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To be Japanese in San Diego

Tea ceremony, tatami mats, but most important, tofu-making

Kunihiko Ogawa, Gloria Crable, Misao Kawasaki, three members of San Diego's Japanese-American community, but hardly recognizable as people of the same cultures, what do you have in common?

Kuni Ogawa of Tokyo, with one M.A. from Japan, another from the U.S., presently L.A. and graduate student of linguistics plus instructor of Japanese at UCSD, you are a new member of San Diego's Japanese-American community.

Gloria Crable, borin into your western name in France as daughter of the physician accompanying the Japanese ambassador, educated at Tokyo University, married at middle-age in San Diego, you exude the confidence of the epatriate at home abroad.

Misao Kawasaki with your Kyoto accent, formerly storekeeper of Japanese groceries in downtown San Diego, now teacher of the Tea Ceremony, you never had to learn English to go about your business.

The scene of Kuni Ogawa's initiation as member of a minority group was Salt Lake City, 1969. After a spell of English teaching at International Christian University in Tokyo, Ogawa was hired as a T.A. of Japanese at the University of Utah where he continued studying linguistics. In Japan, where the people are so physically homogenous that hair and eye colour is not described on the passport, the experiences of discrimination by colour is unknown. In Salt Lake City, however, the point of view that white skin stands for the sinless soul, black for the sinner, yellow for the repentant sinner, is not uncommon. Ogawa was surprised by this new information. He and his wife, Yasuko, found it difficult to make friends. By chance, though, through Yasuko's job, they met a Japanese-American who introduced them to JapAm life in Salt Lake. That community was born when many of the Japanese sent from California to concentration camps in Utah during the war settled there permanently. When the Ogawas moved to San Diego in 1971, they discovered the strong ties between the Salt Lake and San Diego communities as well as the similar self-sufficiency of the minority group within the resources of a large city.

For example, Japanese-Americans in San Diego can belong to their own churches, Buddhist or Christian; read their own newspapers. Rafu Shimpo, Kashy Mainichi, Hokubei Mainichi, buy Japanese goods, at Yutaka Imports, Woo Chee Chong, Oriental Groceries, Kyoto Gift and Food. There are purely social organizations, such as those for people from the same prefecture in Japan. There are political social clubs, such as the San Diego Gardeners' Union. And also service groups, including the Sister City Association, the Japanese Citizens League.

Although Ogawa does not belong to any of these organizations, he does not belong to any of these organizations, he does spend most of his social time among the Japanese. The range of his friends encompasses the "isei," first generation, family which prescribed for his baby's fever a potion of earthworm and herb and then proceeded to dig up the ingredients as well as many "nisei" or second generation JapAms, whom Ogawa considers, "...more frank than Japanese. They are Americanized in a positive way. I tend to find in them good, old-fashioned Japanese kindness and thoughtfulness, forgotten in Tokyo nowadays."

At UCSD, for Ogawa to be a Japanese means his speaking humbly and politely to his Japanese professor while interacting on a first-name basis with his white professors. At home, true to Japanese tradition, there is no babysitter or women's lib, yet Mrs. Ogawa has been hired as tutor of Japanese by UCSD.

Mr. Ogawa, the paradoxes of your Americanization by the Japanese American community must suit you: you say you are planning to stay.

In living colourful contrast to Kunihiko Ogawa, as Japanese as a sugary compliment and as American as a frank denial, is Gloria Crable. She would as soon shop at Safeway as at Oriental Groceries and feels as comfy in French lace as in kimono. A professional pianist who also knows the koto, a Jack LaLanne subscriber who moves to Japanese classical dance as well, Mrs. Crable shares her energy with both the JapAm community and the society of greater San Diego. She finds that she needs both worlds. As rest form her activity as teacher and performer of piano, board member of the Y, housewife, and friend of many, she practices the traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony. Creating the ascetic atmosphere of the tea room in her western house with its distracting designs and plethora of objets d'art is difficult. But expertly performed by Gloria Crable, the ceremony in any setting has the serene effect of meditation.

Mrs. Crable, you have realized the harmony in two potentially dissonant cultures and smile in high-frequency satisfaction.

Gloria Crable studies the Tea Ceremony in the home of Misao Kawasaki called "sensei" (teacher) by her pupils. Kawasaki Sensei and her husband, for whom San Diego has been home for many, many years, are elderly members of San Diego's Japanese American community. Like many JapAm men whom the concentration camps robbed of their years of education and vigor, Mr. Kawasaki is a gardener. The old couple is comfortably installed behind a large flower garden with children and grandchildren as neighbors, in a rhythm of gardening and teaching. And the number of her pupils grows like the number of his weeds.

