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Perspectives in Otaru: My Scholarship entry - A local encounter that changed my life

JAPAN | Sunday, 22 April 2012 | Views [522] | Scholarship Entry

Twenty-three years older, and I still can’t place myself anywhere.

I had successfully escaped Tokyo - its garish demeanor and unearthly rhythm – and traveled north to rearrange my jumbled sense of humanity. Within Hokkaido’s staggering spaciousness and evaporating mountain peaks, a small town in Otaru tempted me to stay with its old-world simplicity. Quaint reconstructions of English architecture triumphantly overshadowed the land, but to the dismay of westernization, a small fish market defiantly survived between the foreign structures. In this confined space, a culture of fishermen thrived.

Despite my attempts at camouflage, my attire and age distinguished me from the denizens. In this town, I was the lone ranger of a generation too young or too old; even so, the various vendors enjoyed my new face and unintended cluelessness regarding seafood. Per their recommendations, I made my way to a local sushiya. Inside, I was immediately greeted by the golden glow of a wood interior and a vibrant array of fresh fish. After a few seconds, the chef emerged from the back.

To my surprise he was a young man in his mid-20s. As he molded my sushi with amazing grace, we stumbled through conversation until I finally asked him about his age. He smiled. “I decided to stay,” he responded. Apparently, most of his peers had moved to the city after high school, while he had an obligation to carry on the family business. Yet, in his self-possessed manner, he seemed perfectly content, and the elegance of his craft showed he cared. We returned to small talk as I savored each alluring bite.

When I stood up to leave, he wished me luck on the rest of my trip. I unconsciously nodded, whether to comfort him or myself. With a final farewell, I left him and the sushiya that would one day be his. As I rounded the corner, the ocean suddenly splayed out before me - I had reached the end of the market. I thought of turning back, but gazing into the nothingness past the horizon, I lost myself again.

Tags: japan, otaru, sushi, travel writing scholarship 2012

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