Misako’s Japanese Kitchen

Misako in her kitchen, Shobu, Japan, 2000

I’ve lost track of Misako. It happens, you know—we’re close to people for a short while, and then we grow apart because of distance, work, family or the natural passage of time. Eleven years ago, I stayed in Misako’s home and I explored Japan through an Oregon Sister Cities Project. I love natto because of Misako. I know how to make mulberry paper because of that trip. And although Misako and I haven’t corresponded in nearly a decade, I’m thinking of her every day this week, given all the disastrous news.

I remember the tiny home Misako and her husband shared not far from Tokyo—but far enough that when we took the dog for an early-morning walk, we passed patches of fertile soil planted with neat, clean rows of taro, cabbage, onion and potatoes. We passed greenhouses lush with strawberries and pear trees freshly picked. Every neighbor we met gave a hearty hello with a bow, a smile and a moment of chitchat, both formal and natural. “Organic,” my friend Youme likes to say.

Misako and her husband slept on tatami mats, which they unfurled each night and stashed each day. By breakfast time, I could gaze through the kitchen, their bedroom and a set of glass doors framed outside with vines full of succulent, sagging grapes nearly the size of my thumb. She taught me to peel the skins, spit out the seeds and savor each grape’s sweet juices.

The first night I arrived, Misako and I sat in her kitchen, yakking for hours, going through photos of her trips to the United States, Germany, Switzerland and Hokkaido. We talked—with a dictionary and two broken attempts at language—until my eyes reddened with jet-lagged fatigue.

The last dinner Misako cooked for me, she made curry—one of her husband’s favorite dishes. It was a light, sweet, yellow curry that tasted of cinnamon. She made it with chicken and potatoes. She served bowls of miso and salads with cold scallops. We also ate a type of shellfish with dark, chewy meat I couldn’t identify. It was all extraordinarily delicious.

And for breakfast: Misako made natto, serving her last little polystyrene square wrapped in an orange and black label. She mixed the gooey beans with mustard, soy and shredded dried seaweed. I ate every last gulp.

8 thoughts on “Misako’s Japanese Kitchen

  1. I love the visual of talking with dictionaries for hours…

    There’s something about travelling a lot, how people come in and out of our lives, like the waves of the ocean. My husband isn’t used to that so much as he never moved very far or traveled extensively. The ebb and flow doesn’t bother me, it just seems a natural part of life – I’ve been experiencing it since I was 10 years old and began moving every couple of years.

  2. Thank you, Karen.

    Makes me feel like a virtual hitchhiker reading these. I want to travel again.

  3. I still have to accept that people come and go, when you move or travel or just live on. I miss them bitterly, sometimes. I’m thinking of far away Japanese friends as well. I remember a guy, Satoshi, he was from Kobe and once made a presentation about the earthquake that destroyed his hometown with such grace and dignity and love for life; and Kyoko, from Hiroshima, who managed to talk about what happened and give us the idea of how life moved on, regardless. I hope they are all safe.

  4. Beautiful experience that of yours and how nice it is to remember all these details so many years later of your stay with that family. I hope they are well. Mother nature has been hard on Japan lately. I wish for them no more threats, prompt recover, rebuilding, healing and happiness again as soon as possible.
    H

  5. Tea, I know your deep connection to Japan. Thank you for sharing your experiences through the years.

    Sasha, I love your description of waves and ebb & flow. It does seem natural, but I do find myself missing many people and daydreaming about places I would love to see again. Sometimes I feel as though I’ve lived a thousand different lives, I can’t imagine what my mind and memories would be like had I not traveled so often.

    Thank you, Francine!

    Caffettiera, I hope your friends are safe. I know what you mean about the difficulty in missing people. But I think that difficulty is an inevitable part of the beauty in travel.

    Weirdcombos, thank you – I remember the details only because I wrote them down! This is why I love keeping a journal. It shows me memories I’d forgotten I had.

    Scots Bachelor, it is sad, but I wouldn’t trade these experiences for anything. And I always hope one day I will see my far-flung friends again.

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