Even in Sensei's house, though, the tea room setting is necessarily makeshift. "Goza" mats simulate a real tatami floor. The mini sliding board effects a Japanese traditional charcoal and incense. But under Kawasaki Sensei's precise, sweet-humoured instruction, her pupils learn to sense the value of the earthy colours and nice arrangements of the utensils, the few slow, efficient movements of the hostess, the bright green smell of powdered tea, the elegant peace of absorption in the tea ceremony. Besides the weekly lessons, now and then throughout the year, devotees of tea gather to celebrate tradiational holidays.

Mr. and Mrs. Kawasaki, can you remember in seasonless San Diego that the calendars of gardening and of tea ceremony are the same?

Kuni Ogawa, Gloria Crable, Misao Karawaski, each of you has evolved a unique style from the resources of San Diego and its JapAm community. There is a common taste, however, one slippery piece of Japan that you and every other Japanese American grasp firmly. Tofu.

Tofu? Called "bean curd" or "soy cheese" by westerners, the Japanese "tofu" is far more suggestive of its white, whimsical blandness. It is a simple chunk of simple soybean painstakingly prepared. Delicious hot or cold with soy sauce, sauteed with vegetables, souped up, or ... (write Ed. for recipes), tofu is taken for granted in Japan and fully appreciated only abroad, where it is not easily available. Asian groceries (there is a Chinese version of tofu) and specialty stores around the U.S. may sell it, usually shipped from L.A. but San Diegans are fortunate to be able to buy fresh daily locally made tofu from the Koba's Oriental Groceries store, 418 Island Street, downtown.

Unlike mass production operations in L.A., the whole job here is done by hand. Monday through Saturday at 5:00 a.m., well, maybe a bit later on Saturday, among the converted and handmade utensils in the pristine kitchen back of the store. Dwaye Koba, dashing 25-year-old family son, and Saburo Kodama, hardworking family brother-in-law, begin with the beans. Grinding the soybeans, which have soaked in water overnight, is the quickest part of the process (next to selling), taking less than 10 minutes per batch. Batch by batch, the ground beans are boiled in water in a shiny-clean Navy mess hall stove. The cooking water, or soy milk, pours through the copper faucet near the bottom of the stove into a wooden tub. A cloth sack collects the chaff, called "okara." Since there is little call for the chaff, which has become neglected in modern Japan, too, the Kobas throw most of it away. Mrs Koba does freeze some okara, though, and sells it for 15 cents a pound. Okara is a cheap source of good protein and very easy to digest. Cooked quickly in oil with mushrooms, onions, and other vegetables, seasoned with soy sauce and sugar, it makes a delicious bargain meal.

The next step in making tofu is waiting, weighting, wheyting. Dwaye mixes a salt solution in the tub of soy milk to encourage formation fo the curd. Later, he and Saburo press the curd beneath a weighted board into a rectangular sheet a few inches thick. When enough whey has been squeezed out to leave a firm curd, they cut the sheet into blocks and set it to cool in cold water. Thirty cakes are produced in one batch; two or three batches are made each morning. When the first batch is cooled and packed in takeout cartons, Mr. Kona, who arrives with his wife an hour or so later than the others, begins his deliveries, which last all day. The rest of the family continues with the subsequent batches, finishing the whole job, cleanup and all, at about 9:00 a.m. Dwaye calls making tofu an art rather than a dependable technique. Each day, proportions and waiting times vary. The recipe is interpreted by the experience of the tofu maker.

In between helping with the tofu, Mrs. Koba prepares another soybean product, fried bean curd called "a-ge" (as "again" without the "n"). The beans for age are boiled differently, pressed and cut into smaller shapes and fried in cottonseed oil. Mrs. Koba does the frying delicately by hand, first in warm oil, then in hot oil. The light brown age is soft inside and slightly crisp outside, less bland than tofu in colour and in taste. The best-known use of age is stuffing it with vinagered rice as "sushi."

The Kobas sell their works of art for 45 cents a block of tofu (about one pound) and 10 cents a piece of age. Prices as of this week, that is. Soybeans no longer cost beans.

With the popularity of Japanese food plus the fickleness of meat prices and supply, more and more San Diegans are taking to tofu. The Kobas no longer know all of their customers by name, nor do all of thier customers who buy it know the tofu by name.

Mr. and Mrs. Koba, do you know the service you perform, uniting the entire Japanese American community of San Diego with your nostalgiic and nutritious tofu? It is at Oriental Groceries that the Ogawas, the Crables, and the Kawasakis get together.

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