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Nikkei Chronicles #1—ITADAKIMASU! A Taste of Nikkei Culture

The Odyssey

We were on our way from Los Angeles to Turlock, located in the central valley of California, for what I believe was my grandmother’s funeral. My father’s mother passed away in January so we were naturally a sullen group.

During the winter there is usually snow on the Grapevine, a portion of the Interstate 5 freeway that connects Northern and Southern California, complete with road closures and sometimes perilous fog and mudslides. This necessitated my family in flying out of LAX to Fresno where we would rent a car to drive the rest of the way to Turlock. When we arrived in Fresno we had planned to stop for lunch. So my sister, her husband, my mother and father, and I piled into the airport rental car and proceeded to search out a place to eat.

My father likes Japanese food. He recounted the fond memory of a restaurant from the “old days” that existed close to an old mall in the oldest part of Fresno. Maybe because of my sister’s disparaging look and rolling eyes I readily seconded my father’s choice. My brother-in-law, always happy to accommodate my parents, drove us around using directions offered by both my mother and father and, incredibly, we were able to locate the mall.

We got out of the car and entered the outdoor mall thinking that possibly my father’s “old days” restaurant could still exist. We certainly appeared to be in the old part of town. And the mall had this run-down, “seen better days” veneer. My father led the way intermittently checking the signs on little shops, looking from side to side. I figured he was looking for the familiar name of the restaurant. Finally, but sadly, we reached the end of the mall with no Japanese restaurant being sighted.

My sister, impatient to get underway and out of an old mall located in the old section of an old town frowned at our dad, “Was this before or after the war?” she asked sarcastically, speaking of WWII. My dad just shrugged and continued to examine every storefront sometimes peeking into the windows to make certain it wasn’t a restaurant. He had Japanese food on the brain and was determined to prove himself right. After a bit of discussion and rebuttals it was decided to retrace our steps through the mall. If this search did not pan out we would return to the rental car and proceed to another place. Again, my father carefully checked the outdoor signs of each small establishment.

When we were almost at the place where we had entered the mall, my father joyously exclaimed, “Ah ha!” I, usually hungrier than anyone else in those days, sped to his side. He found it, he found it, I thought happily. But I was brought up short to stand beside my father. My mother, sister and brother-in-law trudged up behind us. None of us saw a Japanese restaurant. Instead, my father had discovered a rather disheveled and dusty man sleeping in the corner of one of the empty store entryways. My father, being my father, who was never one to assume anything about anyone and never put on airs because one looked less fortunate than another, promptly asked his newly awakened friend, “Do you know where a good Japanese restaurant is?”

I slunk away dejectedly but not before my brother-in-law and I exchanged smirks about my dad’s peculiar habit of finding the most unusual characters in all the wrong places. My sister sniffed her displeasure and mom acted in her usual way—she wrapped her hand around my father’s bicep and began dragging him away. To our surprise the gentleman on the ground smothered in second-hand clothes roused himself enough to offer some information. “Two doors down on the left after the end of the mall” he told us.

Admittedly, there were now four pairs of eyes rolling around in their sockets in unison. Four to one thinking that the man in the tattered jacket couldn’t possibly know a good Japanese restaurant from a bad one. Could he even understand what we were saying we wondered? The whiskey bottle sliding out through the hole in his jacket pocket convinced us he was a bum and was almost certainly in a drunken stupor.

Walking away voicing differing levels of thanks we thought the issue was closed. My sister started walking toward the car with the rest of us following but my dad insisted that the man had known what he was talking about and so did he. We stopped again, a few feet from the curb, and huddled for another short discussion whereupon my father put his foot down and stated he would not return to the car until we at least checked out the man’s story. My sister argued but Dad stood firm, folding his arms, refusing to budge. In fact, he began walking back the other way.

So it happened that my resigned mother, aggrieved sister and amused brother-in-law and I traipsed back to the opposite end of the mall. For the second time. Reaching the end of the mall this time we each peeked around the corner and studied the sign two doors down to our left as instructed. Of course, this was not without varying levels of trepidation on our parts. After all, what could a bum know about Japanese food? But to our surprise and my father’s deliverance—there was a Japanese restaurant.

The food was excellent by the way.


© 2012 Rachel Yamaguchi

5 Stars

Nima-kai Favorites

Each article submitted to this series was eligible for selection as favorites of our readers and the Editorial Committees. Thank you to everyone who voted!

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About this series

For many Nikkei around the world, food is often the strongest and most lasting connection they have with their culture. Across generations, language and traditions are often lost, but their connections to food remain.

Discover Nikkei collected stories from around the world related to the topic of Nikkei food culture and its impact on Nikkei identity and communities. This series introduces these stories. 

 Our Editorial Committee selected their favorite stories in each language. Here are their favorites:

To learn more about this writing project >>

Check out these other Nikkei Chronicles series >>