Friday, January 13, 2012

It’s a Japanese Thing

I wrote this for Diversity Week at work, and thought I'd share it here, too.

My mother grew up in Kyoto, Japan, and my father grew up in Montreal West. My mom came to North America in 1969. For a long time, I didn’t think I was terribly connected to my Japanese heritage. But I have found that cultural heritage isn’t something with which you deliberately connect - it’s more something that kind of seeps into your life. And now that I think about it, my Japanese heritage has done just that.

My kitchen is full of Japanese things. For example, both my sister and I have a suribachi in our kitchens. It’s a special grooved bowl used for grinding things. We use it mainly for sesame seeds, and we can’t live without it. It is, we explain, a Japanese thing. Which is what we also say when people ask about the chopstick we keep by our toasters. We use chopsticks all the time – for cooking, eating, and fishing toast out of the toaster.

When we got married, I wanted to include some kind of acknowledgement of my Japanese heritage into the event. So I totally lost my mind and folded 1000 origami paper cranes, which served as decorations. (Full disclosure – I got help from friends.)  “Why on earth are you doing that?” people asked. “It’s a Japanese thing,” I’d explain.

There’s something extra comforting about Japanese rice. It’s warm and sticky and reminds me of dinners at home with my mom. And I’m happiest when I can put furikake on it. Furikake is a dry Japanese condiment that has been used to entice generations of Japanese kids to eat their rice. I’m 33 and I still love it. When my husband was reluctant to let me put it on Moe's rice, because he didn’t want him to become “furikake dependent” like his mother, I said, “Too bad. It’s a Japanese thing.”

Every December, we attend the Mochitsuki, a traditional Japanese rice-pounding festival. We have attended the one organized by the Ottawa Japanese Community Association and Cultural Centre for years. (Ironically, it’s always held at an Italian soccer club.)  We really enjoy bringing our friends to give them a taste of Japan – both the food (mochi, udon soup, sushi) and the culture (music and dance, taiko drumming). It’s a Japanese thing, we tell them.

This past December, we brought Moe to the Mochitsuki. He’d come with us the year before, but was just a tiny baby in a baby carrier. This was the first year that he could really take it all in. We all had a wonderful time, and I was surprised by how emotional I was watching him experience his Granny’s culture in this huge community setting. It was pretty magical.

I’m look forward to introducing him to lots of Japanese things.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not Japanese, but having lived in Japan for three years (I went with the JET Programme) and now being a member of the Alumni association (and a past president and comms. officer), I used to get out more to the events that the JET community and the Association host. I haven't been to the mochitsuki event in awhile though but I bet it was fun! It usually is! Like you, I have a TON of Japanese things in my home, along with family pieces from Newfoundland, and knick-knacks from all my travels. I bet your Moe and my Petite will have the influences of loads of different cultures as they grow up! YAY for exposure to new and fun things!