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Gekeikkan Sake (warm) 

Little Tokyo, 16 South Central Avenue, Clayton, 314-721-0100

A robotic Santa greets visitors of Little Tokyo, a new Clayton sushi joint just down from World News. He's the size of a midget. When "Santroid" is activated, he does this little belly-shakin', arms-pumpin' dance that actually does look like a fat white man grooving -- all legs and torso, no booty. In a low, glottal voice, Santa starts singing: "We wish you a merry Christmas, we wish you a merry Christmas." Then he spews out a few mechanized "ho ho ho"s.

The whole thing's a bit jarring. Santa's not really a Japanese cultural icon. You'd expect maybe a Buddha rolling through a few Basho haiku or something equally Eastern Cheesian, but not Santa.

But cross-pollination is what makes America great. Without it, we wouldn't have many of the foods we eat -- French fries, St. Paul sandwiches, Taco Bell seven-layer burritos --to say nothing of the worlds of music, fashion and art. (Speaking of cross-cultural art, you all must go see the unbelievable show at Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis right now -- Yoshitomo Nara and Laylah Ali; it'll make you happy.) In this spirit, we hereby present our haiku to the Little Tokyo experience.

The fat man chuckles
Energy feeds his muscles
Warm fuel, cold winter.

Gekeikkan is a Japanese sake now produced in California (as well as in six other locales throughout the world), which is somewhat important because freshness is key. The Japanese call warm sake -- that is, sake above 104 degrees -- nurukan, and it is the perfect accompaniment to one of Little Tokyo's exquisite rainbow rolls. A sip of the sake brings out the sweetness in the roll, which, in turn, enhances the drink's dry, subtle flavor of pine and raisin.

At lunch on a weekday, Little Tokyo's busy but not crazy like the Saint Louis Bread Co. next door. It's a sad statement on the Clayton worker-bees who, when faced with the choice between good protein and mediocre mass-marketed carbs, have apparently opted for the latter.

At the next table, three people are quietly brainstorming the problem. "They should send one of their cute waitresses out to the buildings in a short skirt with a bunch of takeout menus," says one aging businessman. "That'll get their attention."

Two lawyers at another table are discussing the Friswold case -- something to do with contraception. Their conversation then turns, somewhat disturbingly, to the subject of eugenics, which, obviously, we don't sanction or anything. If we were all engineered for optimum performance, jolly fat men would gradually disappear, and Buddha and Santa would fade from the earth, and we'd all be the poorer for it. Happy holidays.

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