I posted this photo of fish that was destined to be steamed. My initial point was that the snapper was kissing the steamer and I needed to trim its tail. Before I snapped the photo, I arranged the fish so it would look handsome. The belly was gutted in a manner that made the fish look unpleasant had I positioned it pointing to the left.
Nanette, a former resident of Japan who now lives in Hawaii, tweeted that the Japanese like their fish presented with the head pointing to the left, and that they packed their fish that way. It seemed fussy to me and during my limited time in Japan several years ago, I didn’t recall the fish heads all pointing the same direction. I was researching tofu so perhaps I missed something. I reviewed my photos from the 2010 trip and alas, the fish were beautifully arranged but not necessarily pointing to the left. At markets in Tokyo, the heads pointed away from the customer (it’s often the same in the US). I suppose if I turned these boxes sideways, the heads would all be pointing left:
To figure out this cultural practice, I aske my friend Yukari Sakamoto, an author, chef, sommelier based in Tokyo. Her husband, Shinji, is a fishmonger and former seafood buyer at Tsukiji fish market. The couple leads food tours and hope to open a cooking school soon.