fish on top of the rice. We then were instructed on how to rotate using your different fingers to properly shape the sushi to have a nice arch, something Debbie proved to be much better than me at.

After we had arranged our plate, we returned to cut the tamago before our feast began. They brought out Miso Soup (with four huge prawns in them….) along with some water and we enjoyed the fruits of our labor. We both really loved the fatty tuna as well as the Okinawan sunfish, but will likely continue to order regular tuna when out because that alone is still awesome. Upon completion of the meal, we were handed certificates of completion recognizing our status as sushi masters (note, we unfortunately left these in the restaurant but are working to get digital copies, rest assured).

We made our way back through rush hour traffic to the hotel to catch happy hour and watch the sunset on the beach of the hotel. We walked out to the mini-lighthouse area on the property and sat and watched the waves crash. Post sunset, we returned to the room to get ready for dinner at Jam Japanese Steakhouse. For nearly as long as I can remember, we celebrated my birthday at a plethora of options back home including Kobe Steakhouse, Mo-Mo-Ya, and Happy Sumo- various takes on hibachi style Japanese steakhouses. I’m proud to announce (albeit we are in a touristy part of Japan) that these do exist.

The real thing is much better in Japan šŸ™‚ – we’ve accepting Ron of Japan as our Chicago option for celebrations but this meal at Jam was significantly cheaper and more enjoyable than either option in Chicago or Atlanta have proven to be. Because it was my birthday, the whole restaurant applauded as they brought out a little mini bottle of champagne for us to enjoy (note the waiter’s outfit here). We each had a nice steak dinner complete with two different types of soup, vegetables, rice, dessert, and of course, a delicious tenderloin.

It was certainly a birthday to remember and a special shout-out to my awesome bride for planning a perfect day to celebrate the beginning of the end of my time in the 20s…..

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