Cultivated Days | Japan will do that to you
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Japan will do that to you

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Ten years ago this week I moved to Japan, into the little house on the hill that Hanako had built for us. We’d wake in the mornings under a mountain of blankets, our breath visible in the frigid air and spar over why the other should be the one to dash out to turn on the kerosene space heater. Whomever was tagged would just as quickly dash back and we’d wait for the chill to subside, quietly staring up at the big cypress beams overhead. Hanako’s mind mulled over the great potential and pressure of independence, of operating her own pottery studio and running her own business. My mind went to the great potential and pressure of finding my way in a new land, a new language, within a new family. What we shared was a mild disbelief. The reality of it all was just a little beyond comprehension.

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While Hanako dove headfirst and single-mindedly into her career, my path was more laborious and uncertain. Without language, community, or connections, there were dark days when I didn’t know which direction was up. In the absence of clarity about the long term, I tried to focus on what interested me like spending time with Kuniko in her kitchen. There at least I felt grounded in something tangible and productive. Working beside her one day she told me of someone she admired, a man who years beyond when most choose and pursue a profession had meandered, doing this and doing that but always doing what he loved. One day, at an age not so far from the age I am now, all of those interests and experiences coalesced rapidly into a vibrant and unique line of work. I listened intently and prayed that I too would get there.

So much has changed in these past ten years. Our floorboards are worn, the blond cedar beams have darkened and cracked, and the house is properly heated. Hanako’s career is robust and with stability has come more time to find focus in her work. And like the man Kuniko spoke about all those years ago, my interests have coalesced into a vocation far more interesting than I could have planned for in those early unknowing years. Our life today feels very real, hard won for sure, and uniquely ours. What a fine way to open this tenth New Year in Japan.

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In the days leading up to New Years, Kuniko prepared traditional fat sweet black beans and kazunoko (herring roe). Hanako, her sister, and I gathered at her house late morning on the first and spent the entire day eating and drinking. Hanako laid a fire and set the table with a selection of Nakazato family wares. My sister-in-law presented a beautiful spread of New Year’s dishes while I prepared the omedetai sashimi arranged with mitsuba, suizenji nori, and wasabi.

The fishmonger supplies larger Tai (red snapper) than usual (at three times the price!) for the holiday. We buy one and eat it for days and in many ways. On the second we grilled the fleshiest cuts of bone around the fins, ribs, and cheeks. The remaining fillet was sliced and marinated overnight in soy and sake. On the third day we celebrated with omedetai chazuke.

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Chazuke is green tea poured over rice. It’s the ultimate Japanese comfort food, a sort of articulated porridge that warms the soul and fills the belly. In this gourmet version the marinated Tai is placed atop a bowl of white rice, topped with a dollop of wasabi and heaped with koumiboshi nori. For Tai chazuke you want the tea good and hot to parboil the slices of fish and dissolve the wasabi. But very hot water is an insult to good sencha so forgo the best grade of tea here.

Hanako has seen me relish more than one bowl of Tai chazuke before but she is perpetually surprised at how much I love it. Chazuke is so very Japanese, she says. But I love many things that are so very Japanese, I reply. Ten years in Japan will do that to you.

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32 Comments
  • Alana V.
    Posted at 12:01h, 11 January

    So very graceful and fine. (Finest kind, as we say.) Your comparison between the first and tenth New Year celebration is exquisite and I can only imagine the flavor but savor the descriptions. Happy New Year!! to you all. Your journey into full careers on two continents is precious to us and to many others.

    • Prairie
      Posted at 03:01h, 12 January

      Thank you, Alana~ Wishing the happiest of New Year’s to you two as well. You and G are the finest kind for sure!

  • Kate wolff
    Posted at 12:51h, 11 January

    I really enjoyed that piece Prairie. What a life.

    • Prairie
      Posted at 02:59h, 12 January

      Thank you mamma! Hippy child from Vermont. What a life indeed.

  • Siem
    Posted at 13:09h, 11 January

    Thank you for the beauty and wholeness of this piece. It shows, once again, that something well-made – a cup, a dish, a life – is rarely made in a straight,static line. You two are such joyous inspiration to me and to everyone that knows you. Happy New Year.

    • Prairie
      Posted at 02:58h, 12 January

      Thank you for so much kindness and friendship, Siem. The inspiration flows both ways. Wishing you the happiest of New Years!

  • Donna
    Posted at 13:35h, 11 January

    What a beautiful and inspiring piece Prairie. You and Hanako have created a wonderful life doing what you love- an inspiration to us all, and a nice reminder that we can, in fact, create a fullfilling life by focusing on the things that matter to us most.

    • Prairie
      Posted at 03:04h, 12 January

      Donna, this little community here, though virtual in nature, feels very real to me and is an enormous part of finding that fulfillment you speak of. Thank you for being a part of it.

