Umami gives identity and intricacy to mother’s milk – a bowl of ramen – a writer poised between Japan and America‘
Be always beginning’ Rilke wrote. You begin again because you have no choice. When I was six my Japanese mother took me to her hometown to live with my grandparents.
In Morioka, a northern capital city I attended the neighborhood kindergarten. My memories of those days are uniformly positive: hunting cicadas in the backyard with a store-bought child’s-net-and-terrarium set (cicada-catching is standard summer fare for Japanese kids); watching Ultraman monster shows – animation – and sumo wrestling on TV – seated beside my grandfather – both of us barefoot on the ribbed tatami mats; and bathing nightly in my grandparents’ stainless-steel tub – encased in dark wood-paneled walls.
But my mother tells me I was miserable – especially at school. I cried so hard and often that the principal called home in the middle of the day and asked her to please pick me up. I struggled with the language – the differences in cultural assumptions and attitudes – my alien looks – and their alien food. I learned Japanese songs and chants and games that I can recite and play to this day – but I could not learn how to be Japanese.
Instead I learned how to navigate the margins.