Shrimp for Dinner with Lola Naty

It is now my spring break (end of January to beginning of April), and I have traveled from Tokyo to Osaka (where I was sick and bedridden for the last four days), spent two weeks visiting Shansi Fellows in Indonesia (Banda Aceh and Yogyakarta), and have now settled for three weeks in the Philippines.

Currently I am in the mountainous Baguio City staying at the house of my late grandmother’s sister, Lola Naty. (Nah-tee)

Pre-dinner:

We are watching a potful of live shrimp hop and pop, flailing in their last moments against the lid. I’ve witnessed the boiling of live crab before, but the beating of little shrimp bodies against the glass fills me with some pity.

Cassie: Oh noo, the poor little guys.

Lola Naty: Soon they will turn red. Then we will flip them over.

We watch as the frantic jumping begins to cease, one crustacean quieting after the other. The red pigment slowly spreads through their bodies, lighting them up from their dark grey, making them look a bit more vibrant than when they were alive. Before long there is stillness, apart from the bubbling, boiling water.

Lola Naty: See? Now we flip them over.

With her small, soft, wrinkly veined hands she takes hold of the spatula and turns over the shrimp with a graceful deftness that I could never wield over a cooking utensil.

Cassie, repeating: The poor shrimp!

She just laughs at me.

During Dinner:

Lola Naty peels the skin from the shrimp quickly, plowing through five for every one of mine. I ask her to teach me her technique.

Lola Naty: First, you start with the head.

She flicks up the shell from behind the head, but keeps it on.

Lola Naty: Then you peel from the bottom like this.

She peels off the shell up from the bottom by the legs and gets the whole thing off in less than two seconds. Then she proceeds to plop the de-shelled shrimp onto my plate.

Cassie: Okay! It’s my turn now, thank you!

I start practicing, but I am too slow, as she has already de-shelled and plopped one, two, three, four, onto my plate.

Cassie *stopping her*: Thanks Lola Naty! Now I have to practice for myself.

I eat all of the shrimp she has given me to be polite, but by the time I have done this three more are waiting for me.

Cassie *putting a hand out*: Thank you, Lola Naty, but no more! I want to do this by myself.

Lola Naty: Okay, last one.

As she plops one more onto my plate.

And then another.

And then another.

I keep eating the shrimp she is giving me, and by now there is a small mountain of shrimp heads on the corner of my plate. I didn’t plan to eat this much.

Cassie: No mooore please!

Lola Naty: Okay, last one.

And repeat.

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「縁があるんだよ」: Two stories of “fated” encounters

Before I talk about my summer experiences with Japanese transportation as well as my language course, I want to take this time to talk about an important and amazing Japanese word: 縁, or en.

「縁がある」、en ga aru, or “to have en” is to have a destined connection with someone. Be it coincidence or fate, an unintended meeting has resulted in a special or 大切な relationship.

The first time I encountered this experience and the word en was when I studied at Kansai Gaidai University in Osaka in 2011:

The summer between my semesters abroad, I decided to invite a Japanese friend to go see a taiko happyokai (taiko recital or concert) with performances by various classes in Kyoto’s “Taiko Center” school. At that happyokai I saw my first eisaa performance. エイサー、or Eisaa is a traditional Okinawan performance art, including dance, music, and Okinawan handheld taiko, and is the Okinawan equivalent to mainland Japan’s Bon-Odori, or “dance of Obon”. Obon is the Japanese festival of the dead, and likewise Eisaa was traditionally performed to honor the dead. Obon in Japan just ended yesterday, August 16th.

This is a sidetrack! I saw my first eisaa taiko performance, fell in love, and went on to study eisaa in Japan until after returning to Oberlin. Then for the rest of my college career I studied the Okinawan conflict with the Japanese and American governments over the US military bases and aircraft that occupy the island today. (My senior Capstone paper was on this subject!)

Still sidetracked. After seeing this concert and becoming interested in Eisaa, one day I was biking from Gaidai to my sharehouse (dorm-like apartment) and passed by a group of five or six people doing eisaa in front of Hirakata Station. Although they did not have much of an audience, I decided to double back and watch. After they finished, I decided to ask them about their activities. Long story short, from then on I befriended the members of the group, and through the leader, elementary school teacher Honda-san, met another important friend Matsumura-san, a sanshin (3-stringed snake-skinned banjo type instrument, the Okinawan shamisen) teacher who has never been seen in anything other than traditional yukata and geta (sandals). Throughout the rest of that semester Matsumura-san taught me much about Japan, Japanese language, about Okinawa, about people, and about life. He was the one who taught me about en, or a fated relationship.

