Diplomats from both Japan and Israel have expressed concern after it emerged that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife were served dessert in a shoe while dining with his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu and his spouse.
The move is being seen as an affront to Japan. The show is considered one of the lowliest and dirtiest items in a person’s attire in Japanese culture.
Most of the ire over the move is being directed at celebrity chef Segev Moshe, who designed and cooked the spread that the two leaders and their spouses had.
The dinner, incidentally, was the culmination of Abe’s second visit to Israel. Netanyahu had said of the visit: “This is your second visit to Israel. My most recent visit to Japan was spectacular. We see the tremendous growth in Japanese investments of Israel, Israeli investments in Japan, the technology opportunities. This is a great partnership and we’ll make it even better.”
The shoe dessert debacle
That partnership now seems to be in jeopardy, with many considering the shoe dessert affront as a mistake that should not have happened.
A Jerusalem Post report quoted a senior diplomat, who had worked in Japan, as telling the Yediot Aharonot – Israel’s largest newspapers by sales and circulation – that the shoe dessert was “a stupid and insensitive decision.”
He added: “There is nothing more despised in Japanese culture than shoes. Not only do they not enter their houses while wearing shoes, you will not find shoes in their offices either. Even the prime minister, ministers and members of parliament do not wear shoes to work…”
So how significant is this affront? The diplomat put it thus: “It is equivalent to serving a Jewish guest chocolates in a dish shaped like a pig.”
Pigs are not considered “kosher” or fit to be eaten in Jewish culture. The belief has its roots in the Old Testament of the Bible, where God apparently asked his people not to eat the meat of any animal that does not chew the cud or does not have a split hoof. While pigs have split hooves, but do not chew the cud.
‘We do not find it funny’
A Japanese diplomat echoed the sentiments of his Israeli counterpart.
He told Yediot Aharonot: “No culture puts shoes on the table. What precisely was this illustrious chef Segev thinking?”
He added: “If this is meant to be humour, we do not find it funny. I can tell you that we are offended for our prime minister.”
Here is a video of the desserts that Netanyahu, Abe and their wives were served:
Interestingly, this was not the first time in the past few weeks when Japan was offended by a dessert. Japan’s foreign office had in late April objected to a mango mousse that was to be served at the summit between heads of the state of North Korea and South Korea.
The reason behind the objection? The mousse had a map of the Koreas on it that showed some islands that Japan lays claim to.