My mother was a well-respected person who lived during Japan’s Shōwa period (1926 - 1989). She always wore a kimono outside and a kappogi (house dress) at our home just outside of Tokyo, both of which accented her thick, black hair. Because such clothing can keep the whole body clean, it is often said that dressing in this way emphasizes how much Japanese people value cleanliness. And this value has particular significance when the mother of the family is cooking at home.
When my mother was younger, women did not actively advance in society. In accordance with tradition, she prepared homemade food with the family in mind, and was considered a good Japanese wife and a wise mother. She had a “Yamato spirit” and determination to endure any hardship that might confront the family. Often, she would take on the work of relatives when they might be struggling.
Although traditional women like my mother know to “stand by their man,” they are also patient mothers with strong hearts. When I was a teenager, my mother would endure various forms of my bad behavior—anger or selfishness. I’d get home late or sometimes not talk to my parents. But Mom was silent and waited for me to talk. So generous. In this way, she was both hard and soft, a truly rare quality.
Although she rarely spoke specifically about her work in the kitchen, she often traveled some distances to secure key ingredients for her cooking, especially during various times of the year. In Japan, the seasons are of considerable importance, and many foods and spices are available only during specific times. For special excursions, she would prepare a lunch box wrapped with handmade cloth (furoshiki).
Japanese food must be tasteful and nutritious while possessing an almost artistic quality, and this artistic component extends to the entire table, including the tableware. In the spirit of hospitality, my mother used her classical Japanese cuisine to create opportunities for relatives to meet and chat together several times a year.
My father worked until a late hour and generally just watched Mom in her preparations, rarely helping or contributing. This was quite typical for men at that time.
Often my mother and I created special Japanese cuisine together, frequently with soy-based foods because of their health benefits. She referred to soy as “longevity food.” These memories continue to be some of the most meaningful of my life.
As she aged, my mother was fighting cancer, and suffering from its pain. At the end, we saw one large drop of tears, which was rare for her. She thanked me before taking one final quiet breath.
Because of her, I believe in myself, and cherish the attitude of living with conviction. In this way, I feel I’ve inherited Yamato spirit and am so very grateful to her for gifting me this spirit of independence and confidence.
Kyoko Era is an actress, singer, and model who lives in New York City and Japan. She can be found at Facebook and Backstage.
Tamagoyaki (Japanese Rolled Omelet)
3 large eggs
1 t. soy sauce
1 - 2 t. sugar
pinch of salt
2 t. neutral flavored oil such as canola
Beat eggs well in a bowl using wither a fork or chopsticks.
Add soy sauce, sugar, and salt.
Have paper towel handy to keep pan oiled.
Heat a small amount of oil in a small square or round skillet over medium heat.
Add a small amount of egg mixture and stir until just set.
Roll the egg into a log shape, and move to the lower side of the pan.
Add a little more oil to the pan with the paper towel and add more egg, letting it run under the rolled egg.
When the new addition of egg is set, roll it up, incorporating the previous roll, making a thicker roll.
Continue oiling the pan, cooking small amounts of egg, and adding to the roll.
Remove from pan, allow to cool slightly, and cut into thin slices.