If I hadn’t doubled around to speak with Honda-san and her eisaa companions, I never would have met Matsumura-san, and I would never have been able to proceed with my Okinawan research as far as I did.

Honda-san's students performing in the Hirakata City Eisaa Festival.

Honda-san’s students performing in the Hirakata City Eisaa Festival.

Matsumura-san invited me to his sanshin class. He also taught me in a tiny Okinawan restaurant near Gaidai.

Matsumura-san invited me to his sanshin class. He also taught me in a tiny Okinawan restaurant near Gaidai.

And now for my second story. Coincidentally, it takes place around the time of Obon.

As you read in my last post, I had a rough first week in my apartment. One night after meeting a friend in Tokyo for a farewell lunch (she just finished one year of teaching for JET in Aomori), I caught the end of the Fuchinobe (town) Obon festival just to realize that the free Obirin shuttle I usually took home was no longer running. Unsure of where the public buses ran and unwilling to pay for a taxi, I decided to walk home. I’d never done it before, and was told by Lissette that it would take about 30 minutes. I was dead tired from a long day and lack of sleep (caused by trauma from the first cockroach). I wanted to fall into a bed (or some hole) rather than walk even ten minutes home.

As I was walking home feeling exhausted and lonely, I’d reached the halfway point when I heard the sound of taiko in the distance.

I was drawn to the sound of taiko like the giant, dumb bugs outside are drawn to my building’s lamps. (Cute, right?) I followed the sound down a narrow road and was shocked when it opened up to not just a temple, but an entire Obon festival with men, women, and children in yukata.

Imagining stumbling from a deserted road onto a scene like this.

Imagining stumbling from a deserted road onto a scene like this.

I honestly thought the police were coming to stop the party and the noise. They actually came to join in the last dances.

I honestly thought the police were coming to stop the party and the noise. They actually came to join in the last dances.

These kids had a fun time running around before joining the dance.

These kids had a fun time running around before joining the dance.

Emotionally I’d been completely revived. I was happy and excited. Although a dancing, yukata-clad obaasan (older woman) gestured for me to join the dance, bone-deep exhaustion led me to politely decline with a wave of a hand and an apologetic bow of my head. After the very last dance (they seemed to have a “last dance” about three times), I approached the man playing the taiko to ask him about where and with whom he played. After telling him I would be teaching at Obirin for two years, he told me he had to leave but introduced me to a man who lived in the neighborhood, Suzuki-san.

After talking excitedly for a while and introducing me to others in the neighborhood (as almost everyone but me was from the neighborhood), Suzuki-san introduced me to his daughter Satomi who studied and worked in the US for about 10 years- and had also been standing right near me the entire time I was there. (I almost tried approaching her beforehand, but was too tired.) Turns out she teaches shime-daiko (small taiko) to young children every Sunday.

The Suzuki family then brought me to their house for tea and traditional snacks. I was taken in like a stray cat. Usually you should never ever go home with people you just met, but I had a sense that these two people were special, and realized I was right when I saw their beautiful and enormous traditional house, with a large yard and garden. The warm and genki Suzuki-san says he’s seventy, but looks so youthful that it’s impossible to believe. He is a retired teacher (or professor?) and likes to grow his own vegetables. His wife, Satomi-san’s mother, passed away a few years ago from illness. She was an amazing woman and a social worker who was so influential she won an award of recognition from the Japanese Minister of Welfare. They set up a small Buddhist shrine to her in their traditional Japanese tatami room, complete with a large picture, offerings, and incense. After fun conversation and feeding me yatai stand yakisoba (fried noodles), traditional snacks, and tea, they drove me home with a full bag of home-grown vegetables.

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I ate the cucumbers raw, without cutting them up or anything. The bag of popcorn was plopped into my hands by the festival’s popcorn seller without me even asking for any.

Today I visited them again and once again was filled with tea and snacks. They had a total of six different guests come in and out throughout my stay to pay respects to Satomi’s mother and to give post-Obon gifts. They took time to help me figure out my internet situation in my apartment, then sent me home with another bag of goods:  This time, canned peaches, a Madeleine cake, mini tomatoes, and an apple.

