Happy new year everyone, hope 2013 is a great one for you. New year is my favourite Japanese holiday. It is so peaceful as everything shuts down, people dress up and there’s a feeling of anticipation that the new year will bring good things. There is a mad rush in December to get ready, to do a thorough house cleaning, finish up business especially relating to money and prepare food which will be eaten during the festivities. There is always a temple or shrine visit during the 3 days of new year to pay your respects to the gods and start the year off auspiciously. From talking to my mom this year, it seems much of the stillness has gone with shops opening on January 1. When I was younger, everything was shut for the first three days. I remember about 15 years ago when the convenience shops started opening on New Year’s day, I thought that was the beginning of the end.
The nice thing about living overseas is that your memories can stay frozen in whatever time you choose. So even though I’ve been home for new year’s in recent years, the ones I recall most vividly are from the 70′s, the last time I lived in Japan as a child. Lots of food, ridiculous television, endless games and just hanging with my family are what I remember. Also in my memory, January 1 was always bright and sunny, it probably isn’t true but that’s what’s great about memories right?
But fast forward to 2013 and here I am in London where January 1 is more a day to recover from the excesses of December 31 than a day unto itself. I didn’t make any of the traditional foods for new year both because of a lack of ingredients and a general lack of interest from the other family members. I did want to make the soup we have on new year’s day but I hadn’t bought any of the ingredients. So rather than make a traditional Japanese ozoni with dashi, mouli, spinach, bright red carrot and of course mochi, the pounded sticky rice cake, I made a vegetable soup with onions, cabbage, jerusalem artichokes and carrot. It’s the mochi that makes it new yearsy I think and it didn’t disappoint. I felt like I had kept the spirit of the tradition. Here’s a photo.
My new year’s soup
I’m going to try very hard to do a better job blogging this year. Here’s to another year full of fun and adventure.
I am writing this in the midst of jet lag. In the last week, we have flown from Honolulu to Providence and have come home to London. It’s a lot of flying and frankly, airports are pretty much the same everywhere so we tend to identify them by what we ate there. It was a 5 week holiday and the theme was family.
For many years now, we have made the trip to Honolulu every summer. My sister and her family live there and my parents come in from Tokyo so it’s a family vacation for my side of the family. This means that while I am in a gorgeous setting with people I love, there is always drama. As my parents have grown older and less independent, the amount of arranging and negotiating that happens every year has increased. This year, with my dad still recuperating from heart surgery coupled with my mom’s fear of doing anything on her own meant that they needed constant attention. I tried to be philosophical about it but I must admit, there were times when I regretted going. My sister works full time and they aren’t on vacation while we are there so the burden fell on me to keep my parents entertained. Add to that two young adult children who are used to living their own lives thrust into a situation where they had to be with each other for long periods – more drama. I know I could have been far more gracious about it, but you can only do what you can do. I hope my parents went home thinking they had a nice holiday.
I also realized that in addition to a generation gap, my mom and I also have a major culture gap. I was raised mostly in the States and haven’t lived in Japan all that much. So while I consider myself Japanese, apparently my thinking is not typical. This led me to being frustrated with my mom’s inability to just come out and say what she wants whereas she thought she was being totally forthright. As far as I was concerned, she was being forthright at all the wrong times and not where it mattered. We were able to have some chats about this which is a first in our relationship. Maybe I’m finally growing up.
But I do realize that every year we get together we come away with shared experiences and memories. The joys and frustrations of being with family are what keep me connected. When you move as much as we have, home is not a location, it is wherever your family happens to be. Mine is messy, crazy and wonderful. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Well here it is, almost the next weekend so I’d better talk about last weekend before it’s too late to bother. I went to NY for 5 days last week to attend my 30th college reunion. It is the first time I have gone to a reunion on campus, the last one was my 5th and we didn’t go to the official one, just a party held off campus which pretty much put me off going to any future ones.
I am still friends with my freshman year room mate and together with another friend we signed up for the same events so we were guaranteed to know people. The first event was a joint cocktail party with our counterparts across the street. They have since gone co-ed but back in the day, our college was all women, theirs, all male. I recognized some people but in a vague, “oh you look familiar” kind of way. Then I saw someone that I genuinely liked but hadn’t seen in 30 years. It was great catching up with her and seeing that she was still the very nice person I remembered. And that’s the thing about reunions. People are still fundamentally who they are 30 years later. So chances are, if you didn’t like them in college, you’re not going to all of a sudden find you have so much in common that you’ll become besties.
The next night was our class dinner, kind of the same deal, we each stuck with the friends we knew from college and it was lovely to see people whom I genuinely liked. But it was going to an event the next day which made me realize why I love my old school. The talk was on the school’s ongoing effort to be more global and while listening to current students present, I reconfirmed that I went to a great school that continues to do great things. The young women were so articulate and passionate about their experiences, that I was proud to be associated with them and happy to be involved with the school.
This weekend was also my reunion with NYC. I can’t remember the last time I was alone in the city. I saw many friends outside of the reunion but I stayed in a hotel by myself. It was the world’s smallest hotel room so there wasn’t a huge incentive to stay in the room itself when I wasn’t sleeping. So I spent the time I wasn’t seeing friends walking around the city. Well specifically the Upper West Side since I only made it downtown once. It is remarkable how little the demographic has changed since I last lived there in the 80′s. It continues to be multi generational with a heavy emphasis on families. Although I don’t remember quite as many strollers in my day but I do remember hordes of toddlers.
Okay this is turning into a rambling account so I’ll stop here. But since I’m in the midst of so much change and newness, this weekend gave me the perfect opportunity to stop and look back on the person I used to be 30 years ago. I don’t know that myself 30 years ago would recognize the me today. I think even back then, I thought things would happen, it just took 30 years for the time to be right. Hey some of us are slower than others. But then, it’s all about the journey, isn’t it?
I get this question a lot. It was a question that was never asked until I moved to London. I grew up partly in Japan and the States so my English is very American. So when I lived in the States, people just assumed my parents were immigrants and in Japan, of course I sound native so no one ever questioned it.
But when people first meet me here, they try to place the accent, the body language; all cultural cues to figure out where I belong. And that’s where the problem begins. Because although my English is American, I am not, nor do I consider myself to be American. But from having lived so long in the States, my body language is very western, so I do not come across as a Japanese woman of a certain age either. So people ask me where in the States I am from or whether I am Canadian. I tell them I am Japanese from Tokyo and doubt is just written all over their face. Now really, why would I lie about a thing like that? I’ve managed to condense my life experience into, “I was born in Japan and spent a lot of time in the US”. That seems to satisfy most casual inquiries. If I am getting to know you as a friend, then the story would get fleshed out in further conversations.
The thing is, while we were living in the States, I pretty much identified with America as that’s where I had spent most of my schooling. But as I am now 13 years out of the States, I identify more and more with Japan, a country that is my spiritual home regardless of how much or how little time I have spent there. And now with my crusade to bring Japanese cooking into the homes of London, I’ve started thinking a lot about things I’ve taken for granted and comparing and contrasting my experiences with Japanese and western food.
But that’s another post.