August 20, 2014
Cool Japan Graffiti
Deputy Chairman, Daiwa Institute of Research/Director, Cool Japan FundYusuke Kawamura
One evening more than 30 years ago, back when I lived in Seattle, the big setting sun bathed the just-turning colours of the trees around Puget Sound in pale yellow light. I was driving up a steep set of switchbacks on a hilly road in a used Bobcat, with the accelerator pressed to the floor. I was almost at the restaurant Monica had chosen, but I was a bit later than I’d promised.
Monica was an American woman whose grandmother was Japanese. She specialized in Japanese culture in graduate school. Her master’s thesis was on kibyoshi books, The Tale of Eight Dogs, and other things like that, and I had given her quite a lot of help with it. She’d invited me to dinner that day as a way of saying thanks.
Monica always wore simple shirts and cotton pants, with a thick pair of glasses, so she was classic image of an academic. She never stood out on the busy, colorful university campus.
The restaurant was called SPQR, and as the name suggests, it served Italian cuisine. From the big windows, one could see the gentle, tranquil waves on the surface of the ocean still reflecting a touch of the sun’s light. I was taken into the restaurant to our table, but I couldn’t see Monica anywhere. Maybe she’d got angry and went home because I was late, I thought.
Actually, at the far end of the big dining area was a tiny room that jutted out over the sea, and that’s where I found Monica. When I saw her, she took my breath away. Her hair was worn up, and without her glasses she looked like a completely different person. The biggest surprise was what she was wearing – the pale yellow-green cloth was decorated in a pattern of pale indigo and safflower morning glory blossoms.
“My Goodness!” I said.
“You like this?” she asked.
“I love it.”
She was wearing a yukata – a Japanese summer kimono.
After dinner we walked down the steps to the sea and took a stroll along the boardwalk. Bathed in the moonlight, her yukata seemed to change colors like a turning kaleidoscope. Without even thinking about it, the words to Ben E. King’s hit song came to my lips.
“When the night has come…and the moon is the only light we see.”
AfterSeattle’s suburbs are clad in incredible colors once fall gets into full swing. One day, Professor Henderson’s graduate students had gathered at our advisor’s home for a meeting on a collaborative project, and afterwards, we were to have a barbecue with the professor and his family. The professor’s home was located on the top of a gently sloping hill above the Washington State coast. From the living room, we had a beautiful view of the towering, white heights of Mt. Ranier – known as Tacoma Fuji to those residents of Japanese descent. We enjoyed the view of the crimson leaves that clad the trees in what seemed to be a beautiful fabric, and bit by bit the sounds of insects began to call out to us as we had our garden party. In the rabbit hutch, a pair of American Fuzzy Lop rabbits sat, their every gesture making them even more lovable.
As the professor grilled a large salmon that had been caught just that morning, he told us proudly, “I got ideas for this house from the headquarters of a conglomerate building I used to walk by back when I lived in Takanawa.” When he was young, he’d lived in Tokyo as a member of the legal staff at GHQ. His house was unceremoniously decorated in many pieces of late medieval Japanese art he’d collected during his time in Japan, and he even had a number of Saga “San-emon” masterpieces. What drew my eye was a large Taro-emon sake cup placed next to a glass case that held a copy of the Kujikata Osadamegaki.
“At first, I was fascinated with colored Nabeshima ware. But I gradually began to understand the beauty of ceramics, too. My wife and I are going to start firing our own,” the professor said.
His grandchildren were running around the garden, full of energy, when they ran up to the professor and his wife with a question. “We want to dance to those songs we love!” they said, and pressed the button on the cassette deck. After a great intro, the rabbits were starting to look confused, and the professor and his wife were smiling broadly. “This is Japanese,” I thought. It was a medley of songs from Japanese duo Pink Lady.
Time passed, and one day I was invited to a historic ryotei near Shin-Nakagawa tram stop in Nagasaki. The restaurant served the Chinese cuisine the city is famous for. The dishes are brought out kaiseki style, with Japanese, Chinese, and western dishes all in harmony. Because of this, it is also known as Wakaran or “Japanese-Chinese-Dutch” cuisine. Round tables with raised edges are characteristically used to serve the dishes. During the Edo period, both samurai and townspeople were all free to sit and dine, and it’s said that the raised edges of the tables were designed that way so if someone spilled their soup, it wouldn’t touch the tatami flooring.
The meal started with a clear soup made from a type of sea breem called ohire, and it was all delicious, but one of the best parts was the braised pork belly. It was melt-in-your-mouth tender, slightly sweet, and not too rich. Served with greens, the contrast was beautiful. The dish is known as toha-ni in Nagasaki, and was named after a famous Northern Song dynasty Chinese poet named Su Dongpo. Su Dongpo (also known as Su Shi) never got along with statesman Wang Anshi and he was banished a number of times over the course of his life. One poem, titled roughly “Edible Pork,” he wrote during his banishment to Huangzhou, an area along the Yangtze River. The poem contains directions for how to make braised, or dongpo, pork.
The original recipe is also delicious, but Nagasaki’s toha-ni is masterfully integrated with Japanese and western cuisines to create Japanese cuisine that feels like it was born in many foreign countries. Maybe it was Ryotaro Shiba who said it, but it has been pointed out that the Japanese have a talent for bringing new ideas over, taking them in, modifying them, and making them a part of Japanese culture, and toha-ni seems to be a good example of that.
Su Dongpo spent his final days banished to Hainan Island. Here too he composed a number of poems that have been passed down for later generations to enjoy. One poem was composed in Hainan Island’s port after he had been pardoned and was thinking about returning to the capital, and it is particularly touching. One interesting fact, in the past, Nagasaki had once been known as “Tamanoura.” The Chinese character for “tama” was also used during the time of Su Dongpo in the old name for Hainan Island, a place seen as a foreign land to the mainland Chinese.
Both in the past and today, in East and West, we see the graffiti for Cool Japan everywhere.
Graduated from the University of Tokyo’s Faculty of Law in 1977, and joined Daiwa Securities. Earned his master’s degree in law from University of Washington in 1981. In 2000, became a professor in the economics faculty in both the undergraduate and graduate schools of Nagasaki University. In 2007, took on a post on the JASDAQ board of directors. In 2009, served as visiting professor at Hitotsubashi University Graduate School. Was made a Senior Director at Daiwa Institute of Research in 2010. On the board of directors at Osaka Securities Exchange. In 2012, became Deputy Chairman of Daiwa Institute of Research. In 2013, took on post of Director at the Cool Japan Fund.