Mom and Sushi

H

as it really been three years? It’s been that long since my mother died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I won’t bore you with the details, but you can read a bit more as well as an amusing story I wrote last year commemorating her death that partially explains my weird sense of humor.

Be that as it may…

My mother and I were very close. Sometimes I wonder if I suffered from what the Japanese call mazakon, which is short for “mother complex.” I admit I relied on her a lot. I mean, I did my own laundry, could cook when I had to, and had lots of girlfriends, some of whom I wouldn’t/couldn’t introduce to her. But she was always the one I turned to when I needed to discuss problems and ask for advice. We also did lots of things together. We went to Dodger games together and we went to eat sushi together.

My first introduction to “real” sushi was in 1972. My mother had been working at the Consulate General of Japan since 1968 and with this job she had attained a degree of financial independence and a vast knowledge of the ins-and-outs of Lil’ Tokyo. I went to see her for lunch one day, and she asked me if I waned to eat at a “sushi bar”.

“A sushi bar? What’s that?”

She assured me it was good food, but all I could imagine was a bar with wine glasses hanging overhead, rows of liquor lined up in front of a mirror on the wall, and a fountain where a bartender jerked soda and water to mix with the alcohol he served. I soon learned that the word bar had more than one definition.

She took me to a place called Tokyo Kaikan in J-Town, where a chef named Toyo–now the owner of Sushi Gen in Honda Plaza–“tended” bar. I was totally blown away. Back then, sushi usually meant inarizushi (footballs) or futomaki (tires). And the image of raw fish was basically limited to maguro (tuna). But on my maiden voyage to a sushi bar, I experienced the wonders of hirame (halibut) and iwashi (sardines) and suzuki (sea bass). I didn’t know that sushi could be so wonderous. After that, we often went to eat together. When I started working, I tried to pay as often as I could–what better way to pay back a lifetime of being nurturing. The last time I got to go with her was in December 2001.

I rarely get to go back to J-Town and eat sushi, but when I do I try to visit Toyo at Sushi Gen. He always treats me to a sake in memory of mom.

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