SBP Blog

Stone Bridge Cafe: UNI!

Thomas Joel - Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Stone Bridge Cafe is a bi-weekly online series from Stone Bridge Press devoted to bringing readers short stories, poems, non-fiction pieces, photographs, and artwork from and/or about East Asia. For submission guidelines and info, follow the link at the bottom of this post.

On the menu this week is a humorous non-fiction piece by Gabriella Brand about her first experience with uni (sea urchin) during her travels in Japan. 

☀☀☀

UNI!
 
By
Gabriella Brand
 
The old lady waved to me as I backpacked through her seaside village on my way around Shikoku. She was clearly happy about something she had spotted off the end of the rough wooden pier.
 
Look over here! There’s uni!” she said, pointing below the surface of the water.
 
The Seto Sea gently slapped the shore. The water was the color of green tea, with a splash of cerulean. I glanced down, but I saw nothing. She pointed again.
 
“You eat uni?” she asked, looking into my foreign eyes.
 
“I don’t know,” I said, “I’ve never tried it.”
 
As a walking pilgrim, I was mostly eating in the dining halls of the Buddhist temples where I slept. There was never sea urchin on the menu. I supplemented the temple food with cheap udon, veggies, and plenty of Shikoku’s ubiquitous citrus fruit.
 
I knew that fresh uni was a beloved Japanese food, a creature prized for its privates - not the roe but the testes…which were reportedly as soft as what? Sweet butter, lemon custard, a baby’s thumb?
 
“Ah, just wait, chotto matte,” said the old woman as she looked around on the dock for a spear.
 
I gathered that she was about to procure us some urchin.
 
Perhaps she was offering me this delicacy as a form of o-settai, the special gift which Shikoku people bestow on walking pilgrims. I had already met hundreds of residents bearing o-settai, as I made my way along the circular 1200-kilometer route starting at Tokushima. They had come running after me with their blessings and their small presents: hand-crocheted Kleenex holders, ball point pens, hard candies, hard-boiled eggs, oranges, freshly made omigiri.
 
And now, today, I was being gifted with an opportunity to taste sea urchin.
 
My Japanese was hesitant, but my palate was willing. I suddenly remembered an expression from a Japanese textbook. Waku waku shiteiru. I’m excited, I told the old woman. I hoped she could sense my gratitude.
 
I watched as she creaked to her knees, and then leaned over the water. At her age – she had told me she was almost eighty - her agility was remarkable. I understood that her fisherman husband must have died long ago, leaving her all alone in the little house by the sea.
 
I started to puff up at the thought of my good fortune. A chance meeting with someone who was kind enough to offer me a Japanese luxury. That’s the kind of thing that happens to real adventurers, I gloated to myself. In the moment, I completely forgot about my goal of being a humble o-henro on a spiritual quest.
 
The old lady stabbed once and missed. Then stabbed again and whooped like a schoolgirl.
UNI!
She raised the spear out of the water and showed off the carapaced globe, symmetrically radial and as spiky as a garden teasel.
 
To arrive at the meaty jewel, she covered her hands in thick rubbery-fabric gloves, and worked slowly, but deftly, like a heart surgeon.
 
A lone spine brushed her bare forearm and sliced a thin crimson trough in her skin. She stopped the bleeding with the edge of her apron and kept on working to pull apart the exoskeleton and expose the living treasure.
 
Mo sugu. Pretty soon,” she said, pulling off her gloves and rushing into her house.
 
She returned with soy sauce and a plate. A single plate. Heavy stoneware with a dull finish, chipped on the side.
 
Her plate.
 
She placed the naked flesh in the center and bathed it in shoyu.
 
“Now you can see how we Japanese eat uni,” she said.
 
After a quick itadakimasu, she swallowed, before my very eyes,
 
the entire delicacy in one quick mouthful.

☀☀☀

Gabriella Brand's writing has appeared in over thirty small literary magazines. She is a Pushcart Prize Nominee, and a winner of the SpiritFirst competition. She divides her time between Connecticut, where she teaches languages, and Quebec, where she hikes and canoes. She has spent considerable time in Japan. She is obsessed with kanji, à la Eve Kushner.In 2012, when she was no longer young, she completed, on foot, the 1200 kilometer pilgrimage route of the 88 Temples around Shikoku.

UNI!

(Gabriella Brand in Japan)

If you would like to submit your own work to Stone Bridge Cafe, follow this link for submission info and guidelines: http://www.stonebridge.com/sbp-blog/stone-bridge-cafe-guidelines-submission-info


Like our blog? Please share it!

Categories

Subscribe to the SBP Mailing List

New Releases

Amy’s Guide to Best Behavior in Japan


Going to Japan? This unfussy modern guide guarantees you keep it polite and get it right!

China Smart


Essential essays on all things Chinese that inform and entertain travelers, students, and anyone working or living in China

Forty-Seven Samurai


One of the most spectacular vendettas ever: the history and haiku behind the mass-suicide featured in the 2013 film 47 Ronin

Oh, Tama!


A deeply eccentric novel about lives and connections—and a cat of course—in 1980s Tokyo: witty, offbeat, and strangely profound.

