Naomi Hirahara: A Gift to Give

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–From the 2012 Holiday Issue–

Naomi Hirahara is a former editor of The Rafu Shimpo.  A Stanford graduate, Naomi left The Rafu in 1996 after working for the paper for 10 years to serve as a Milton Center Fellow in creative writing at Newman University in Wichita, Kansas. She returned to California in 1997 and worked as a freelance editor/writer.

Her first mystery novel, “Summer of the Big Bachi,” was published in 2004, followed by “Gasa-Gasa Girl” (2005), and “Snakeskin Shamisen” (2006). All three are part of a series featuring gardener and amateur sleuth Mas Arai, for which she received the Edgar Allan Poe Award in 2007. “Blood Hina” was published in 2010 and her fifth mystery, “Strawberry Yellow,” will be released in March 2013. Her new mystery series, featuring a twenty-something female hapa bicycle cop in the LAPD, will be published by Penguin Random House in 2014.

“I’m a hard person to buy gifts for. Just ask my husband,” Naomi says.

During the early years of their marriage, her husband would buy Naomi one of these huge soap and bubble bath baskets from either Target or Costco. He figured that he was getting a good deal, Naomi says. “But, no, I wanted the Thymes lavender bubble bath, sold at specialty gift stores and at least triple the price.”

Naomi with her mother

Naomi says, “My thinking about presents for myself is this: either get me something very useful, something very personal (handmade), or something very mundane in its most luxurious form (the bubble bath, for example).”

It’s come to this now: her husband goes with Naomi to the store and she picks out what she wants. Her husband buys it, wraps it and puts it under the tree.

Naomi’s latest Christmas gift on demand is running shoes. She started to run one half-marathons a year ago, which requires a new pair of shoes every year. So about two weeks before Christmas, they go to the local running store, she jogs around the carpeted showroom in shoes of different fun colors, and picks out her favorite — Mizunos — which are black with pink detailing. “Cost was not an issue.”

For her friends with children, Naomi usually goes “useful” with gift cards, but she tries to find the most outlandish Christmas pop-up cards. Naomi’s favorites are Japanese ones available at Kinokuniya in Little Tokyo as well as the Japanese American National Museum.

“For a couple of my friends’ sons who are sports fans, I shop at my local sports card store, where I can get rookie basketball cards and professional football ones. I’m proud that two years ago, I purchased a Jeremy Lin rookie basketball card, even BEFORE Linsanity. Yeah, Auntie did good that year.”

This year, Naomi is planning to give South Pasadena’s Ellelle Kitchen’s homegrown fruit jam. This small boutique business was started by a former L.A. Times reporter, Lennie LaGuire, a journalist-turned-chef who trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, and recently became Naomi’s Facebook friend. Ellelle’s jams are known for old-fashioned methods to new and classic flavors, made from local, responsibly grown fruit, straight from the backyard whenever possible.

This summer, Naomi went to Japan, where she lived almost 30 years ago, and here are some ideas for omiyage to Japan. “For cooks, dried tomatoes from Trader Joe’s is light and reasonable. Dried tomatoes were everywhere in the convenience stores.  But they didn’t seem to have the intense flavors we have in our dried products here.”

In terms of the presents she will treasure, it would have to be the handmade gifts from her mother, sister-in-law and friends. “You knit me a scarf, and I’m a goner, for sure.”
“Gift buying can be very stressful (just ask my husband!). So while people like myself make demands on our loved ones, we must also prepare our hearts to be thankful for anything that comes our way,” Naomi added.

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