Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Yuki Ichigo

Day seventy-two: Yuki Ichigo
Tokushima station, ¥230

Shortly after returning to Tokyo I took a pilgrammage to the train station that I used to pass through on my way to work as a suburban English teacher; in those days it was my habit to take the sting out of a bad day by buying a yuki ichigo from a small stall in the station concourse. Yuki ichigo (lit. "snow strawberry") is basically stawberry shortcake translated into Japanese: a fat fresh strawberry perched on a small disc of cake, smothered in slightly-sweetened whipped cream and tucked up tight under a blanket of downy-soft mochi. Or maybe it's more like a dessert burrito...

Anyway, the stall had moved on and I tried to do likewise. But then today, as I rushed to change trains in Tokushima City, I caught a flash of familiar pink out of the corner of my eye, and suddenly decided that the train could damn well leave without me; nothing would stand between me and my fix. But as in the old days the woman behind the counter saw me coming and had my snow stawberry ready and waiting. I caught the train after all and was able to indulge in one of my favorite hobbies, that of sinking my teeth into something delectable as the countryside rushes by.

As I peered into the window and brushed the powder from my reflected chin I remembered something else. While eating on long distance trains is practically mandatoryin Japan, snacking on local trains is almost unheard of, but once when I was on my way out to work, I boarded the car with a rambunctious group of grandmotherly women. They were evidently on their way to the mountian at the far end of the train line, and had accessorized appropriately with tiny hiking boots, sunhats, and walking sticks, but one woman also had on a red padded vest of the type traditionally worn by babies and carried a large bag full of yuki ichigo. I learned later that later adulthood is considered to be a kind of second childhood, free of responsibilities and constraints, and that donning a baby's vest on your birthday is a sign of that transition.

The "aka-chan" (darling red one, ie baby) and friends found a bank of seats together and proceded to crack open the yuki ichigo, damn the watching eyes of the rest of the car. Their laughter whipped up clouds of powdered sugar that dusted the birthday girl's red vest and wrinkled face. I'm not going to make any pronouncements about the lot of women in Japan, except to say that those who play by society's rules have chosen a very narrow path and that coming to a more open-ended junction in one's life must be pretty exhilirating. When I got off the train to go to work, those women were breaking the rules for all they were worth, kicking their tiny boots in delight and licking the whipped cream from their fingers. I could still hear them laughing as the doors closed and the train pulled away, and that was one day that I bought a yuki ichigo for purposes of celebration rather than comfort.

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