We live on a hillside in rural Japan, a town nestled between mountains and sea in the Northwest corner of Kyushu. Downtown occupies a compact flat swath near the coast, but the administrative territory is a vast and sprawling conglomerate of surrounding villages and hamlets. Our’s is called Mirukashi, a name that translates to borrowed view. Mirukashi is countryside proper, farmhouses nestled between fields of rice, tea, and vegetables, pastoral and quiet.
In January of 2007 I moved into this little house on a hill that Hanako had built for us. We'd wake in the mornings and quietly stare up at the big cypress beams overhead. Hanako’s mind mulled over the great potential and pressure of returning to her homeland after nearly 20 years away, back to her hometown to open her own pottery studio. My mind went to the great potential and pressure of finding my way in a new land, in 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.
Without language, community, or connections, I felt an acute absence of clarity about the future so I focused on what interested me the most, principally spending time with my mother-in-law Kuniko in her kitchen. Peeling, chopping, and simmering at her side I felt grounded in something tangible and productive.
Those early years in Kuniko’s kitchen sparked a fascination with Japanese cuisine. The ingredients, the seasonings, the beauty and flavor in every healthful dish were astonishing. And the ease with which she could put together such a spread from scratch, night after night, astounded me. I watched diligently and copied verbatim. I borrowed her movements and measurements as my own and learned to make her dishes just as she did.
So much has changed in the many years since we moved here. Our floorboards are worn, the blond cedar beams have darkened and cracked, and the house is now properly heated. Somewhere along the line I learned the language and slipped into a vocation shaped by those early years. And my time in the kitchen with Kuniko has taught me much more than simply how to cook. It has taught me how to eat and in doing so, how to live.
The heart of the countryside still pulses to agrarian rhythms. We measure time in micro-seasons and eat according to what they offer. Living close to the land settles the mind and slows us down. It reminds us to look at the world that surrounds us and consider our place in it. We watch the trees, the plants, the bugs and the birds plotting their course through the seasons. A shift in the light or a waft in the air reminds us to pause and glance at the sky, to study the clouds and listen to the songbirds, to measure the temperature of the air on our skin. We heed these moments that carry us forward, as though observing landmarks along the road to a new destination.
Today Mirukashi feels like home. It’s where we live, where we work, and where we eat three meals a day at our own table. A view that once felt borrowed feels more and more my own. I sequence the days and build a template, noting when trees bear flowers and then fruit. I plot the emergence of summer cicadas, the ripening of chestnuts in fall and how after a spring rain, freshly sodden earth relaxes its grip on roots. My life is measured in these moments, the markers annually approached and passed upon which I stack experiences, coiling meals and memories along the rotation of the seasons.