As I continue pushing forward to my eventual departure, I find myself thinking about some of my favorite anecdotes from my time in Japan. No wonder — despite spending a relatively short period of my life in the Land of Amaterasu, it has remained a touchstone in my life as a traveler, a historian, and a citizen of this verdant ball of life.
Our Story Begins with Misunderstanding
Keiko, my host mother, always gave me far too much credit as far as my Japanese ability was concerned. Sure, I could hold my own in a conversation and like many who grew up idolizing different parts of Japanese culture, I could espouse on the differences between the Tokugawa and Meiji periods, all while talking fairly confidently about whatever anime was playing that season. In short, being a nerd, just as I am now, helped get me through otherwise challenging cultural gaps that I managed to skip in Nagoya, but I will undoubtedly continue to face elsewhere.
My weak spot was always food. I knew sushi, I knew ramen, and that was about it. Keiko had spent everyday for months cooking just as she would for her family if I weren’t there, ensuring that every wisp of soy scented smoke that bounced across my lips as I lay barely awake each morning and as I lay down to sleep at night was authentic to her and her family. From natto, a fermented soybean and bacterium nightmare, to sukiyaki, she formed my palette in a way that still informs every bit of Japanese cooking I taste, whether it’s ramen from Rochester or a piece of tuna sliced fresh in Fukuoka. Continue reading →