In the women’s dressing room, a concerted kimono effort was taking place. As if my entrance had startled a flock of birds, layers of kimono flapped in the air and floated down around the necks of my fellow koto players. Two helpers per woman kept the wings up while the wearers’ arms slipped in, the fabric was wrapped and tied, and a third helper stood on a stool behind, up-sweeping the hair in a fashion that screamed prom. Butterfly clips and sparkling feathers adorned the sides of these up-dos. Here, it wasn’t kitschy, it wasn’t tacky. These women, ages 17 to 60, looked elegant in kimono passed down from their grandmothers who wore them the exact same way. Continue reading
Category Archives: For the Love of Japan
On the Boy Scout Trail, in the Redwood National Forest, 12 miles from coastal Crescent City, California, and 27 from the Oregon border, an informational sign at the 6 meter wide base of a fallen tree explains that the Redwoods are gregarious trees. Their shallow root system, relative to their massive hundred meter heights, requires them to live in groves. Their long roots grow shallow but reach out to neighboring roots, wrapping and coiling, and eventually growing together in order to support the upright weight of a community of trees which average 600 years old. In May, when Emmett and I crossed the country to meet these trees, I imagined them holding hands underground, fully aware of their reliance on each other.
The highest-ranking sumo wrestler in Japan, 330-pound Asashōryū Akinori,took to the runway at a fashion show in Tokyo for the Shibuya Girls Collection. Asashoryu, the Mongolian-born badboy of sumo, was dressed inexplicably in a boy’s school uniform as he strode down the runway.
I have been living in Japan and taking koto lessons for 6 months. I have a students’ concert in one month and here I am, full of mistakes and cold reading the last part of “Sakura Saukra” in practice with my teacher, Mizutani-sensei. She gets the patience award. Big time. I take lessons weekly in her traditional home. She serves me tea and we bow with an “Onegaishimasu” before we begin the first song of the lesson. Continue reading
It is not often that you come across a complete idea. Many ideas begin with great intentions, yet fall short of fully blossoming into tangible results, of filling that space which they set before them. So it is with restaurants, where many concepts strive to come to a single complete idea, and also where many fall apart. Melissa put it best: “Restaurants usually do one of two things. They either make great food from mediocre ingredients or they make mediocre food from great ingredients.” Finding that balance, that perfect arc of taste, texture, and presentation, requires so many elements to be precisely and seemingly effortlessly set into place that nothing remains but the singular experience of the diner and the dish. Continue reading
On Friday morning the weather was cold and wet. We readied to leave for work half an hour before departure, the two of us dealing out rain gear and debating the need for boots. I was going to meet Emmett at the train station after work and then off to Kyoto with us! We were celebrating our fourth anniversary. Four years of solid high fives, dancing in the kitchen, making instruments out of empty containers, packing and moving, making homes, making food, making friends, and participating in spontaneous a capella eruptions of Joanna Newsom’s “Bridges and Balloons.” Leaving the house, Emmett said, “Our adventure begins tonight!” I summoned Cary Grant, “Our adventure began four years ago.” Continue reading
A few years back, my roommates, some friends and I were sitting around the dinner table making lists. The lists were of our top ten favorite smells, tastes, sounds, textures and the like. I filled mine out carefully, each decision sifted from a wide variety of synaesthetic moments in my life. In my sixth month of living in Japan, I now feel so strongly about one of these items that I could forgo the other nine and fill the entire textures list with one word: mochi.
Mochi is rice pounded into a paste and then shaped into or wrapped around whatever its maker wishes. It is the Plaster of Paris of Japanese food and it is divine; it feels like baby cheeks. Along with the apparent magic of mochi, it factors beautifully in Japanese culture, becoming not only a triumphant symbol of Japanese cuisine but also the industriousness of rabbits.
As we begin to mentally leave Japan (and our desks) behind for the golden green land of the Lao, Melissa and I have found ourselves drawn unexpectedly back towards the magical parts of this country which are found only in shadow, in a newly discovered ally, in places where you do not look for them. We made a night bike ride to the post office (which magically stays open late) to mail Christmas packages home and on our way back we took the deserted street of Earthen Houses, past the Bank of Red Brick, and into a tiny moment of Takaoka City where the cold night air heightens the smell of yakisoba and shouyou and draws from the warrens of crowded buildings the pique sent of pine like wood smoke clear into the air.