Wednesday, July 31, 2002


Alone at home in the evening, after splitting a goodly portion of a cord of firewood I am hungry, but tired. No seven-course meal for me; I want a simple, filling, flavorful one-bowl meal.

I fill a big rice bowl with hot brown rice (the bowl was handmade just across the Lake in Shigaraki, one of Japan's fine old pottery towns, also home to the exquisite museum that Time magazine deemed one of the three most beautiful museums in the world).

I go to the cupboard and get some shoyu (soy sauce; I am not going to put the soy sauce on the rice; that is never done in Japan). Then I go to the refrigerator and get some karashi, Japanese mustard in a tube, that lets you know precisely where every single sinus is. I also get some thinly sliced naganegi (long onion, sort of a very large scallion) and a flat, triangular package.

I peel open the package, a fascinating blend of folk art, geometry and topology, because the triangle unfolds and unfolds and unfolds to a long rectangle comprising a single, wide, paper-thin shaving of pale golden wood. Tucked inside at the end of the rectangle, still retaining the triangular shape, is a beige-gray glutinous mass of maybe 1000 fermented soybeans, that gives off a fragrance somewhere between well-along compost and old socks: handmade natto.

I slide the natto viscously into a second bowl. Enzyme city. I add a splurge of karashi sufficient to keep my nose clear for a week. I add a goodly dollop of shoyu, then pile on the freshly sliced naganegi, stir vigorously with the chopsticks and watch as the mixture darkens and becomes more and more glutinous: 50 stirs, 100 stirs, 200 stirs and onward, we have now left the known solar system and are moving among the outer planets to a fragrance of shoyu, karashi, naganegi and something ineffably natto-y, and at the key moment of this journey I dump the whole thing onto my rice and chow down as I float among the stars above the Lake, the perfect setting for one so rich in firewood. Eat your heart out, Four Seasons.