The Japanese business newspaper (Nikkei) recently published the results of a research project on summer bonuses paid to Japanese workers. The bonuses paid this year were generally 5.9 percent higher than those paid for the same time last year. A survey published in parallel sought to find out what people spent these bonuses on. Of the men asked, 24 percent bought watches, 20 percent purchased shoes, and 19 percent surprised themselves with a new shirt from a top-of-the-line shop. Among the women, shoes won out with 28 percent of purchases, while handbags followed with 18 percent, and purses were third with 12 percent. Today’s spending findings were so much like the findings of a survey taken 20 years ago that I was quite surprised.
I got my first ever bonus in Japan nearly 20 years ago. I was delighted! I was so excited while speculating about what I’d buy with it that I can still tell you exactly what I bought. I celebrated the bonus by inviting my parents to a top-rated Chinese restaurant. Then I surprised myself with a French business-card holder and a Minolta panoramic camera. In those days panoramic cameras were very popular. (Sadly, the business card-holder got lost in the mail when my parents sent it to me to Hungary.)
I also celebrated the bonus by going to a traditional and sophisticated sushi restaurant with my friends. The day’s selection was written on the restaurant wall, behind the sushi master. No prices were listed, of course, since they depended on conditions that changed from one day to the next. This was our first time in a traditional sushi restaurant and none of us knew how much it would cost. Even today I smile at the memory. (By the way, steamed eel sushi is my favorite.)
While on the subject of sushi, if I remember correctly, my first taste of salmon sushi was in Hungary. I was totally awed by that heavenly fatty taste at the first taste. I clearly remember that as a child there was no salmon sushi, at least not in Osaka. I talked it over with five friends from Osaka and we all agree. There was a risk of parasitic infection from salmon. When I was a child there was no safe way of transporting salmon, which might be why there was no salmon sushi. It might be the upgrade in logistics that triggered a huge growth in “running” (conveyor belt) sushi restaurants starting in the 1980s, and with it, the appearance of salmon sushi. Today “running sushi or sushi train” style restaurants are inconceivable without salmon sushi. I have heard that the salmon comes primarily from Norwegian fish farms.
I recently read a very interesting interview with a Japanese businessman. In the 1970s the Norwegian embassy contacted him to propose he imported fresh fish. This businessman and a friend – a French chef – were the first to offer Norwegian salmon on the Japanese market. Initial imports consisted of 40 fish per week. Then, in the latter half of the 1970s, the businessman tasted raw salmon in Norway, and it was love at first bite. The taste of raw salmon meshes perfectly with Japanese tastes. In 1990 Japan imported 4,785 tons of salmon and by 2013 the amount had increased to 32,261 tons. Today Norway has fish farms producing exclusively for the Japanese market. The feed developed specifically for the Japanese salmon produces meat of a lovely color and a taste that is perfect for Japan. This businessman introduced the world to salmon sushi. The Norwegian Seafood Council also acknowledged his role. I bow my head with respect before the cooperation between this gentleman and the Council for spreading salmon sushi throughout the world.
I started thinking about what I would spend a bonus on in 2014. I’d buy new summer and snow-tires for the car, new bed sheets, a new crepe pan, and a new ironing board. And I’d get a new blanket for my dog. I asked my daughter what she would like. The answer: chocolate cake, apples, and grapes. I’ll hold back on the chocolate cake but get her enough grapes and apples to keep her grinning from ear to ear.
The photos are illustrations.