OCHAZUKE: Getting Back on Your Feet

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By GWEN MURANAKA

As happens so often these days, the news came first on Facebook. Sharon Yamato — writer, filmmaker, and most importantly last Monday, runner — was fine in the horrific aftermath of the twin bombings at the Boston Marathon. I knew Sharon had gone to Boston and had nervously sent her a message on Twitter. In this new digital age when Sharon’s first Facebook post appeared, I did what you do: I “liked” it.

I don’t think the media reports truly captured the unique status Boston has in the world of runners. To anyone who has attempted a 5K fun run or a full marathon, Boston is the Everest that most of us can only dream about ever reaching. With difficult qualifying times, only those who are the most elite are able to line up at Hopkington, 26.2 miles from Boston. Speaking later, I pointed out to Sharon that if I had been there on Monday, I’d be hours behind her and would have had no idea of the chaos at the finish line.

I am a turtle — slow and steady but determined. I’m one of those who are still chugging away long after even the “average” runners are done, and the bananas and water have been handed out. My race is with the sweeper bus that comes to pick up the stragglers and unceremoniously dumps them at the finish: no medal, no crossing the finish line in personal victory. The first time I did the Disneyland Half Marathon, one of the theme park workers snarkily called out to us that “the real runners have already gone by!” But derision be damned, I still finished, I got my medal.

If there’s a group of people that the alleged bombers shouldn’t have messed with, it’s distance runners. They are the folks who will get up early to do a 15-miler while most are still sleeping. On her Facebook page, Roxana Lewis, a JANM volunteer, cheerfully reports on the marathons (nearing 200) she has finished with seeming supernatural endurance and good cheer. Runners endure blisters, cramps, heat, miles upon miles of monotonous training for that moment at the finish that the bombers tried to take away last Monday. Gaman is a term that any runner would understand. Will they be back with a vengeance? You bet.

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Today is my attempt to fill up some column inches for columnist George (since he calls me Editor Gwen), who I saw over the weekend at his son Robin’s service at Centenary UMC. They say the worst thing for a parent is to lose your child and I offer our condolences and support on behalf of all of us here at The Rafu, to George and Susie Yoshinaga as they go through such a difficult time.

I knew Robin through his unfailing assistance to his dad. Robin was the unsung hero of the Horse’s Mouth, emailing the photos that George uses in his column.

I’m sure George will write more about Robin in his column, but I offer my perspective as an adult daughter with older parents. Fortunately, my dad needs little in the way of assistance; however, there should be a special award for those kids who are there for their parents, just as their parents were there for them growing up. In every JA family there are one or two kids who take their parents shopping, to doctor appointments or to the hairdresser.

The bad economy has no doubt turned some children into full-time caregivers to their aging parents, yet I think it is a role they take on out of a sense of duty, and love.

At events like 442nd gatherings, you see more and more Sansei and Yonsei children accompanying their moms and dads, providing that crucial link between generations. They are true examples of oyakoko.

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I’m sure that many read the story in Monday’s L.A. Times about the man who has eaten at nearly 7,000 different Chinese restaurants. David Chan, an attorney, keeps a spreadsheet on the 6,297 eateries he has been to, and has become a kind of culinary critic and historian on the evolution of Chinese food in America.

I wonder if anybody has attempted a similar culinary feat with washoku cuisine. Japanese food in America has evolved and diversified since the Issei first came to America. Edamame is now a common snack food and it seems a new ramen restaurant is opening almost every week. Okonomiyaki, yakitori and, of course, sushi are so common, especially if you live in the South Bay, which so many Japanese expats have come to call home.

My grandmother, who would have been 105 this year, used to make us what she called okazu, a simple dish of green beans and meat. With all the Japanese food trends, I haven’t seen okazu on the menu. Maybe because it is too generic a term, or its origins too humble. In Japan, there is a ranking of dishes from highest to lowest. A-kyu are high-end foods such as sushi; while B-kyu tend to be comfort foods such as ramen and yakisoba. Would okazu, the sort that every farming family must have eaten, rate a C-kyu?

Sophisticated Edokko (those born and raised in Tokyo) would consider it too common and low. But like so many things, it is the taste that we Japanese Americans return to again and again.

I’d be curious if any readers have memories of okazu or recipes they’d like to share.

Gwen Muranaka is the English Editor of The Rafu Shimpo and can be reached at gwen@rafu.com. Ochazuke is a staff-written column. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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