All around me an endless stream of tame deer rambles near the waterfront of Japan’s Miyajima Island. Like me, they’re looking for something to chew on. For them the targets are paper maps and bread crusts. For me it’s something smoking on the street corner. Grills that are sizzling with oysters. Understand, I adore oysters so much that I once judged an oyster-shucking contest, but seeing them barbecued is new to me.
When I turn down the street, I stop at this popular restaurant, Kakiya, and notice the woman’s meditative precision while oyster cracking. She never looks up as her brother dances around the hot grill. He prods the flaming coals and turns the shells as they explode and spit dangerous bits of shrapnel in retaliation to the heat. The man’s reddened and pockmarked face shows the hazards of his profession. The place offers oysters in an array of incarnations: battered and fried, wrapped in sticky rice and seaweed, served with udon noodles in oyster soup. But my order falls in line with the sight and smell: grilled simply in their nakedness. They’re smoky, natural and meaty. This is my new favorite oyster.