Chisato-san’s oinarisan in Utsumi-cho
There’s an elderly comedic couple who has the hashtag on Instagram as #kazujiandchisato (in Japanese:＃かずじとちさと). Both over 85 years old, the couple have been married for nearly 60 years without having a single fight, and are often seen holding hands together. This couple often posts on Instagram and their top fans are their grandson, Morimichi Nakao, and his wife Kei. We were invited to visit the couple’s home in Yokoshima in the Utsumi-cho neighborhood of Fukuyama city.
The town of Utsumi-cho is situated in the middle of the Seto inland sea on two islands, Yokoshima and Tashima. The population is 2,500. The main mode of transportation to the main island (Hondo) was by boat, until 1989 when a bridge was built, making it easy for visitors from the city center of Fukuyama City to visit. Fishing is the core industry. In addition, the islands can also boast the highest seaweed production (nori) within Hiroshima Prefecture. After the war, the population used to three times greater than it is today, to the point where sheds were even used for residences at the time.
We found Kazuji Suzuki and his wife, Chisato, standing side by side as soon as we arrived at their home.
Chisato-san prepared us inari sushi(oinarisan) filled with a lot of small shrimp. The shrimp tend to go bad fast and must be bought live and prepared immediately, something only possible in a fishing village.
The inari sushi is made when the family goes on picnic outings in the spring, or when they visit the family graves on March 21st. Once they finish offering their respects, they then go to the beach where the family tradition is to share some inari sushi.
The couple, Morimichi-san and Kei-san, started to live on the island, which is where Morimichi-san was raised, when they got married. Now the two live several minutes away from their grandparents’ place, and the two families often support each other.
Morimichi-san just brought the shrimp for Chisato-san to use for this dish. “When I told the fishermen here that I will use them the next day, they suggested that I pre-boil them first.” As Chisato-san finishes boiling some of the small shrimp, she noted, “If you pre-boil them they lose their flavor.” Then Chisato-san brought out some raw shrimps and started cooking them with mirin (sweet rice wine) and salt. Chisato-san repeatedly says, “If you pre-boil the shrimps they lose their flavor!” In response, the family jokes that she will say this point constantly all day. Soon after, the young couple (the Nakao family) studiously peel the shells off the shrimp. Chisato-san competes with them and is able to finish peeling hers at twice the speed as the couple.
In the past, Chisato-san used to work at the company cafeteria of Tsuneishi Ship Building Co. Ltd., a local Fukuyama company with nearly 1,000 employees at their helm, for nearly 22 years. No wonder she is swift in her preparation skills.
Water, sake, mirin, sugar, and soy sauce are used to season the Koya tofu (a type of prepared tofu). Thinly sliced carrots and the small shrimp are added and then cooked until the Koya tofu becomes soft. Next, the tofu is cut into smaller pieces and simmered until most of the water is gone.
Vinegar is added to the rice and mixed in, then comes the cooked ingredients. The mixed ingredients are then stuffed into fried tofu skins. The seasoned rice mixed with the ingredients is made into balls by hand and then stuffed into the tofu skins, making sure they do not break.
Chisato-san, again staring at the finished inari sushi, simply noted, “They’re big.”
Morimichi-san responded, “Grandma, your inari sushi has always been big!” Then, miso soup using fresh wakame seaweed harvested nearby is made, and lunch gets started.
The elderly couple are very happy that their dining table has become lively since their grandson and his wife came back to the island. The sweet and sour, yet rich flavor of the inari sushi is indeed beyond delicious.
During her early 20s, through the recommendation from a friend, Chisato-san began to attend a knitting class. Chisato-san was always interested in handcrafts and immediately bought a knitting machine. The machine was certainly not cheap, and her disgruntled father just responded, “How impertinent.” And yet, Chisato-san continued to attend the class, and in 3 months, without much rest, completed the course. As she began to center her energy in remaking clothes, people started to ask her to teach them. However, due to the culture at the time, her father stopped her from teaching since he felt that, “If a woman gets a job, then she will have to marry an unemployed man.” Chisato-san was not able to work until she got married. “The day I got married, I immediately started to teach people how to knit!” Chisato-san said while laughing.
When I asked Chisato-san how the two became a couple, apparently, they got married as soon as they met. “I refused and told them I won’t go. However my parents decided everything,” Chisato-san said. When she first saw Kazuji-san she recalled, “His eyes were so big. I got so scared that I wanted to run back home.” When I asked Kazuji -san about his first impression of Chisato-san, he became shy and hesitant enough that even I became embarrassed.
Kazuji-san used to work for an oil shop and boat supply center until Chisato-san suggested he should be a captain for the ferries. Then, Kazuji-san, who was always bright, instantly passed the tests to receive the license to captain a ship. Meanwhile, through the recommendation of a friend, Chisato-san began to work at the company cafeteria for Tsuneishi Shipbuilding. Chisato-san would always ride on the ferry that Kazuji-san would captain to work. Kazuji -san would work on shifts and handled the rearing of their children to such success that some of the neighbors would comment that Chisato-san married a really good person. Chisato-san reminisced that even after Kazuji-san retired from his job, neighbors comment that he helps people who missed the ferries get to their destination or help people drowning in the sea.
“Now the children and grandchildren love my husband,”Chisato-san noted while laughing. This trend is also the same with my family. When my friends came to my house, instead they look forward to my husband’s hospitality and warm cooking, instantly becoming fans of him. As they leave, they will tell to my husband that they will see him again soon. I too hope to become like Kazuji-san and Chisato-san, a wife who takes pride in her husband’s merits.
Indeed, it is unusual to find a democratic or liberal-minded couple of this generation where the wife goes out to work with the husband and the husband participates in raising the children. I asked Kazuji-san if he ever wished that his wife would not work and stay home. Chisato-san interrupted asking him too if he ever thought so, and Kazushi-san kindly replied, “I too was able to do the things I wanted to do just as Chisato did.”
While carrying the inari sushi, we went along one of Chisato-san’s favorite walking courses. The crisp air and the blue sea and sky is truly refreshing. There Chisato-san, dressed nearly entirely in purple, was doing her exercise. Her grandson calls her style, “The fashion monster of Utsumi”. What I took away from this experience was that sharing time with someone who makes one appreciate the ordinary things in life is important.
A culinary researcher based in Bangkok. Founder of 40creations. During college, she realized that good food could create smiles, regardless of country borders or age. In 2012, she start the project YOU BOX to share “ridiculously delicious” experiences with the world, and hunting “Grandma’s recipes” at the same time. Published a book in Japanese based on the interviews she's done for 100 people in 15 countries for ３ years. In 2018, she found TASTE HUNTERS with domestic partners in Thai.
Translation: Luke Baker