dragon roll with eel, from Make Sushi, chef Davy Devaux

The now ubiquitous California roll first made its debut at a Los Angeles restaurant in the 1960s. Developed by chef Ichirō Mashita, it was perfect for the not-yet-adventurous as it contained no raw fish, and the ura-maki (reverse roll) technique kept the nori hidden from view (this was cleverly cooked up by another chef after he saw American patrons peeling the black stuff off).

Before long, the world was overflowing with innovative creations like the rainbow roll, spider roll, Alaska, Vegas, monkey, Godzilla… what were we talking about again? Right, sushi! And as you can imagine, many of these unique maki-zushi have become popular reverse imports since the advent of the first American-born roll.

But how does the general public in Japan feel about these flamboyant works of fusion? Is sushi still a revered art form with tried-and-true traditions, or a limitless playground? To explore this the RN24 way, let’s consider the dragon roll above since it has been garnering lots of attention as of late. Read on for a look at Japanese netizens’ varied and entertaining responses!

Though this dragon roll’s how-to video was published almost a year ago by chef Davy Devaux, its pictures have started to make rounds only recently in Japan. Some commenters noted that they’ve seen this before but past dragon rolls tended to involve avocado and tobiko as design elements, and didn’t always have heads. For the folks who responded with “Awesome!”, “Good Job!”, and “Amazing!”, this elaborate work is obviously the next level in dragon rolls.

▼ You poor puny caterpillar… Fuse you with some dragon flowers, a dub-wasabilit, and let’s see you evolve!

caterpillar roll, dragon roll, sushi with avocado

Another said, “Octopus suckers for eyes? He’s good,” while a cephalopod sympathizer declared, “It was prepared purely for two suction cups? Think of his position!” A mom (presumably) meanwhile joked simply, “Don’t play with your food!”

Quite a few noted “Looks like sushi foreigners would like,” and, “Looks like something from a restaurant on America’s east coast!” Another pointed out the dish was “well made, but does it have to be sushi?” While I normally associate nouveaux rolls with the west coast, perhaps the second person was imagining a hip sushi bar in NYC? In any case, these types of comments suggest that to some, sushi dishes like this one are fun but a bit showy and diverge from Japanese aesthetics.

Similarly, other net surfers said, “Looks like something from a kaiten-zushi,” “Not for me,” “Doesn’t look too tasty,” and, “I wouldn’t want this at a high-end sushi bar.” This may be understandable given the image of conveyor-belt sushi chains in Japan. More playful than your upscale, non-revolving restaurants, they are relatively inexpensive and seen as a casual dining option for families on a budget.

They’ll top their shari (rice) with not only the standard fare but with kid favorites that have nothing to do with sushi, such as Hamburg steak, potato croquettes, or gyōza. But from the above remarks, you can tell that purists desire the classy and refined when they go to an expensive joint (and they probably don’t say “joint” either…).

▼You call this sushi? Yes. Yes we do.

alternative kaiten-zushi toppings, conveyor belt sushi, omelette rice, hamburg steak, pork cutlet, prosciutto

On the lighter side, quips that flooded me with nostalgia included: “Isn’t this the guy from Nihon Mukashi-banashi (Japanese Folktales)?” in reference to the dragon in the anime’s famous opening credits. Others couldn’t resist typing a few lines from the theme song.

▼ First airing in 1975, its reboot called Folktales from Japan is available on Crunchyroll!

▼ Check out a special New Year’s version of the OP. The dragon is usually green, but this version is a bit more eel-like (video starts at 0:16).

But my favorite comments had to be: “If he’s gone this far, let’s add seven salmon roe for the Dragon Ball roll!” and, “Wazzup, Shenron?” calling attention to the benevolent deity from the Dragon Ball series.

▼ Did you summon me?

Dragon Ball Z anime, Shenron

As for the dragon balls, the resemblance is uncanny! Since artificial ikura (salmon roe) exists as a cheap alternative, maybe it wouldn’t be so hard to make the red dot inside a star shape?

▼ Ikura on the left, wish-granting orbs on the right.

ikura (salmon roe) and dragon ball Z, いくら、ドラゴンボール

In summary, I’ve come in contact with so many “anomalies” (broccoli tempura? sugar in green tea?) during my time in the US that I’ve long stopped being surprised, whereas those with a more prescriptive attitude toward cuisine may find some twists to be hard to swallow no matter what. And though pretty much everything piques my interest as far as food is concerned, I myself get slightly thrown off whenever pungent garlic meets delicate sushi fish or soba, because the pairing is rather unconventional in Japan.

But thanks to TV programs like Himitsu no Kenmin SHOW (Secrets of Prefectural Citizens), people in Japan have been learning that even within their seemingly homogenous country, each prefecture has customs and cuisine that at first sound preposterous to others. So, to borrow the words of one open-minded netizen, “Tuna and avocado bowls turned out awesome, so being exposed to new perspectives is always a good thing.” After all, if it tastes good, eat it!

Sources: Hamster Sokuhou, Make Sushi, Wikipedia 1, 2
Images: YouTube, Yelp, Yaplog, Emi ga Aruku Sapporo, Meblog, Plaholi, Calamel, ComicBookMovie, Rakuten Ichiba, Ali Express
Videos: YouTube 1, 2