If I hadn’t missed my bus, decided to walk home, stumbled into the temple celebration, and called out to the taiko player, I wouldn’t have met and befriended such amazing people. Like two years ago, this could just have been a series of great coincidences, or it could be because of my love for taiko. Or maybe en really exists.

Mitsuko “Mitsi” Matsuno Yanagawa ’43

Mitsi Matsunaga was born on February 16, 1919 to Kamezo Matsuno and Tomoyo Nishimura Matsuno. She was attending Oberlin Conservatory during the Pearl Harbor attack and the start of World War II. Despite growing up in America her whole life, she was questioned by FBI and her room was searched.  She graduated from Oberlin Conservatory in 1943 with a degree in Music Education. She continued her education and received an M.A. at the Teachers College of Columbia University in 1944. Mitsi worked for the State Department of Education as teacher and school administrator in Hawaii, becoming Vice Principal of the Kaiolani School. She also founded and became President of her own business, Kelden Enterprise.

In 1946, three years after graduation, she married Yoshio Yanagawa, who had been stationed in the army at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, and later became manager of Hula Land Travel. They had two children, Peter Nobuo Yanagawa and Lauri Mieko Yanagawa. At 92 years, Mitsi passed away in Honolulu on June 14, 2011. She is survived by her brother, Rex Matsuno, her children, one grandchild, and two great-grandchildren.

December 7, 1941

I was a junior when war started and was very alarmed over the ramifications of it all. Momentarily I wondered about my loyalty: “Which side do I belong?” But I only knew how to be an American! But would the Americans trust me?

My dormitory friends remained true friends, their relationship with me never severed. In fact, they were more sympathetic and especially so when the FBI came to investigate.

I was called down to be questioned while my house mother knitted in the background. I felt the FBI was awfully silly and stupid to spend time asking me questions about Japan, how the war started, and communism. How did I know? I had no secret communications. Reading about the bad relationship between the two countries, everybody should have known something was going to happen!

While I was being questioned, another agent went through my room to search for any suspicious materials. One of my dormitory friends hovered over the agent to make sure he left the place in order. And later she reported to me that nothing was taken out.

Is it laziness or the desire to forget all this as “the past” that I don’t wish to recount all the incidents during this period of my life?

1942, WWII: Oberlin College Welcomes Japanese-American Students

“Oberlin Offers a Friendly Welcome to Seventeen Japanese-American Students”

Oberlin News-Tribune, October 1, 1942

This community will be host during the coming college year to a group of approximately 17 students who, though they are all American citizens, are of Japanese ancestry.  Five of these young people have previously been enrolled here, but the others are new to Oberlin.  Eleven will arrive here this weekend who are evacuees from the Pacific coastal areas and who have been living in the evacuation camps of the West.

True to its best traditions the Oberlin community bids these Japanese Americans a completely friendly welcome.  They were all born in the United States—in California, Oregon, Washington, New Jersey and Hawaii.  They all have excellent records for scholarship, character and citizenship.   They have been excellently recommended by friends of Oberlin, and Oberlin College vouches for them.

Oberlin residents will look upon these students, certainly with unusual interest, but with neither prejudices nor suspicion.  The war situation makes their lot a difficult one.  Oberlin can help by treating them no differently than it treats any of its other 1800 or more student residents.

For an example of how not to act we can take that of Parksville, Missouri.  There in recent weeks, the mayor and city council have been “up in arms” over the prospective arrival of seven Japanese American evacuees as students.  Boasting that they were not as “soft” as the F.B.I., the city officials threatened to run these students out of town.

We do not believe there are any Oberlin citizens who are so lacking in common humanity, or whose patriotism is of such an empty, bombastic variety as would allow them to adopt the attitude of Parksville’s mayor.  If so they surely do not deserve the name of Oberlin, and we wish them elsewhere.

No, in this respect we are still the Oberlin of old.  We wish for these fellow American citizens an entirely happy and intellectually profitable stay in Oberlin.  May their experiences here only serve to strengthen their belief, and our belief, in the democratic way of living.

