(Note: Your responses to the question posed below may be translated for a Japanese blog! Read on…)
Even though I’m Japanese, I do think that we eat an awful lot of food that could be considered to be odd. One of them is the infamous fugu, or puffer fish. Fugu’s main claim to fame, besides its extraordinary appearance (it puffs itself up to make itself look a lot bigger to predators), is that its skin and organs are highly poisonous. Nevertheless, it’s considered to be a great delicacy in Japan. It’s now fugu season in fact, so many people are tucking in to fugu sashi (fugu sashimi), fugu nabe (fugu hotpot), and so on.
In order to serve fugu, a chef has to go through a strict certification process. If an unskilled or careless person accidentally pierces the organs or otherwise contaminates the edible flesh of the fish, then the diner may find that meal to be his last. Despite all regulatory precautions, every year there are reports of people getting sick or even dying from fugu poisoning. Recently there was a case in Toyama prefecture, where nine people who partook of fugu at a sushi restaurant were taken ill; of the 2 people who lost consciousness, one is still in a coma. (Link to news story in Japanese  - this hasn’t made the news in any English online media outlets as far as I can find out.)
Non-lethal fugu may be on its way  to our tables, but fugu fans often cite the thrill of possible poisoning/death as part of the appeal of fugu. A few die-hards even like to put a tiny bit of the poison on their fugu, for that numbing/tingling sensation on the lips. I wonder if they liked to stick their tongues on batteries when they were kids. (This was in fact how a famous kabuki theater actor died of fugu poisoning, many years ago — he put a bit of the poisonous live on his fugu pieces.) In case you are wondering just how you die, it’s not a very nice way to go .
I’ve had fugu sashi, and while fresh fugu is indeed delicious, I am not sure if the risk of a very uncomfortable death, or an even more uncomfortable recovery time in the hospital, is worth it.
So…what do you think about Japanese people (and others) who eat a highly poisonous food willingly? Does it say anything to you about Japanese culture or society?
Would you try fugu yourself? Have you tried it - and if so, what did you think? Was it worth it? (Note: Nippon Restaurant in New York  was the first restaurant in the U.S. to serve fugu ; there are a dozen or so other restaurants in the city that serve it now. I’m not sure about other cities though.)
Now as I said in the Note at top, your comments/answers to this question may be translated for the Japanese blog MHK - Maou Housou Kyoukai . This is a fun blog where various discussions around the interweb on all kinds of topics are translated into Japanese, for people who are curious about what ‘the world’ thinks, especially about Japan and Japanese people. The comments are quite interesting to say the least. This post was in fact inspired by a comment left there, and used with the owner Michiru-san’s blessing. So go ahead - now’s your chance to tell Japanese people what you really think!
(Comments are now closed. After a few years they’ve deteriorated into name calling and silliness. If you want to make stupid comments about other people’s eating preferences, please do so elsewhere.)