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a mystery dinner party in Japan 
by Luciana Lopez
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Despite my usual urge to overplan events, the dinner party I was hosting that November evening in the Tokyo suburbs hadn’t required much of me: I’d been specifically informed by my guests that I should, to paraphrase their instructions, slack on preparatory activities. Instead, my friend Tsuyoshi had planned the night, offering to come to my apartment in Saitama prefecture with some friends and cook me "curious Japanese foods" for dinner -- a phrase not exactly designed to soothe my nerves.

During my four months in Japan, I'd already eaten foods ranging from the delicious to the unidentifiable. In some cases, not only could I not identify what kind of meat I was eating, I couldn't even guess whether the food in question was animal, vegetable or mineral. What it would take for a food to be considered curious by Japanese standards was a question I didn't care to speculate on.

My attempts to help out with the preparations—and thus, potentially gather some clues as to what the evening might hold in store for me—had been deemed unnecessary. My question about what ingredients I should have available, for example, had been met with a brief email from Tsuyoshi that he and his friends would take care of everything.

Nevertheless, I had still done what I could. Besides cleaning my usually-messy apartment, I'd been sure to stock up on beverages, from fruit juice to the unsweetened tea so common in Japan. I even had a bottle of sake, or rice wine, in my freezer, although I don't drink alcohol. In addition, earlier in the day, I'd gone out to one of the many bakeries in my town of 65,000—Japan has a huge number of good bakeries, a fact which had surprised me when I’d first arrived in this country —and bought two cakes for dessert. If the raspberry cheesecake didn't go over well, I reasoned, the caramel apple cake might bail me out. Rounding out possible desserts (on the off chance no one liked cake) were nectarines and persimmons from a local vegetable stand.

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