The office that makes sushi together, stays together.

Today, February 3, is Setsubun in Japan. It’s an old holiday which marks the seasonal change that occurs between winter and spring and has various customs around the country, such as eating beans and throwing beans at each other. It’s also one of the best holidays in Japan because of the custom of ehomaki, which are sushi rolls stuffed to the limit with all kinds of delicious toppings from tuna to pizza. The idea is to eat them uncut and pointing in a predetermined “lucky direction” which this year is North by Northwest.

But more than a delicious holiday treat, the concept of a “Dark Ehomaki” is also an excellent opportunity for a team-building exercise here at the office. This challenge is very similar to the “Dark Nabe” experiment we held a few years ago. Everyone will bring in one ingredient for the sushi roll but no one will know what the other person is bringing. So, it’s “dark” in the sense that everyone is in the dark about what ingredients the others will bring, not in the sense of being evil or anything…though I suppose that remains to be seen.

▼ This year’s Dark Ehomaki team

We will then feed this sushi roll to our boss Yoshio so that he may bask in the Setsubun blessings it provides and thus bring prosperity to the entire workplace.

Yoshio was also asked to bring in an ingredient and he selected water celery!

▼ Yoshio: “Wouldn’t some water celery go well in a thick sushi roll? It pretty much goes well with anything, and I wanted to make sure there was something green in it.”

Although Yoshio tends to be wrong about a lot of things, he has a point here. Water celery does have the texture and subtle taste that would fit into an ehomaki well, so it looks like things are off to a good start for this Dark Ehomaki. After the green herb was placed in the sushi, Yoshio took his leave so as not to know what the others brought until he ate it.

Next up is Seiji Nakazawa, who hails from the Kansai region of Japan, where the ehomaki is said to have originated. This would lead us to believe he’d probably have a killer ingredient idea up his sleeve, and he did not disappoint with Smart Cheese by Meiji!

▼ Seiji: “Smart Cheese takes things to a whole other level. It’s the most delicious cheese in the world and can be eaten by itself it’s so good. I thought this would be a nice choice.”

Indeed, cheese isn’t often found in sushi rolls, but it does have potential to bring a whole new dimension of flavor. This is really starting to look good, but the constant threat to a Dark Ehomaki is that it only takes one joker to bring in an intentionally wacky or disgusting item to throw everything off the rails.

And speaking of jokers, next up is Masanuki Sunakoma, who was eager to show off a pack of Baby Star Ramen dry noodle snacks for his Setsubun addition.

▼ Masanuki: “I selected the flavored version of Baby Star rather than the original. I think this will add an aroma seldom seen in an ehomaki sushi roll and make it even more delicious!”

Not bad either… It seems we are getting a wide variety of tastes and textures to create a rather sophisticated sushi roll. Moving along, we have Yuichiro Wasai, who presented a pack of narazuke, which are fruits and vegetables such as gourds and ginger, pickled in salt and sake lees.

▼ Yuichiro: “I thought some pickles would be good for a thick sushi roll like this. Also, since we’re all adults here, we should enjoy a mature taste.”

It’s probably a good addition to sushi in general, but would these very tangy and salty pickles play well with others inside the Dark Ehomaki?

The fifth ingredient brought in by Ahiruneko was a tub of changja, which is a Korean food like kimchi but made with fish intestines.

▼ Ahiruneko: “An ehomaki is supposed to have seafood in it right? But normal fish would be boring so I went with changja instead. It goes well with rice, so it should work, right?”

Hmmm… It’s an interesting addition. Although it might match the pickled gourds that Yuichiro brought in, wouldn’t the spicy zest attempt to overpower everything else? Perhaps Seiji’s cheese would step in and meld with the changja for a smoother flavor overall.

There were still three more ingredients to add as well. Next up was Ikuna Kamezawa and a bag of sata andagi donut balls, popular in China, Okinawa, and Hawaii.

▼ Ikuna: “What do you mean ‘why?’ I just love sata andagi.”

It’s hard to say what this will do to the Dark Ehomaki in the end. A pairing of fermented fish guts and donuts is uncharted territory where anything could happen…and we’re still not done!

The seventh ingredient provided by Takashi Harada was a familiar pack of Karaage-kun fried chicken from Lawson convenience store.

▼ Takashi: “Everyone loves fried chicken, and there have been sushi rolls with fried chicken in them. So, I chose what I thought would taste good.”

He’s right, but even the beloved Karaage-kun has a lot to contend with in this sushi roll.

The final filling, brought by P.K. Sanjun, was a jar of Momoya chopped garlic.

▼ P.K.: “Chopped garlic is a magical food that makes anything twice as delicious when added. Even if everyone else brought in messed-up stuff, this garlic would still work its magic. So, I chose this as insurance against everyone else’s choices.”

Although some of the choices could be described as eccentric, no one really brought in a disastrously wacky ingredient. Still, it’s going to take a lot of luck for all these diverse things to harmonize, so P.K.’s insurance policy might prove useful.

The Dark Ehomaki was ceremoniously rolled up by P.K. and presented to Yoshio for prima epulor as his loyal subjects watched on.

Yoshio studied the fruits of his laborers and prepared by facing North by Northwest. Remember, except for his own celery, he has no idea what’s inside.

He then thrust the mighty Dark Ehomaki into his mouth for a bite.

This was followed by a considerate chewing period, after which Yoshio turned back to the crowd and rendered his verdict.

Yoshio: “It’s gross!!!”

After about 30 seconds he couldn’t eat any more. However, it was probably more the nerve-racking fact that he didn’t know what he was eating than the actual taste of the foods themselves. To get a better sense, we gave a roll to Masanuki who had seen it all come together and is the least finicky eater in the office.

However, he too couldn’t take much of the Dark Ehomaki, claiming that it was the powerful flavor of the narazuke that proved too much to handle.

That being said, the rest of the Dark Ehomaki rolls were cut up and served to each staff member and in this way it was much more palatable. Everyone could divvy up the ingredients as they liked and in the end they enjoyed it quite a bit.

The one thing that everyone agreed on is that narazuke and changja simply don’t go together under any circumstances, which is something we probably never would have known if not for this exercise in team-building.

But more than teamwork, a Dark Ehomaki requires a great deal of luck to pull off, which is okay, because luck is what Setsubun is all about.

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