Uncle Kazu's Bellybutton by kentaro ide illustrations by mimi li
ightning is magical,” Uncle Kazu said to David, who was lying in bed as loud thunder rumbled outside. “In Japan, where your mother and I grew up,” Uncle Kazu continued, “we have a name for the god who controls Lightning and Thunder—he’s called Kaminari-sama.”
“Is Kaminari-sama scary?” David asked, wrapped up in his blanket. Another strike of lightning lit up the dark room, followed by an explosion of thunder that made David tremble. Uncle Kazu smiled mysteriously. He was a big man, and his large belly inflated as he breathed heavily. “Kaminari-sama can see everything from the sky, and he can strike anybody he wants to,” Uncle Kazu said. “They say that if you don’t cover up your belly during the night, Kaminari-sama will come and snatch away your bellybutton!” “My bellybutton?” David asked, running his finger over his own belly. “What happens if I lose my bellybutton?” “What happens?” Uncle Kazu repeated, and he became silent for a while, deep in thought. “Look at my belly,” he finally said, patting his large, round stomach. “It wouldn’t be this big if I had a bellybutton.” And with that, Uncle Kazu lifted up the bottom of his shirt to show David his smooth, buttonless belly. David stared wide-eyed, shocked and speechless. More thunder cracked outside as Uncle Kazu continued his explanation. “The button on your pants keeps your pants together and tight, right?” Uncle Kazu said. “Same thing with the bellybutton; it keeps your belly together. Without it, there’s nothing to hold my belly down—it will keep growing larger and larger, until one day, it will burst.” David held his own belly tight as a wave of goose bumps rushed over his skin. “Why did Kaminari-sama take it?” he asked his uncle.
“Nobody knows. Above the clouds, where Kaminari-sama roams and watches the world below, he builds enormous piles of bellybuttons that stretch out like mountains all across the sky. And somewhere, in one of those infinite piles, he keeps my bellybutton.” “Can’t to
you get it back?” David wanted know. “I want to,” Uncle Kazu answered, “but I can’t. Kaminari-sama doesn’t listen to those he’s defeated—he only respects strength. But you, David,” he said, looking at David right in the eyes. “Maybe you can help me.” “How?” David asked hesitantly. “If you can ask Kaminari-sama to give me my bellybutton back, maybe he will,” Uncle Kazu explained. “Do you think you could do that for me?”
David gulped before nodding his head. “Yes, I can do that,” he said bravely. “Thank you,” Uncle Kazu said with a smile. “But,” he added, “you have to do it alone.” “No!” David protested as his uncle stood up. “Can’t you stay?” “Kaminari-sama won’t come if I’m around,” Uncle Kazu replied, easing David back into his blanket. “It’s okay to be afraid sometimes, David,” he said. “Fear can help us decide what’s good for us and what’s bad for us. But you can’t let it get the best of you. You have to be brave. Do you understand?” David nodded slowly and Uncle Kazu smiled. “If I wake up tomorrow morning and I have my bellybutton, I’ll be very happy,” Uncle Kazu announced as he walked away. “Goodnight, David,” he said, closing the door and leaving David all alone in the dark. David watched the black, rumbling clouds gath-
ering outside his window and felt his fingers and toes turn as cold as ice. He could feel the fear gathering in his stomach, pulling his muscles tightly like an iron vice squeezing him from inside. The fear spread throughout his chest, making his heart pump faster and harder.
its frame as Kaminari-sama demanded to be let into the room. David swallowed hard and repeated his request.
A blinding bolt of lightning shot out from the clouds as thunder cracked like a giant, monstrous whip. The tightness in David’s stomach made his bellybutton feel like a knot—he covered it with his ice-cold hands, praying that Kaminari-sama wouldn’t snatch it away.
A wave of electricity rippled over the dark clouds, but no lightning struck—there was only a loud grumbling of thunder. Kaminari-sama was listening, and this gave David courage.
