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Sushi restaurant’s tea cup

This is a sushi restaurant’s tea cup.
For some reason, there are lots of kanji characters written on it.
Each character is the name of a fish.
Also, thanks to the way kanji characters are made, with the name of the fish, each mouthful of tea comes accompanied with the meaning of the fish’s name.

Iwashi (Sardine)

“Iwashi” is written with the character for “weak” on its right side.
The meaning of that “weak” is that it has soft meat and has to be handled gently.
The etymology of this word is that in the era before refrigeration, it would go bad quickly, so the kanji was written only with the meaning for weak. Also, high class people would not eat it, so it was also written with the kanji for “lowly”.
Since it’s the same fish that oiled sardines and anchovies are manufactured from, it coming from the word “lowly” is a troubling etymology, isn’t it?

Buri (Amberjack)

“Buri” is written with the kanji for “master” or “teacher”.
“Shihasu,” the 12th month of the lunar character, is also written with that kanji, and it’s the time of year where amberjack is fattest and most delicious.
The etymology comes from “abura” (oil). “Abura” turned to “bura” which eventually became “buri”.
Because it’s connected to the season it’s fished in, the kanji character is logical.

Saba (Mackerel)

If the character includes the character for “blue,” it’s mackerel.
Since you can tell how fresh the fish is based on how blue its skin is, that blueness was used in the name.
Since the fish has small teeth, the sound of the word comes from the sound of “small teeth” (sa + ba).
Also, in the time before refrigeration, fish would be sold out without proper counting, so it was said to be “saba wo yomu” (“to manipulate figures to one’s advantage”).
Since Japan is surrounded by water on all four sides, there are many phrases that have to do with fish.

Tara (Cod)

Its season is winter and because its meat is pure white, tara has the kanji for “snow” in it.
With its light taste, you can use it in all sorts of dishes, not just sushi.
Fish and chips is made with this kind of fish, too.
By the way, sometimes in Japan you’ll hear the phrase “tararaku taberu” said when someone wants you to eat until you’re full.
That “tararaku” is the stomach of the tara fish.
Since the cod is a gluttonous fish that will eat anything, that figure of speech comes from this.
Because there’s so much delicious Japanese food, if you come to Japan, please “tararaku taberu”.

Tai (Sea bream)

Sea bream is written with the kanji for “perimeter” or “circuit”.
The deliciousness of this fish captures equilibrium and represents harmony. That’s the explanation for the reason they ue the word for “perimeter”.
Because it is a red and white fish, colors signifying auspiciousness in Japan, it’s used as a lucky charm in ceremonies such as presenting it to the gods for a groundbreaking ceremony for a new building, for engagement parties, as New Year’s dinner, and other occasions.
When an item loses its high price but is still valued, it’s said to be “kusattemotai” (“something that is not what it once was but is still high class”).

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