Grandpa’s Memorial Dinner
I recently attended a memorial dinner called an “ishuki” for my father-in-law, who died last year. It was held in a Japanese restaurant inside a luxury hotel in Shinjuku in central Tokyo. I arrived late from work, but the family waited to start, knowing I promised to attend.
It was a very traditional menu served by a kneeling kimono-clad waitress in a tatami mat room with sunken seating, bare walls and simple plain white varnished pine furnishings. It seemed elegantly and exotically traditional to me, but then I wouldn’t know if it was really a cheap and synthetic imitation of a traditional eating establishment. When I arrived the second or third thing the staff said to me was to ask if I had any allergies. No, I don’t. But I hoped it didn’t mean they would be serving dishes like the fugu puffer fish, a delicacy that can be lethally poisonous if it isn’t prepared properly.
Our server tirelessly came and went from the room delivering various dishes, always quietly appearing as if by magic from the “kikido” doors behind me. The fabric of her costume made that seductive swishing sound that reminds men of their first girlfriend's blouse coming off. Plus the doors’ location behind me in addition to her stealth helped cultivate that magic feeling, even if it was just my imagination. Why did I keep imagining ninja sneaking up on me? Coming to get me in my sleep?
I ate everything on the menu, didn’t disappoint grandmother, make a fool of myself, or annoy my Japanese wife. It was exactly the kind of menu that would have been impossible for me to eat twenty years ago. We had sashimi rather than sushi. I ate it. Then I ate the “ankimo” fish liver and drank the small glass of “anzusu” sweet apple vinegar. I drank the thick and powerfully strong “aka miso” soup. I ate the “jako raisu,” white rice mixed with tiny fish, then the pickles and drank the bitter green tea at the end. That was the “macha” green tea, the authentic stuff which is more like a bitter green soup than the weak green water that is often called “green tea.”
I like to think the waitress was impressed with my accommodation of Japanese food, facility with chopsticks and overall manner, especially since some of the children at the table - Japanese children - were unable to finish all of their dishes. It’s fair to say that my tastes have changed somewhat since I came to these shores.
But that didn’t prevent me from enjoying a ham and cheese sandwich to finish off the evening when I got home.