The lightning attacked the house, prowling outside the window and staring into David’s room like a lion stalking its prey. There was a strange movement in the clouds as a giant wave rushed back and forth over the surface—somewhere up above, standing between his infinite mountains of bellybuttons, an enormous being made of shadows and an endless hunger peered into the window, looking for David and his bellybutton. David hid behind his blanket, staying absolutely still so that he wouldn’t be found. But then he remembered his uncle’s large, round belly that would burst open if it had no button to hold it down, and David knew what he had to do. “Kaminari-sama,” David whispered, slowly poking his head out from beneath the blanket. “Please give Uncle Kazu back his bellybutton.” Lightning jolted through the air and thunder exploded in a beastly roar, rattling David’s window and stirring up the fear inside his belly. The window shook and banged against
“Kaminari-sama, please give Uncle Kazu back his bellybutton,” he said again.
“Kaminari-sama,” David said, no longer whispering but speaking clearly. “Please give Uncle Kazu his bellybutton so that he can keep his big belly together.” Outside his window, the thunder stopped rumbling and there was no more lightning; only the rain continued to patter against the glass. Would Kaminari-sama do as David asked? David wondered as he drifted off to sleep. The next morning, David was woken up by a knock on his door. The sun was shining brightly through the window, and Uncle Kazu was smiling. “Good morning, David,” Uncle Kazu said warmly, walking toward the bed. “Did it work?” David asked, quickly remembering the ordeal he had faced the night before. Uncle Kazu didn’t say a word; he just smiled as he lifted up his shirt, showing David his large, round belly, with his bellybutton back in place.
Canadian music journalists must tremor at With his latest project, The Orient Express, he the noise coming from south of the performs every genre of dance music border—it’s the only way to acfrom every corner of the globe. count for the outrageous On top of weddings and special events, he can headlines. As if the largbe found playing er-than-life music, rock stars, agents, twice per month at paparazzi, stadithe Four Points Sheraton Houms, and roytel, pleasing alty cheques a loyal, ballwere enough room dance to trigger Canadiancrowd. patent insecurity comYong was plexes on a born in Madaily basis, laysia, and rock reportmoved to Vancouver in age in Canada 1977, at the age focuses almost of 17. “I’m from exclusively on a really small town the next big thing. by Deanne Beattie on Borneo Island,” A band might live and die in the 24-hour says Yong, “where music period between a review that is always secondary, it’s never proclaims them “more than just a primary. Everything is self-taught; band,” or commentary the very next day sug- there’s really no music school back in my homegesting that they are, literally, yesterday’s news. town. Everything is learned by oneself or with friends.” In Malaysia, Yong had learned to play However, if we were honest about the Canadian traditional Chinese music and some imported music industry, we would have to admit that the pop songs on the guitar among friends, but his 600,000 people working in arts and entertain- migration to North America brought on a veriment nation-wide would account for more than table musical rebirth for the young musician. just Nickelback roadies. At the foundation of an The family’s immigration to Canada exposed authentic arts culture are precisely the people Yong and his brother, Collin, to many more opone won’t find headlining million-dollar con- portunities to learn and perform music. “When certs in sports stadiums. Rather, one must I came to Canada and was exposed to jazz musearch harder for these musical gems, those sic and it changed everything,” he says, “I had often found performing in the intimate lounges never heard jazz before.” of downtown hotels every other Saturday night. Yong’s family encouraged him and his brother Victor Yong is truly a breed without borders. to adopt sensible careers—drafting and pediatAs a guitarist, he specializes in a hybrid brand ric health respectively—but they each found a of Latin-jazz music in his solo work, mixing way to build music into their daily lives. “Compop-influenced and modern music in a way ing from an Asian family, getting a day job is that eases electric guitar into laid back conga more important,” says Yong. “Music was albeats. His work with professional and hobby ways a secondary thing.” Still, the guitarist has musicians over the past three decades has seen worked with dozens of local bands and performhim performing guitar in country, funk, rhythm ers over the span of his professional career, and blues, Motown, polka and hard rock genres. which includes some paid work in session gigs
A Community Mainstay: Victor Yong & The Orient Express
and as a recording musician. He has worked with hard rock cover bands, as well as with Latin singers, including the celebrated Cuban singer Deborah Ledon. When it came to forming his own band, Yong called upon some talented musicians, many of whom he met or worked with over the years. Singer Betty Tse, bassist Terry Chu, drummer Akira Okamoto and keyboard player Keith Sarri all joined guitarist Yong to create The Orient Express. “When I formed this band for ballroom dancers,” Yong says, “I really wanted to do something different, to take a different route.” The Orient Express was Yong’s response to a perceived lack of musical variety for mature folks who go dancing on Saturday nights. “In the Asian community, they’re really big on ballroom dancing,” says Yong. “But most of the music provided for ballroom dancing is media sequencing, where the keyboard player plays, the singer sings, and all of that really simple stuff.” The idea of The Orient Express was to form a band that would host an intersection of music varieties from around the world, including classic ballroom, pop and classic rock, jazz, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish and Latin music.
