Legendary sushi loses out to mundane politics

SAKE DIPLOMACY: Mr Abe topping up the glass for Mr Obama at Sukiyabashi Jiro, a world-famous sushi restaurant in the Ginza district of Tokyo. Mr Obama is on the first leg of his tour of Asia.


    Apr 25, 2014

    Legendary sushi loses out to mundane politics


    BARACK Obama might have enthused publicly about the sushi he was served at an exclusive Michelin-starred restaurant, but he stopped eating halfway through the meal, reports said yesterday.

    Pictures showed the United States President being served sake by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the counter of the tiny Tokyo eatery on Wednesday. The meal was billed as a chance for bonding, and neither of them wore a tie.

    Yet, a report yesterday said that instead of making small talk and relishing the delicacies at Sukiyabashi Jiro - dubbed the world's best sushi restaurant and the subject of the 2011 documentary Jiro Dreams Of Sushi - Mr Obama jumped straight into discussions about trade.

    The owner of a yakitori (grilled chicken) restaurant which sits in the same basement as the exclusive diner told Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS) that Mr Obama put his chopsticks down at the halfway point.

    The man said a sushi chef from Sukiyabashi Jiro told him that the leaders' chat was quite formal, according to TBS.

    Unlike Mr Obama, Mr Abe munched the whole way through the meal, savouring the offerings from 88-year-old legend Jiro Ono, said TBS. The sushi master usually serves 20 pieces, one by one, at the customer's pace.

    Both men declared the meal a success when they emerged from the restaurant. Mr Obama told journalists and well-wishers "That's some good sushi right there", while Mr Abe said they had discussed "a wide range of topics in a relaxed atmosphere".

    Chief government spokesman Yoshihide Suga refused yesterday to be drawn on exactly how much the US President had eaten, saying only that "he ate a good amount".

    "I could tell from his expression that he was very much satisfied," Mr Suga added, noting that the dinner "played a great role in building trust between the leaders as they had talks in a relaxed atmosphere".

    Trade is one of the thornier issues at play in the three-day visit, with the two leaders under pressure to make progress on auto and agricultural market access issues that are blocking agreement on the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership.