One year, my brothers and I had to live with Bachan and Jichan in Elk Grove, a farming community just south of Sacramento. At the time my mom was convalescing from a bout with tuberculosis.
Elk Grove was not new to my brothers and me because for as long as I can remember we’d spend two to four weeks in the summer there. As usual, and in this particular instance, my dad had to stay in L.A. to work to keep the vast Furutani financial empire afloat, in other words put rice on the table.
In Elk Grove my grandparents “share-cropped” a piece of land where they grew strawberries. During the summers we’d visit and helped out where we could but basically fooled around in the strawberry fields, in the pear and plum orchards, and dreaded having to use the outhouse because they didn’t have indoor plumbing. Aside from the heat, it was a Tom Sawyerish vacation for some city kids but this time it was for the whole year.
Elk Grove life for Japanese was rooted in farming. After the war (WWII) some went to work at the Campbell’s Soup factory but most returned to what they had left. Although spread across the countryside, there was a sense of community and the Yamanakas knew the Okamotos who knew the Iwatsurus who knew the … you get the idea.
And although spread apart there were things that linked them together. Things like services that came to your door, rather than you having to go out to purchase them. Services that might work in this new normal of “stay at home” orders, especially for the most vulnerable.
One of these services involved a regular visit from the “fish man.” His van would rumble up the long dirt drive and stop in a cloud of dust. My brothers and I would rush out to greet him, filled with anticipation as to what treasures the beat-up van might hold.
Did he have the Japanese candy where you ate the paper wrapping? Did he have the dried ika or sardines that we’d roast over the open flame on the gas stove?
Amidst admonishments of “yakamashii, ne” or “gasa-gasa,” we’d implore Bachan to get us this or that. She always came through while she bought the fish of the day and whatever Japanese staples she needed at the time.
Much later, when my sons were born and Lisa and I moved back to my hometown, Gardena, I found out there was a fish man service there as well (early 1980s). Because we lived on a street with many older Nikkei neighbors, a beat-up van would come by on a regular basis providing the same services the Elk Grove fish man did in the 1950s.
Also, on YouTube, I’ve seen a service in Japan where a grocery truck goes from village to village providing the same service to a population that is getting older and older and much less mobile.
Is this a service that might do well in a post-pandemic new normal? Along with Hello Fresh, Blue Apron and What’s for Dinner?, why not a service for Japanese grocery delivery from Nijiya, Tokyo Central or from some enterprising Gosei who could develop a viable business model?
Overall, there is the general question of how to live our lives when things reopen, whatever form that takes. What services do we need and how do we access them? In this case, an old idea could make a “comeback” or what new ideas will have their origins in this crisis?
No hospital or doctor office visits, tele-medicine will be a virtual house call. Shopping at the mall or “brick and mortar” retail is already being replaced with the “click here” button. Attending mass events will be supplanted by “streaming” and the environment may get better because there will not be as many cars on the roads.
The “stay at home” edict may be a blessing in disguise. It gives us a chance to reassess what’s really important. How much do we really need, material-wise, to make us happy? Maybe Mother Nature is telling us that enough is enough and we have more than enough.
So new practices where you know and help your neighbor, respecting and caring for the elderly, the rebirth of family time, board games, going through your stuff and getting rid of the clutter, producing and manufacturing needed goods in the good old USA and binge-watching “Kingdom” about Korean zombies — all may be a part of the new normal.
PRESS the reset button!
Warren Furutani has served as a member of the Los Angeles County Unified School District Board of Education, the Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees, and the California State Assembly. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.