And it stuck. The band has performed together continuously for the past two-and-a-half years, counting the Four Points Sheraton as their home base. A dedicated crowd of ballroom dancers from ages 40 to 80 years make it to the hotel on weekends to dance. Yong is quick to laugh when he mentions that it’s the 80-yearolds in the crowd who appear most energetic. “‘Disco!’ they yell,” he says. “‘We want the disco!’” The Orient Express is a crowd-pleaser, with Tse performing songs in seven different languages for a truly global appeal. “If you want to see really fancy guitar work, or really fancy keyboard work, you won’t find it with The Orient Express,” says Yong. “We’re really geared toward the audience. Ballroom dancers don’t care what kind of scales we use, because if they can’t dance to it, they don’t care.” In a music industry saturated with big egos, Yong’s humility is charming. When asked about the future direction of the band, Yong says they’re happy as they are. “We know it’s not going to happen, doing music full-time. It’s a really risky thing to do music full-time.” They’re taking the band’s journey one step at a time, humming over recording the band’s work in the far future, and otherwise happy to deliver spectacular nights for the dancers who arrive at their performances every second week. The discipline that the band possesses to deliver a consistently professional performance is decidedly anti-rock star behaviour. “One of the things I’m truly proud of is this—unlike any of the other bands I’ve been in, everybody takes this very seriously,” says Yong. “Rehearsals go by so fast, because everybody really does their homework before they come to rehearsal. And that’s very rare.” With an outlook like that, The Orient Express is likely to survive longer and out perform any other media darling, flash-in-the-pan, onehit-wonder band the music industry cooks up next. 7
Across B Yosho World C 46
Borders: oku & Cuisine by Margaret Inoue
or as long as migrants have moved from place to place, they have carried with them culinary items from their homeland to new lands. Canada has benefitted from large migration, resulting in a rich diversity of culinary delights. When it comes to food, Vancouver is a city that prides itself on both the global and the authentic. In the foodie circles and forums such as egullet there are often discussions about where to find the best of various ethnic foods. But despite eager attempts to find “authentic” experiences, diners are actually being served a variety of fusion foods that resulted from the exchange of cuisine across national borders.
