Growing up with stinky, slimy, altogether wonderful Japanese food

Homemade kimchee, homemade takuan and natto.

Homemade kimchee, homemade takuan and natto.

I’m a foodie. Everyone knows this. I write about food, I take photos of food everywhere I dine, I love to cook, and I love food from everywhere. One of my personal rules has always been, if someone somewhere in the world eats something, I’m willing to try it… at least once.

So I’ve had chocolate covered ants. Fried grubs. The meat of some strange animals that you wouldn’t think humans ought to eat, like rattlesnake brats.

In a way, I was prepared for this gastronomic open-mindedness (open-stomachnes?) by growing up Japanese. I was raised in Japan until I was 8, but even lifelong Japanese Americans know what I mean when I say that Japanese cuisine — although hailed today as the epitome of high culture and is accepted as mainstream with commonplace dishes like sushi, ramen, tempura, sukiyaki and teriyaki – can feature some nasty stuff.

Foul-smelling, slimy and icky-textured. Food that’s best swallowed quickly, without chewing or thinking about. No savoring the flavor, just pop it in and send it down the chute.

A lot of people probably would disagree with me, but I feel that way about oysters. I think they’re gross. Keeping my personal rule in mind, I’ll eat them if I’m at a nice restaurant in a town like Boston, where oysters are de rigeur. But I won’t seek them out and suggest an oyster bar for a night out.

It’s ironic, then, that people who would slurp down an oyster at a moment’s notice would probably themselves grossed out at some things I love: Raw eggs mixed with soy sauce and drizzled on hot rice; natto (fermented soy beans) mixed with soy sauce and mixed with hot rice; crunchy takuan; oden, an odiferous winter stew.
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Asian America, social media and baby boomers

AARP's TEK team helped elderly Chinese at a senior center in Boston learn to use smartphones, and they were sending texts ad shooting selfies at the end of the session.

AARP’s TEK team helped elderly Chinese at a senior center in Boston learn to use smartphones, and they were sending texts ad shooting selfies at the end of the session.

This was a fun photo booth at the AARP Member Convention in Boston, which promoted an upcoming PBS series about baby boomers sponsored by AARP. Nope, I'm not actually in the series...

This was a fun photo booth at the AARP Member Convention in Boston, which promoted an upcoming PBS series about baby boomers sponsored by AARP. Nope, I’m not actually in the series…

As a journalist, I’ve been really lucky.

I started my career as a music critic and then a reporter, so I’ve always been able to write about pop culture – especially the pop culture of my generation, the baby boomers. Then when the Internet came along, I was able to move over to work almost exclusively in digital media, and these days I work in and speak about social media. And since I started writing my “Nikkei View” column and blog, I’ve been part of a growing chorus of Asian American voices (like the JACL’s Pacific Citizen, which is about to re-launch its website after a two-year hiatus!) covering issues and stories that mainstream media frankly tends to ignore.

So I couldn’t believe my great fortune last month when I was named the 2014 Asian American Journalists Association’s AARP Social Media Fellow.

AARP, if you aren’t familiar with the organization, is the American Association of Retired People, whose members are 50 years old and older. That means that this year, the youngest baby boomers are turning 50 and can join AARP (the baby boom went from 1946 to 1964).
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