Fun Stuff: Spaghetti Neapolitan by Ochikeron

Four years ago when I visited Japan, I ate a lot of pasta. More specifically, Fettuccine Alfredo with lobster meat at a Tokyo Denny’s (I wrote about my experience in the Tokyo Denny’s here). One of my favorite YouTube personalities, Ochikeron, makes fun Japanese food with easy-to-follow instructions. Surprisingly, Spaghetti Neapolitan is a huge hit in Japan. When I saw her video for the pasta dish, I wanted to share it with you.

Often, we don’t think of Asia as a hub for pasta enthusiasts. Also, when prepared by chefs from Asia, these dishes have their own Eastern twist. For example, I visited an “American-style” burger joint while living in Korea, the burgers were topped with a hard bun and bean sprouts! It’s very much the same with pasta in Japan: you’ll see raw eggs on mounds of spaghetti and ketchup as sauce. Would you try this Japanese twist on a traditional spaghetti dish?

Enjoy!

Lessons From a Ragpicker

Though I am well-acquainted with the geography and history of East Asia, I never encountered the word ragpicker in my studies or travels. This changed when I read Fr. Paul Glynn’s The Smile of a Ragpicker: The Life of Satoko Kitahara, Convert and Servant of the Slums of Tokyo

At the heart of this biography, Satoko Kitahara is born and raised by her well-to-do Japanese family. She enjoys an education, and cultivates a love of poetry and fine art. However, the Second World War decimates the Japanese landscape and morale. Satoko, who once believed that Japan was the crown of the world, now sees her fellow countrymen defeated and in despair. After the war, day-by-day she drops her sister off at a local foreign, convent school. There, Satoko meets the Mercedarian sisters and develops an interest in Christianity. Sataoko, convinced of the truth of Christ (and to her parent’s dismay), converts to Catholicism.

Because of her new-found faith, Satoko  becomes interested in the people living in the local slums (called Ants Town because the people who lived there “worked like ants”).

Ven. Satoko Kitahara // catholicherald.co.uk

She visits Ants Town to volunteer a few hours per week, but soon, she realizes this is not enough. Satoko wants to mirror Christ who took on our humanity and also became poor. Because of her strong conviction, she eventually becomes a “ragpicker,” someone who sifts through garbage for scraps to sell. Leaving behind a life of wealth, comfort, and security, Satoko plunges into Tokyo’s most destitute neighborhood, only to die penniless and of tuberculosis at the young age of 28. Today, the young woman known as the “Dorothy Day of Tokyo” is on her way to sainthood, currently bearing the title Venerable Satoko Kitahara.

After reading Smile, I was left with many convictions churning in my heart. I thought for many days about God’s mercy and the mercy I offer to others. Often, as Christians, we are quick to say that “Yes, I show mercy to those who need it the most.” After all, it’s so easy to say we are merciful. We throw some coins in the can of a homeless person, we serve an hour a month at a soup kitchen, or we go to Mass regularly. We’ve gone on mission trips to other continents, painted walls, held children for a few hours, and then headed across the ocean to our own comforts.

I say this not to disparage volunteering in soup kitchens or participating in foreign missions, but rather to cast a light on how we think about mercy. In my personal experience, I’ve found that it’s much easier to show mercy to those with whom I don’t have a close relationship. For example, when I was in college, I went on a mission trip to Texas to conduct vacation Bible schools in low-income housing communities. It was easy for me to show mercy and “love on” those kids during that week because I didn’t have the baggage associated with them and their lives. In a similar vein, it’s easy to love kids in a slum living 5,000 miles away because, whether we want to admit it or not, we will eventually go back home to our normalcy.

But, it’s hard to love those who are closest to us. Simply put: We know too much about them. When you’re spouse is insufferable, it’s hard to love and show mercy to him or her. Perhaps there’s a co-worker who grinds your last gear, and you’d rather be sick than share an office space with him. Or maybe it’s your parents, who you think don’t listen to you enough or are maybe too overbearing. It looks like a brother or sister who takes advantage of you, or the family next door that has three kids who are just too loud. In these cases, mercy is very, very difficult.

When reading about Satoko’s life in Japan, I thought about how she served as a conduit of Jesus’ mercy to Tokyo’s most destitute. It would have been easy, effortless even, for her to ignore the plight of Ants Town. After all, she was educated and lived in a comfortable home. If she wanted to do good, Satoko could have easily went to a “proper” mission and sacrificed an hour or two a week.

