June 29, 2012

A letter from 1918

Filed under: photo — theresaurus @ 5:50 am

My grandfather’s letter from his mother while attending Concordia College in Minnesota. I can’t read it, it’s in German. He died when I when I was very young and all I really remember is his love of exotic stinky foreign cheeses. They smelled like poo. We’d take a sniff and run away screaming. Now I like stinky cheeses very much, yet I still haven’t warmed up to natto. I think it’s because natto is beans. Fermented beans are less exciting and rich than fermented milk, and cheeses are eaten with nice breads and crackers and fruit rather than with rice, although I know some people do eat natto with bread. It’s different, it just is. When asked by Japanese persons if I like natto, I used to be honest and say I didn’t, but now I lie and say I do. I find that if I say I don’t, this confirms the stereotype that foreigners can’t eat natto, and if I say I do, nobody believes me because foreigners can’t eat natto. So it doesn’t matter. In a gross-out smell battle between stinky cheese and natto, natto is the lightweight, let’s natto fool ourselves here.


June 22, 2012

This is my kitchen

Filed under: Uncategorized — theresaurus @ 8:13 am

This is the world’s smallest kitchen. It’s like cooking in a locker. In the summer it’s like cooking in a locker with an oven and gas burners in it. The cupboard with everything I need to prepare food is in the other room. I have to say “excuse me” to the refrigerator every time I turn around. There is not enough room to swing Hello Kitty. Flyers advertising condos like this one don’t put anything in the kitchen to make it seem like it’s normal sized. In the photograph there’s a happy couple or family sitting down to a meal in the dining room with an empty kitchen behind them. Where did the food come from without a refrigerator or oven? Is it a magic kitchen? Sam thinks my kitchen is a magic kitchen. He wants things, they appear. Too bad everything’s not like that. I want a magic wallet.

June 21, 2012


Filed under: Uncategorized — theresaurus @ 11:47 pm

This is the city restaurant and shop guide that came with the newspaper this morning. These beer drinkers look ecstatic. They are hysterical with joy. This Asahi beer is the best thing they have ever tasted. They are permanently refreshed. Their problems have vanished like beer foam. All is for the best in this best of all possible Asahi worlds. You want to run to a beer garden immediately to purchase and enjoy a cold mug of pure happiness. Amber liquids are good to drink in hot weather. Mugicha while the sun is out, fermented grain beverages after the sun goes down (as a general rule, that is — I am quite flexible concerning this rule — it’s more of a suggestion, really). Sam becomes giddy with excitement on weekends when gets to drink beer before dark. It feels naughty, like drinking during the day or eating cookies right before dinner and spoiling your appetite (although since it’s light until pretty late, technically this is not naughty at all). I don’t care for these long days, too much sunlight, too much heat. I feel better knowing the planet is tilting back toward the cold and dark of winter. Summer is not my cup of tea. But it is my mug of beer.

June 20, 2012

This is not my kitchen

Filed under: books, Japan — theresaurus @ 11:50 pm

This is my mother-in-law’s kitchen. The table is covered in clear plastic. There’s a framed crossword puzzle on the wall. The wallpaper has never been changed. The ceiling is dingy white plastic. The florescent light is very bright. There’s a map of the neighborhood and names of households and a plastic whistle hangs nearby, probably from the days long ago when Sam’s parents had to do some sort of community activity. I miss how in Kanazawa the neighbors took turns walking around in the evening clapping wooden sticks together to remind people to, I don’t know, make sure things were all turned off in the kitchen, to prevent fires. That is a very Japanese sound, like the sweet potato truck and the tofu seller’s whistle.

The bookcase contains Sam’s father’s books about plants and bonsai and Japanese history, and his mother’s karaoke tapes. A picture of the grandchildren rests on top. Above the telephone is a mess of pens, pencils, markers, scissors, rulers, erasers, a couple of fans. On the table is Sam’s mother’s box of calcium supplements. She’s still in the hospital with a bad back. She took to sitting with a rubber ball against her back, it helps her to sit up straight. Her apron is slung over her chair. This is where she spends most of her time. She sits in the kitchen practicing her karaoke with a tape recorder or watching TV. On windy days the old weather vane outside squeaks as it turns. Meals are eaten at the same time every day, the correct times. The rice and miso soup are made in the morning, rice kept warm in the rice cooker and soup left all day in its pan to be reheated. A fish is grilled for lunch. Hot water waits in the thermos for tea. Dishes are washed and dried and put away immediately. Every surface is wiped clean and dry. She wears her apron all day. This is the center of the world, the navel, her home.

Sam doesn’t lift a finger in the kitchen, he’s an honored guest. We women jump to serve him, up out of our chair, back down, up again. Even if we have bad backs and arthritic knees and move with the swiftness of an Alpine glacier, this is our job, we are women, this is our duty and our pleasure. More rice? A jar of nori for your rice? Time to heat up the soup yet? There are some pickles in the fridge if you want any, would you like some shaved fish on top of that? Another beer? Why, certainly I will wash off (thoroughly!) the piece of cucumber you have dropped on the floor. Here, let me take away this empty plate, lest it hinder your majesty’s access to the sashimi. After a day of this I want to kick Sam’s big flat head over and over and over and over.