  • Ian Wright
    Posted at 14:35h, 11 January

    What a great story! It’s breakfast time here and I’m now incredibly hungry!! Happy New Year to my sisters!!!

    • Prairie
      Posted at 02:52h, 12 January

      Happy New Year to you too, bro! Come on over for a feast some day!

  • Meredith
    Posted at 14:37h, 11 January

    Loved it all. Congratulations to you both on 10 years and the life you have built!

    • Prairie
      Posted at 02:50h, 12 January

      Thank you sweet Mer! And thank you for being one of the first to venture over for a visit!

  • Elizabeth Andoh
    Posted at 14:52h, 11 January

    What a wonderful first decade, filled with courage, curiosity, and enormous determination!

    Eagerly awaiting more of Hanako’s marvelous pots and your eloquent essays and stories in the decades to come.

    • Prairie
      Posted at 02:48h, 12 January

      Oh Elizabeth, thank you! Where all of that determination comes from is a bit of a mystery to me, but it’s perhaps the most common trait that H and I share. That this path led me to meet you is one of the greatest gifts! Cheers to decades more.

  • lisa lindblad
    Posted at 14:54h, 11 January

    lovely Prairie! You always lull me in to an infinite sense of wellbeing.

    • Prairie
      Posted at 02:44h, 12 January

      Thank you, Lisa! Your continued encouragement has meant the world to me.

  • Jeanne
    Posted at 15:55h, 11 January

    Omedetou — for your ten years in Japan and also for the new year!!! It’s been 35 years since I left Japan, and I have been yearning ever since to go back. Your posts make me yearn even more.

    • Prairie
      Posted at 02:43h, 12 January

      Happy New Year to you too, Jeanne. Come back soon!

  • Adrian Mueller
    Posted at 16:46h, 11 January

    What a wonderful post and intimate glimpse into your lives. We can relate on so many levels. Thank you for sharing. Wishing you both continued inspiration, contentment & love.

    • Prairie
      Posted at 02:42h, 12 January

      There must be many commonalities, Adrian, among those of us who have made a home in another country, in another culture. Wishing all of that inspiration, contentment, and love for you both as well.

  • Mora
    Posted at 17:30h, 11 January

    Treasures abound in this post celebrating your 10 years in Japan. Omedetou! For all of us who love Japan, we know the “touch” of which you speak. Tanizaki Junichiro’s once remarked that beauty rises from the realities of life forces. I’d say you have fully embraced this beauty!Thank you for sharing your life in Japan with all of us. Blessings to you, Hanako, and your entire Japan family for a healthy and happy 2017.

    • Prairie
      Posted at 02:35h, 12 January

      Arigatou, Mora! That Tanizaki quote is my favorite of all time. I think of it often regarding so many things in life from aesthetic expression to a path through hard times. Such a beautiful sentiment.

  • Terry
    Posted at 21:26h, 11 January

    always a joy, your voice is always so eloquent so rich, though this one is so much more……..an odyssey, a fantastic journey
    the happiest of new years to you and Hanako

    • Prairie
      Posted at 02:32h, 12 January

      Thank you for such kind words, Terry. An odyssey for sure, whew! Now onto to the next chapter…

  • Shom Edmond
    Posted at 22:33h, 11 January

    Happy New Year, Omedito gozaimasu. And your articles so beautifully photographed and written are a welcome post in these disturbing days.

    • Prairie
      Posted at 02:31h, 12 January

      Thank you, Shom. It’s my practice of gratitude. There is still so much that is good and dear in the world and we must give those things equal attention to stay sane.

  • Catherine
    Posted at 22:40h, 11 January

    What a lovely piece for the new year–it seems to me that you strive to embody in your joint lives something that William Morris once wrote: ” . . . the real way to enjoy life is to accept all its necessary ordinary details and turn them into pleasures by taking interest in them.” Your writing and photographs show how adept you have become at that practice.. Happy Year of the Fire Rooster!

    • Prairie
      Posted at 02:29h, 12 January

      Catherine, Thank you for sharing this quote, I love it! So very true. Happy New Year to you too~

  • Elaine Ng
    Posted at 16:02h, 13 January

    So resonant, Prairie! Miss you two…

    • Prairie
      Posted at 05:54h, 16 January

      Thank you, Elaine! Miss you too…

  • Sparrow Hart
    Posted at 13:34h, 14 January

    Wow… a whole decade… Really? I guess it’s so.

    I too really enjoyed this piece… reminding me of what I saw and heard in those early years and the — as you say — fabulously rich life you have today. So happy for and proud of you. May this next decade be just as rich… and more.

    Poppa B

    • Prairie
      Posted at 05:54h, 16 January

      Yes, indeed, it’s so. Thanks, Poppa B!