Tag Cloud

frederik schodt a memoir purification hitler symbol wanderlust foreword indies award japanese instruments japanese drunk poetry of consciousness china where igo criterion manga buddhist swastika jing liu dirt and water japan books keanu reeves Coming of Age Day wife visitor literary review diary china book World War II black jack nichi bei weekly, naomi hirarahara anne prescott buddhist haibun kyoto guidebook Christianity in Japan drinking in japan otakuusa bird talk and other stories death doris bargen new york tricycle magazine japanese culture photography japanese translation amys guide to bes tbehavior in japan the lion king Chinese culture Christianity the fourth string literary prize japan memoir Shoah summer vacation hitlers cross university of chicago comic history student teacher living in japan expat publicity asian review of books IBPA the fourth string a memoir of sensei and me 47 samurai book tour buddhism understandind china through comics buddhist priest non-fiction ripe mangoes studio ghibli the buddhist swastika simba japan trip forewrod reviews indies Korea miyazaki in the woods of memory new release hitler hooked cross four immigrants miswest book review budhist swastika kris kosaka gaijin t.k. nakagaki journal of a zen monk's wife Culture author Anime/Manga/Comics book fantasy literature william f sibley forty seven ronin tokyo why we write podcast Korea photography foreword indies japan today ex pat literature xu xu travel Japan benjamin franklin awards zen monk in japan juddhism the asian review of books jungle emperor japanese history graphic novels kyoto a mejiro novel osaka lions roar swastika disney Spirituality hate japan food anime japan travel guide chinese literature tk nakagaki literature larry herzberg japan book review the inland sea japan travel etiquette hong kong suehiro maruo alan brill foreigner in japan welton gaddy Chinese history peace symbol History catcher in the rye japan times UCLA book publicity publishing learning instruments in japan classic the millions polite lesley university Basho's Narrow Road traditional diy mfa japanese classic peace shaimsen Second World War tomoko aoyama japanese business how to hippocampus magazine classic literature pottery how to travel in japan japanese instrument how to order in japan zazen tea garden henry kiyama gallery awa journal of a zen monks wife in japan china guide shamisen 2020 Olympics Nikolas Bunton new york events Translation diymfa eating in japan Children's Books Ukiyo-e manji chapters Olympics travel to japan award VIZ kimba the white lion Okinawan literature 4k japan manners Japanese holidays huffington post china history jun hazuki machiya restaurant japanese books sharing a house with the never ending man sensei monk wife Language the hidden writer osamu tezuka pulitzer prize oh tama japanese books in english association of jewish libraries kinokuniya event comics writing zen monk memoir, tracy franz, zen monk, buddhist memior sensei and me japanese music chinese comics best behavior in japan Year of the Dog ibpa publishing university eli lieberman AAS learning in japan Japanese aesthetics brad hawley japanese etiquette nazi dark horse haiku zen Children's Literature book blurb a memoir of sensei and me zen monks wife' author tour China steve alpert my year of dirt and water memoir writing nhk memoir in japan learning shamisen will eisner dazai japanese bath alan moore review bowing in japan japanese manners gratitude in japan janet pocorobba min kahng ritual politics and prose tourist japan guide stone bridge press World War Two monk pacific rim review of books japan vacation books holocaust what do in japan interfaith ningen shikkaku kotaku japan visitor japanese cutlure behavior Travel japanese book paul mccarthy Chinese New Year performance ancient symbols yukio mishima japan book traditional japanese music the japan society bookstore journal japanese education about asia classic poetry leonard koren book review Tokyo Olympics Art/Design Spring Festival japan culture controversy holden caufield japanese customs finalist translators tracy franz film expert giajin do it right and be polite a shameful life chinese studying in japan janet pocorbba china What You Don’t Know, What You Need to Know— A Past & Present Guide to History, Culture, Society, Language Asian Studies journal of a zen monk japan travel danica davidson manners amy chavez state of belief WWII the silver spoon forty seven samurai blurb machiya restaurant guide japan ravel event nara michael emmerich illustration frederik green verticle astrology osamau tezuka travel etiquette janet pocrobba 47 ronin donald keene japanese people the japan times mentorship in japan koun gaijinpot washington dc jared cook 1960s Korea Chiune Sugihara traditional japanese instrument poet lucille cara new books travel manners author signing book talk hiaku travel literature eastern and western philosophy koto international book award Chinese Astrology gaijin pot japanese to english luke patitsas book signing japan etiquette takuma sminkey buddhist symbols mieko kanai kyodo news donald richie fred schodt green tea rachel manley japanese craft classic japanese literature forest gander book hoarding The Colorado Review matcha author event japan restaurant 20th century chinese literature kansuke naka china vacation tea Interview bushido Poetry hiroaki sato japan behavior announcement 2019 nova scotia osamu dazai mark gibeau frank beyer namethetranslator steve heller PEN AWARD center of east asian studies traditional japanese instrumenet book reviews journal' monks wife kyoto travel shun medoruma world literature today guide Japanese literature book award asia awards book reading walt disney no longer human etiquette stone bridge cafe podcast evil society kyoto journal monks wife rebecca otowa internment ancient symbol foreword reviews japan custom author talk Japan musical shamisen performance japanese travel china smart fiction astro boy religion amys guide to best behavior in japan trip Alexandra Johnson expat in japan seppuku memoir reviews 15 years at studio ghibli suicide zen monk wife year of zen damian flanagan benjamin franklin award china travel american shamisen 1960's Japan Basho Japanese art symbol huffpost manga biography
RSS