But, she didn’t.

Rather, Satoko was wholly invested and merciful to those in her own backyard. While others in her elite neighborhood looked down on both her work and the citizens of Ants Town, Satoko gave her physical and spiritual life up for the most poor of Tokyo. But, though she was materially poor at the end of her life, Satoko experienced the richness of the many conversions to Catholic Christianity as a result of her witness. Ultimately, she was known as a “Japanese for the Japanese.”

I ask you: Today, to whom will you show mercy? Think about where you’re from and where you live. Will you be a Californian for Californians? Maybe you’ll be a brother to your sister, or a wife to your husband. A Canadian to Canadians. One does not need to venture very far to show mercy, or even to make an impact. Like Satoko, your ministry of mercy may be next door or down the street. Our Lord does not require a journey of thousands of miles to show His mercy  to others. Today, I pray that we may take the love that Christ has given us, and pass it along to those who are closest to our hearts.

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.  // Luke 6:36

O Font of Life, unfathomable Divine Mercy, envelop the whole world and empty Yourself upon us. //  The Chaplet of Divine Mercy

 

During Dark and Daylight: The Story of a Tokyo Denny’s

Last summer, while barreling over Russia and the Pacific Ocean on a return trip from South Korea, I was engrossed in After Dark by Haruki Murkami. With a clock counting the hours between 1:00 AM and 6:00 AM at the beginning of each chapter and typical Murakami surrealism, I regret that I’ll never be able to read this book for the first time ever again. Like all good things, After Dark begins in a Denny’s, like my own Japanese adventure in the infant days of 2013.

Lanterns, Japan, Tokyo, Temple, Shrine

pixabay.com

I don’t know if we were hungry, jet-lagged, eager to get out or a combination of all three. But, in the cold New Year’s Day, Alley and I bundled up and made our way around the corner. In all it’s familiar glow was the blockish-sign with hazy red, suspended in the neon darkness that was Tokyo. After eight hours waiting in the airport, subsisting on thin wheat cookies, I was in relief.

You see, I don’t travel to places to try the food. I just don’t. I like the sights, the sounds, and the culture. But, I don’t particularly care for an authentic culinary experience. I’m the world-traveled American, who at the end of the day, just wants the comfort of Taco Bell. On this New Year’s Day, as per usual, I wasn’t leaning towards a bento box or authentic sushi. I wanted to familiar, and that familiar was a Denny’s.

Our meal began with ordering drinks – rich, savory Coca-Cola. In the States, a soda at a sit-down establishment may cost you up to $3.50, with free refills. In Japan, the world is different. You can order a Coke, but it’s just one Coke. It will cost you around $6. Yes, $6. Or, if you’re a high-roller, you can order unlimited Cokes for $12. What did we do? Order unlimited Cokes. I was thirsty and Coca-Cola in Asia has a magnificent taste.

I scanned the menu, smattered with Japanese characters and pictures. No English. Traditional pancakes faded into spaghetti with raw egg on top, strange salads, and other pastas. I love pasta, and I was ravenous. I didn’t want a burger, but rather the dish with fettuccine noodles and white sauce topped with steamed crab meat caught my eye. We ordered, and I took in the view.

In one corner, a Japanese woman in a mint green kimono sat with her two children. This was not a flimsy, tourist kimono, but an authentic kimono. Her hair was tied up in a bun, and she ate with chopsticks while her children fought over french fries. I tried not to stare, but among the chrome and the neon, there was this traditionally dressed woman with a serene aura eating in a trademark American restaurant.

Even further down the row of booths sat a legitimate sumo wrestler. A group of teenagers bustled in, heads buried in phones and thumbs texting away wildly. I watched the cooks in the kitchen slide french toast and burgers and raw squid in salad into the window, waiting for the servers.

Everything that one would image you’d see in Japan, I saw in the Denny’s. Our food finally came, I savored the thick sauce and chewy crab meat. I drank the most expensive Coke I’ve ever purchased. I struggled to wrap the long noodles around the cheaply made chopsticks.

Unlike Mari, the main character and Denny’s patron in After Dark, my evening did not spiral into a mystical journey across Tokyo’s seedy underworld. It ended with me tucked into my bunk bed at the hostel, only for us to arise and return to the same Denny’s. While I can barely tell you the other meals I ate in Tokyo, I can tell you about going to Denny’s. And I can tell you about the woman in the kimono and the endless stream of Coca-Cola, punctuated with a foreign chatter.