Good evening! As we’ve discussed in one of our podcasts before, cuteness (かわいい kawaii) is a trait that drives Japan crazy. One of Japan’s most iconic character, Hello Kitty is a perfect example of this and of course, real animals can be cute too! Otherwise there wouldn’t be Cat Cafes or Rabbit Cafes in this country, right? But, what happens when you come from somewhere where people think of these animals as food…?
Before we start, as I said in my introductory post, I come from Peru, in South America. I wouldn’t say we have the strangest food habits in the world (staple food is chicken, fish, rice, potatoes), but we have some regional food that could impress some people, but this time I’ll focus on animals labeled as cute in Japan. And don’t worry, I won’t show you any pics of any dishes.
First of all, we have rabbits! (ウサギ usagi). Rabbit is a very common rodent worldwide that can be found in the wild, as a pet and also in some farms. According to Wikipedia, it’s bred for its meat in the Americas, Europe and some parts of the Middle-East, whereas it’s unpopular in Asia. In Peru, most barbecue (parrillada) restaurants offer rabbit meal in their menus. In Japan, they’re considered pets only and you can find cafes to just enjoy your time surrounded by them. There’s also an island full of these animals that’s becoming a tourist spot. For more information on this island, refer to http://japan.apike.ca/japan_okunoshima.html
Guinea pig meat
This one gets the most “ewwwwws” when I tell others about it. Japanese people, especially many girls I’ve met, find these little animals very cute. One can find goods such as toys, stuffed animals, key chains and more featuring images of Guinea Pigs.
Guinea pigs, despite their name, are actually native to South America. Chicken, lamb and cattle and other common sources of meat nowadays were not available in this continent until European people colonized it, so it is natural that locals used other animals as their source of animal protein. Guinea pigs are also rodents, and rodents breed at such a rapid pace, most of the time it’s hard to control their number. Therefore, they were a prime source of meat for Inka people, for instance. Currently, they’re still widely eaten in the Andes area because of tradition and their cheap price.
Alpaca is another animal native to South America, so this is a similar case to Guinea Pig. However, alpacas are praised for their high quality fleece (not fur, we don’t kill the animal to get its hair), so they’re not eaten that often, but they are anyway. In Japan, a cute alpaca character, Alpacasso is very famous. In game centers you can get them as a reward in UFO catchers, for instance.
And of course, this also goes the other way around. I’ve tried some meat in Japan I would’ve never gotten to try back home. For example, I ate whale at my school’s cafeteria not so long after I got here and horse sushi last year. It’s a matter of being accepting and tolerant of the food culture of each country, right? But I can’t help having some boundaries on this topic as well. I could never eat dog meat or cockroaches, no matter how flexible and tolerant of other cultures I think I am.