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.