Across B Yosho World C Japan, no less than Italy and Vietnam, has a food culture that is rooted in the import of foreign foods. Rice itself, the cornerstone for the Japanese diet, is said to have come from China or Korea during the Jomon period. More recently—during the Muromachi, Edo and Meiji periods—Japan began importing foods from beyond the neighbouring countries, a trend that grew as the country opened to foreign trade. The early imports came through the port of Nagasaki, which used to be Japan’s trading centre with the outside world. During the Muromachi period, imported food was called namban ryori or “food of the southern barbarians”. Early imports included Kasutera or “Castella,” a Portuguese cake said to be named for the Spanish region of Castilla; and Champon, a Chinese-influence noodle dish. Nagasaki is still famous for shippoku ryori, a meal of small dishes that blends Japanese, Chinese and Portuguese food. With the Meiji period and the opening of Japan to foreigners and the traffic of people, goods, and food, the incorporation of western-style food truly came into its own. A few dishes that came in during this era include: Katsuretsu, fried and breaded cutlets, typically pork; Korokke, a potato based variation on the Dutch croquettes; Kare-rice, the Japanese variation of India’s curry, sometimes served over Katsuretsu or with a raw egg; omu-rice, an egg omelette filled with rice; spaghetti served with toppings varying from fish roe to pickled shiso leaves to cream or tomato style sauces; doria, rice with a topping of béchamel sauce typically with seafood or meat; and hambagoo, ground beef patties served up alone with sauce in a steak fashion rather than as a hamburger. All of these food dishes became known as yoshoku or western food, distinguishing it from washoku or Japanese food. Although yoshoku began as imported, foreign food, the dishes were eventually “indigenised” to the Japanese palate. The curry of Japan—with its honey, yogurt and apple flavours sometimes poured over a pork cutlet—is not the same dish the Indian continent developed. Nor is the use of mentaiko (fish roe) on spaghetti likely something that Italians would identify as one of their national dishes. Yoshoku, although western, became inherently Japanese. Restaurants that serve yoshoku food in Japan are commonly called “family restaurants”. With menus offering set meals incorporating combinations of Japanese and Western fare, these dining establishments are as common as sushi spots or ramen shops. Just as the cultures influencing Japan had done, migrants to Canada have brought their own culinary sensibilities. But, until recently, Japanese in Vancouver kept the typical Japanese yoshoku dishes, and many washoku ones as well, inside the home. Like other migrant communities, this isn’t unusual as traditional foods served at home aren’t always offered in restaurants. 48
Indeed, restaurant fare often incorporates foods more easily accepted by those in the adopted homeland. For instance, beef and broccoli—a standard in Chinese restaurants here—aren’t found in China; similarly, the un-fried, fresh salad rolls found in Vietnamese restaurants here aren’t readily found in Vietnam. Japanese food is often, if not primarily, identified with sushi. However, curries, korokke and katsu are quickly moving from the home into the restaurant arena. Vancouver, in the last ten years, has seen a rise of Izakaya: busy and loud Japanese bars. Vancouverites opened their minds and mouths to small dishes, shared with others and served simultaneously with a few beers, sake, or cocktails. In addition to these bars, Vancouver now boasts three restaurants serving yoshoku, rich with comfort foods and irony: yoshoku food with western roots is now being served back to the western patron and being welcomed as authentically Japanese. One diner at Barefoot Kitchen, a yoshoku restaurant on Denman near Davie, stated enthusiastically: “As soon as we walked in, we all felt like we were back in Japan. The smell of the Barefoot Kitchen reminded us of Japan immediately.”
Borders: oku & Cuisine Micky Takeuchi, owner of Barefoot Kitchen also sees yoshoku as unquestionably Japanese food. But when time came to open his restaurant downtown, the decision to serve yoshoku food was more a matter of budget and competition than anything else. Takeuchi didn’t want to compete in the sushi and izakaya market that he felt was saturated. Instead, a yoshoku menu gave him the option of serving Japanese food at reasonable prices.
Initially, Barefoot Kitchen attracted only Japanese diners. In order to succeed Takeuchi knew he would need a wider market of non-Japanese patrons as well. Two events helped bring in non-Japanese Vancouverites: a review in the Georgia Straight and a menu change to include sushi. When asked about the sushi, Takeuchi stated that non-Japanese diners still expect sushi when going out for Japanese food. Although he finds it strange, these diners will order hambagoo and a California roll. He thinks this stems from an ambivalence toward plain white rice, which Japanese diners are more than content to eat alongside any meal.
by Margaret Inoue Ping’s, a recent addition to the Vancouver yoshoku scene doesn’t serve sushi, but clearly caters to a Vancouver audience in other ways: by creating a bridge between the tapas-serving izakaya bar and the yoshoku family restaurant. Here, diners can order a hambagoo set plate or share a variety of small, more traditional Japanese plates which include sunomono, gomae, and edamame. Yoshoku restaurants in Vancouver cater to the expectations
Ricepaper Magazine issue 14.3