In Japan, salads are so different (except for Caesar salads, which seem to be available all over the world). The dressings are different. There might be tuna; there might be cold, soft tofu; there might be pieces of corn; there might be seaweed. And there’s a good chance there will be some finely shredded cabbage.
When I was in Japan, I got to really liking the shredded cabbage salads, and I’d regularly buy bags of the plain, shredded cabbage that was available in all the grocery stores and most of the convenience stores. Now that just reminds me of one thing–the food you can get in a Japanese convenience store. Sure the 7-11’s here always have coffee and cigarettes and various deep-fried weird snacks, hot dogs, and maybe nachos. But sometimes when you get off work in the middle of the night, even though you want something cheap and quick and pre-made to eat, sometimes you’d really like it to contain vegetables… maybe even be fresh. That’s a fantasy in America, but in Japan, those things are available. I can’t count the number of times I’ve purchased fresh salads and hard boiled eggs at 7-11 in Japan. Sometimes I was cooking at home and I’d realize I needed some cucumbers or lemons or mushrooms, and I could actually go down to the convenience store and get those things! A dozen eggs, milk, juice, coffee, tea, no problem. A reasonably fresh bento meal, no problem. I shake my head thinking about it.
Anyway, this isn’t about how easy and convenient it is to get decently healthy food in Japan. It’s about the cabbage. See, I got to loving that cabbage in my salads, and eating it almost daily while the ship was in port. Then when I got back to America, I couldn’t even find it in the Japanese markets. I tried to shred my own cabbage, but failed. Then I just got back to eating boring, lettuce based salads like everybody else here… which is nothing to complain about, I guess. But the finely shredded cabbage was something I really did miss, until today I found some in my local Albertson’s. Granted it’s for “Angel Hair Cole Slaw” or something like that, but to me it’s just salad cabbage.
It’s nice to be able to recreate some of the foods I used to enjoy so much in Japan. I’ve learned to make several Japanese dishes at home because I’ve yet to find a very authentic Japanese restaurant in the US. I can get the spices, and I can even find the produce I want (things like lotus root or mitsuba or certain mushrooms). I can make katsu, though I can’t do tempura. I can do some types of ramen and soba. Now I can do salad.
But the feeling of wanting to go back has not subsided, like people said it would. My desire to travel in general has decreased, and the older I get, the more appealing it is to actually settle down and buy a comfortable sedan or something. I don’t think I’m as romantic as I used to be by a long shot… but Japan… I just want to go back there. I can remember so many things, so many little details. I know I didn’t like everything. I know the wind is a killer there, and the humidity goes sky-high in summer. I know that it’s an expensive place to live, and that it’s difficult to get a queen sized bed into an apartment there. I know that even if my Japanese improved drastically, I’d always be an outsider. I know Japanese society and government is not perfect, and I have seen homeless people suffering there as they do here. They have typhoons and earthquakes and tsunami. I know, I know.
But always when I was in Japan, I was happy to be there. I never thought I wished I could go back to America. I never thought I didn’t like the Japanese culture. I never thought anything but that I’d like to stay. Everywhere I’ve gone, whether I was stationed there, lived there for a while, or just went for vacation, I was ready to go by the time I was scheduled to depart. I mean, I was mentally and emotionally at least somewhat enthusiastic to leave that place. I was happy to say good-bye. But with Japan it was not this way. I didn’t want to leave, and ever since I did, I have insisted within myself that I will go back. But for how long? Can I? When? I don’t want to go back on vacation. I want to go back go back. Stay. Live there again. Run my daily errands there. Work there. Run there. Get soaked in the torrential rain there. Look like an idiot American there, if need be.
It’s difficult. I know I must seem stupid. I know there are people, Christian Iraqis, for example, who are displaced by violence from their homes– their own native homes. Realistically, will they get to go back? I’m sure I can’t even imagine how some of them must wish they could. And here I am wishing I could go back to a place that feels like home even though by birth, by law, by anything except my own feelings, it isn’t home. Who am I?
I don’t know, but I’m going to try to get back there. It will take years, I know, but I can’t forget how much I love it; so I have got to get back there. But at least for now I have my cabbage salads.