“In Japan…everywhere…red strings tie all people we meet together. Some strings are weak. Some have tangles. Some strong.”
Meryl—Vietnam War widow—misses her grown son, feels left out after her father’s recent marriage. A WWII Japanese flag falls into her hands. The gentle push of a love-struck professor starts her adventure—take the flag home. From the neon of Osaka, to the ancient capital Nara, to the forests of Akita, the trail follows British and US expats, a newspaper reporter, factory manager, ikebana teacher, a Matagi hunter and winds through Japanese culture, past and present. A story of shared humanity and love“in the simplest things.”
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Elliot always ordered for the teachers at the robatayaki. The Japanese words he knew were those for pleasurable sustenance.
Tonight he began with teriyaki yellowtail and buttered grilled potato.
The teachers and Meryl joined him. After Meryl admired the flatfish chopstick rests and answered yes when Fiona asked if she thought the hijiki seaweed looked like shiny black worms, the Master’s sister brought a dish that Elliot hadn’t ordered.
“The Master is giving us this for free.” Jo put her hands together in the customary prayer. “Itadakimasu.”
“He is?” Meryl asked.
Fiona told her to just say itadakimasu—
And was impressed; it had taken her five days to try to say it.
Darryl said, “Say ookini.”
“That’s easy.” Meryl looked over to the Master. “Oh-key-knee.”
Puppet eyes glittered. Circle lips opened wide. Laughter exploded like balls of fireworks at a summer festival.
“A delectable delight,” Elliot said. “Grilled lotus root stuffed with ground pork. Your son’s favorite dish. Put a little of that mustard on it.”
“Byron’s favorite? No, Byron’s favorite is mypotato salad.”
“That was before he came to Japan.” But Fiona really had no idea. “Try the lotus root. It’s very nice.”
“I didn’t even know you could eat lotus root.”
Fiona gripped one of her chopsticks as if it were a dagger, stabbed a slice of lotus root, and waved it under Meryl’s nose. “Eat anything you like. Even live shrimp if you want. Called dancing shrimp.”
“Because their legs,” Darryl said, “wiggle as they go down.”
“Relax,” Elliot told Meryl. “That fish bait is at a sushi bar. We’re at a robatayaki. Take a whiff. Everything’s grilled. Goes well with the beer. There’s also chilled sake.”
Meryl said she didn’t drink alcoholic beverages.
“Whaaawt? Byron always does.” Fiona took great satisfaction at the surprise and uncertainty in Meryl’s eyes.
Elliot passed Meryl a cup of sake. “Your son’s favorite, nice and cold.”
“No, thank you. But I’d like some water, please.”
Fiona drank Meryl’s sake. “You crossed the ocean for water? Next thing you’ll want a cheeseburger.”
Elliot ordered shochu and water on ice for Meryl.
The best shochu came from the island of Kyushu. The shochu served at the robatayaki was distilled from the Satsumasweet potato and had little flavor when the Master mixed it with water and ice. It tasted how water from the best mountain spring in the world should taste. The teachers named it H2Sho. After a blissful night of indulgence, each of them had woken up as fresh as a daisy…H2Sho never leaves behind the reminder of a merrymaker’s guilt—the hangover.
Elliot’s crescent smile hid his motives.
B. Jeanne Shibahara has spent most of her adult life in Japan. She married into a family of calligraphy, ikebana, and tea ceremony teachers, shamisen player, kimono fabric artist, business entrepreneur, and architect. Their traditional family home (tatami mats, shoji, moss garden) is in Nara City, an ancient capital of Japan.