Mai Haru Kitazawa Arbegast ’45

Landscape architect Mai Haru Kitazawa Arbegast was born in San Francisco, California in 1922, the eldest of six children (June OC ’46, Ernest, Thomas, Rose, Helen), to Mr. Gijiu and Mrs. Kikuno Kitazawa, who owned the Kitazawa Seed Company in San Jose. She attended San Jose State College until WWII, during which the family was relocated and interned in a detention camp at Heart Mountain, WY. From here she was permitted to leave and attend Oberlin College, from which she graduated in 1945.

After Oberlin, she received a Masters in Ornamental Horticulture at Cornell University. Following the end of World War II, she and her family returned to San Jose, and Mai earned a second Masters degree in Landscape Architecture from UC Berkeley in 1953.  (In Cornell’s Department of Horticulture alumni newsletter, Mai noted she was “the only woman around as a graduate student in Horticulture from 1947-49”). After teaching in the UC Berkeley Department of Landscape Architecture from 1953-1967 while maintaining a professional practice, she opened up her own Landscape Architectural office, lecturing, touring, and consulting. She received numerous awards, including a Life Time Achievement Award from UCB and a Horticulturist of the Year award.

Mai married David Elwood Arbegast and they had four children, Deborah, Lisa, Michael, and Katherine, and granddaughters Victoria, Mikayla, and Allison. Mai passed away in April 2012.

Obituary

Mai’s Berkeley Profile

Jean Mieko Morisuye Conklin ’48

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Jean’s Oberlin application photo

Jean Mieko Morisuye was born in Sharon, PA on August 26, 1926 to Masanobu “Mori” Morisuye and Kikue Hasegawa Morisuye. She chose to attend Oberlin in 1944 because of its lack of fraternities and sororities and because  of high praises from a neighboring Obie alum. She graduated from Oberlin with a B.A. in Zoology in 1948, and received a Masters in Biology from Brown University. Some of her numerous job positions included teaching assistant in the Brown Zoology Department, Research Assistant at Yale’s Department of Anatomy, and Research Assistant at Barnard’s Zoology Department.

While working at Yale, Jean met and married Yale anthropologist and professor Harold Colyer Conklin on June 11, 1954 and they had three children, Bruce Robert and Mark William Conklin. As a family they traveled on three trips to the Philippines for Harold’s research, and Jean devoted her time to anthropological documentation. This culminated in 2002 with her book “An Ilfugao Notebook”, documenting the family’s 1968-9 experience in Luzon. Jean passed away peacefully in Hamden, Connecticut on July 22, 2010 with Harold at her side.

(Before passing, Jean would regularly update the Oberlin Alumni Association, documenting her numerous job positions at Yale, including executive assistant to the director of athletics, and director of human resources and to the general counsel, finally reaching the “no-children-at-home stage” in 1977, and her post-retirement projects such as “getting family photos in order, throwing out stuff we don’t need, knitting sweaters and scarves, and still finding time to travel to the west coast to see grandchildren”.)

“We Asked Permission from the Police Department”

Ours was the only Japanese family in Sharon, Pennsylvania where my father since 1925 was an electrical engineer at the Westinghouse plant. I was born in Sharon.

Except for the week following Pearl Harbor while he was being investigated, my father continued to work at the plant. The only restriction was that the sections of the plant that were working on war-related things were off-limits to him. His salary was also frozen during the war years resulting in a comparatively low salary for the last half of his service at Westinghouse. The people at the plant, and, in fact, any who knew us in town, continued to be supportive and friendly.

The police did come to the house and removed our short-wave radio and any books or magazines written in Japanese. Everything was returned at a later date. We were restricted in travel to a distance of 5 miles from Sharon, but if we asked permission from the police department for a travel outside this zone, it was granted and they always offered to watch the house while we were gone. We used this privilege mainly when my parents drove me to or from Oberlin at the beginning or end of the school year. For holidays a lot of us traveled by bus because of gas rationing.

I entered Oberlin in the fall of 1944 and graduated in 1948. I considered only two colleges, Ohio Wesleyan and Oberlin, and chose the latter because it had no sororities or fraternities. Also, someone in Sharon was a graduate of Oberlin and she visited our home to assure us that it was a great place to go to school. My high school grades were good but not super-exceptional. I applied and was accepted, probably because the school was anxious to do its part in accepting Japanese students.

To my knowledge, the Nisei students were treated very well on campus and in town. It is possible that I was given a single room, albeit a very tiny one, my freshman year because they were not sure of a roommate’s reaction. But my room became a gathering point and I made many life-long friends that year.

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Jean’s Senior Photo