Unpretty Onigiri

essay, Feb. 2019

YUKI TAMURA

I went to Setouchi Triennale(1) on my college graduation trip. My eyes were filled with the wide sky, bright sun, and the islands dotting the undulating sea. The sky was distinguished from the sea by just a slight change in the gradation of blue between them.

As I stood reflected by shining waves, the shape of my feelings gradually became clear: I was carrying around anxiety about starting my job, and even more about my boyfriend with whom things hadn’t  been going that well. I was tired of being swayed by his clever words, but I still wanted to stay with him—despite how miserable it was.

After enjoying Setouchi Triennale, I went to a farmer’s guest house where I had arranged to stay. He was over forty and ran the house by himself. He welcomed me with a non-businesslike smile, and it made me feel as if I had come back home.

There were no other guests that night, so he listened carefully to my story while he made dinner in the kitchen.

“What he tells me is always right,” I said, “but I feel restrained when I try to do as he says. And I always fail, you know.”

My host neither argued nor agreed with my story. He just nodded and nodded until I’d finished my dinner.

The next morning, I headed to the port. My host handed me two handmade onigiri (rice balls) as I left.

“Oh, no, you don’t have to do that(2),” I told him.

However, holding onto my hand, he said, “Take them, take them. And come back again anytime.” He patted me cheerfully on my shoulder.

Looking back from the window of the ship, I could see my host standing in front of the harbor. The ship was moving away fast from the island, but he was still waving his hands so hard that I thought he very well might fall into the sea. I couldn’t stop my tears.

We both knew we would never see each other again, but still he had told me with a big smile to “come back again.” That made me cry, and at the same time made me feel a little embarrassed; in front of him, I was like a little kid.

On the ship, college students were taking photos and looking like art aficionados. I wanted to seem like a cheerful, happy college student like them, so I turned my face down to hide my tears. But it was no use. My shoulders moved up and down, giving me away.

I started to eat the onigiri(3) once my host was completely invisible. Inside the balls of rice were plums and salmon. The smell of seaweed wafted up when I pulled open the cling wrap. It reminded me of my mom’s un-pretty onigiri and that somewhat salty, simple taste.

As the sticky rice loosened in my mouth, my hard-boiled feelings—saturated with trouble and anxiety—also softened. I hadn’t liked handmade onigiri before because it had seemed too unsophisticated. But now, I’d changed my mind.

The rice was a bit too crushed and the seaweed was a bit too sticky. Still, from that day on, every time I eat un-pretty, handmade onigiri, I will remember this one night unleashed in the Setouchi Sea.

 

Footnotes:

1 Setouchi Triennale is a famous art festival in a huge, beautiful, natural setting. It’s held once every three years; the next one is in Spring 2019: https://setouchi-artfest.jp/en/

In Japan, it’s good manners to hesitate or refuse to receive gifts at first (even twice or several times before accepting them).

Shape rice in a circle / triangle, then it becomes onigiri! We bring it along as a snack on a trip, or for lunch, etc. You can buy onigiri in every convenient store, and there are many different flavors.

 

written by

YUKI TAMURA

Studied psychology at college, then worked as an advertisement director. Now work at public relations in art industry. Lead a simple life in the east side of Tokyo, and often go back to my parents house surrounded by rich nature.

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