When I put my own food in the refrigerator, when I take over the kitchen to cook, even when the mother-in-law has requested that I cook, I feel like I’m intruding, invading. It feels more intimate than the bedroom. I’m nervous about leaving greasy fingerprints on the fridge door, of neglecting to wipe up splashed water, of misplacing something. When I wash the dishes, she rewashes them after Sam and I leave the kitchen to do something else. When we have barbecues in the garden, we put the picnic table and grill close to the house so she can sit on the floor of the kitchen and eat. She doesn’t like to go outside. Animals eat outside, not people.

When I get back home to Nagoya on Sunday afternoons, it’s a great pleasure to slip back into my own kitchen and begin to make dinner. My messy kitchen. I look outside at the bamboo grove, the busy bus terminal, the other houses and feel happy.

From Rebecca Otowa’s At Home in Japan:

“The kitchen is the most emotionally charged room in the house for a Japanese wife. It’s her workplace, her arena, her sphere of creativity, her classroom. Here is where she stands at the sink, with a child leaning against her watching her chop vegetables. Here is where she washes dishes through a blur of tears after being scolded by her mother-in-law. Here is where she breathlessly arranges her piece de resistance on a beautiful serving dish before carrying it out for all to enjoy. And here is where she sits, a cup of tea before her, listening to the sound of guests in the from room who are due to leave soon, and will need to be bowed out.

“The kitchen is not a place for outsiders, not even the men of the family. In one of our more memorable arguments, my mother-in-law said it made her sick to her stomach to see my husband, or my two sons, Goke and Yuki, working in the kitchen. Since I had no daughter, it was up to me to perform the kitchen tasks singlehanded. As I ploughed through the daily round, I often thought of my dad, who regularly washed the dishes and often cooked, and wondered how my sons would take care of themselves when they went out into the world.”

June 18, 2012

Thank you, farmers, for growing these delicious things in the dirt

Filed under: photo — theresaurus @ 4:49 am

June 16, 2012

Father’s Day = Meat & Booze

Filed under: Japan — theresaurus @ 2:04 am

June 13, 2012

Little Sam’s elementary school picture — in the second row, eighth from the left, next to the girl in the cardigan

Filed under: Japan, photo — theresaurus @ 5:11 am

June 11, 2012

Nisei Daughter

Filed under: books — theresaurus @ 11:53 am

From Monica Sone’s Nisei Daughter (1953):

“The first five years of my life I lived in amoebic bliss, not knowing whether I was plant or animal, at the old Carrollton Hotel on the waterfront of Seattle. One day when I was a happy six-year-old, I made the shocking discovery that I had Japanese blood. I was a Japanese. … ‘So, Papa and I have decided that you and Ka-chan will attend Japanese school after grammar school every day.’  She beamed at us. I choked on my rice. Terrible, terrible, terrible! So that’s what it meant to be a Japanese — to lose my afternoon play hours! I fiercely resented this sudden intrusion of my blood into my affairs. … Up to that moment, I had never thought of Father and Mother as Japanese. True, they had almond eyes and they spoke Japanese to us, but I never felt it was strange. It was like one person’s being red-haired and another black.

“Our street itself was a compact little world, teeming with the bustle of every kind of business in existence in Skidrow. Right below our living quarters was a large second-hand clothing store. It was guarded by a thin, hunchbacked, gray woolly-bearded man who sat napping on a little stool the entrance. … Oddly, the shop was very susceptible to fire, and every now and then smoke would seep up through our bedroom floor boards and we would hear fire engines thundering down our street. After such an uproar, the old man would put up huge, red-lettered signs: Mammoth Fire Sale … practically a giveaway!

“Next to the clothing store was the tavern, the forbidden hall of iniquity, around which we were not supposed to loiter. The swinging door was sawed off at the bottom, but with our heads hanging down we managed to get an upside down view of it. All we could see were feet stuck to brass rails. … Next to our hotel entrance, Mr. Wakamatsu operated the Ace Cafe. We liked him, because he was such a tall, pleasant-mannered, handsome man. He had a beautiful clear tenor voice which floated out into the alley up to our kitchen as he called out, ‘Veal, French fries on the side …!’ Mr. Wakamatsu’s window display was always a splendid sight to see. There would be neat rows of purple strawberry shortcakes, or a row of apple pies shining with the luster of shallac, or a row of rigid, blood-red gelatin puddings planted squarely in the center of thick white saucers.

“Next to the Ace Cafe was Dunk’s father’s small barbershop. Then there was the little white-painted hot-dog stand where we bought luscious hot dogs and hamburgers smothered with onions and the hottest of chili sauce which brought tears brimming to our eyes. The hot-dog man was constantly swatting flies on the meat board, and I hate to think how many smashed flies were in the red ground meat.

“Then came another forbidden place, the burlesque house. A brunet-haired woman with carefully powdered wrinkles sat in the ticket booth, chewing gum. She always winked a shiny purple eyelid at us whenever we passed, and we never knew for sure whether we should smile back at her or not.”

Little Sam in the back, his mother on the far left

Filed under: Uncategorized — theresaurus @ 9:27 am

A company trip, 1981

Filed under: Uncategorized — theresaurus @ 6:07 am

I think this was Sam’s first year in his first job. He’s the one in the plaid jacket and white shirt. He looks a little bit like a pompous asshole in this picture. I suppose I shouldn’t have shown anybody this. He’s just a little bit of an asshole, swear.

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