Winters in Tokyo are mild, people told me. Oh, sure. Once it started snowing, I launched an immediate hunt for ways to stay warm. My first purchase, a kotatsu, was brilliant at burning my kneecaps. Nonetheless, I slept under the thing, and carried it around on my back to make coffee in the morning. People also suggested I buy a stove. I already had one of those, but I couldn't see that as a good solution.
Next, I loaded up on pocket warmers. On the coldest days, I wanted to attire myself in those toasty little squares like the jade shroud of Prince Liu Sheng. One night, not eager to go back to my frozen apartment, I actually rode the Yamanote Line two circuits, until my shoes half-melted against the train's heater unit.
One of the best ways to chase off chills, I recalled, is to invite friends for a home party. I issued invitations, and then panicked. What would I serve? Could I borrow zabuton from my landlady? What about music, would my Japanese friends like Grace Jones?
Some problems have a way of solving themselves. Curry, I discovered, is a relatively easy crowd-pleaser. Emulsify in water a block of stuff that looks like fertilizer, add vegetables, stir for a while, then serve over rice. Once I'd mastered this, I felt confident things would go smoothly.
With Grace Jones howling "La Vie en Rose" and the wind otherwise just howling, my friends arrived. To my delight, everyone unpacked food, shrugged off coats, and started chatting. I vanished into my tiny kitchen to stir the curry.
"Well, where is it?" someone finally asked. "It's in here with me," I replied. Another long silence from the tatami room. Something was definitely off. It wasn't just the curry or Grace Jones. "Well, how about bringing it out here, so we can enjoy it too?" came back the slightly irritated response. " 'Cause I'm cooking on it!" I replied.
My guests jumped up and crowded into my kitchen. They could not believe that I was cooking on a stove, and they wanted to see with their own eyes what I was doing. It was then that I realized that in Japanese "stove" means "gas heater," whereas in English it means "cooking range."
That night, though, the laughter of my friends took the ice off everything.
Shukan ST: May 30, 2008
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