© OLD SAGE HANDS

NAJC Awards Grant

In Food For Thought on September 1, 2020 at 2:51 pm

We’re thrilled to announce Suzanne Hartmann is this year’s recipient of the National Association of Japanese Canadians (NAJC) Endowment Fund. Hartmann is a University of King’s College student in her second-year of the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction program and editor of Old Sage Hands. She has been awarded the 2020 Sports, Education, Arts Development (SEAD) grant for her MFA project titled Minyō Memories: Celebrating the Postwar Japanese Canadian Community in Toronto. 

Dancers celebrate Obon with traditional bon odori (Image by alphabetmn)

The project involves research and writing about the postwar Japanese Canadian community’s cultural and historical contributions to the Toronto landscape. Minyō Memories is told from Hartmann’s perspective as a mixed-heritage, fourth-generation Japanese Canadian (JC), and the work of creative nonfiction incorporates stand-alone personal essays combined with extensive research. This unique next generation story is based on recording her early memories, including participating in minyō (folk dance) at Obon (a summer Buddhist festival), and explores culture and the arts through annual events and traditions specific to the Toronto JC community. 

Established after the historical Japanese Canadian Redress Agreement signed on Sept. 22, 1988, the NAJC Endowment Fund’s SEAD program provides grants to Japanese Canadians furthering their studies and skills in the visual or performing arts, sports, or academic fields. For more information on the grant, please visit the NAJC website: najc.ca.

Celebrating Earth Day – 50 Years Later

In Food For Thought, Our Earthly Paradise on April 22, 2020 at 1:11 pm

After enduring a rollercoaster ride of weather conditions from pelting snow to misty and cold mornings, I was keen to embrace today’s sunshine. Earlier in the day, I walked through my neighbourhood with my dog Ivy happy to be greeted by the shining faces of daffodils, narcissus and forsythias sporting their cheerful yellow blooms. Magnolia sprouts appear ready to burst as crocus and small blue flowers carpet the grass. Busy robins are working the field searching for their breakfasts as we pass. These telling signs signal – spring is officially here. Despite the torrential rains that have transformed the garden into a mud bath and those whipping gusts of winds rattling the windows, seeing the bright blue skies reminds me how sun starved we are.

It’s been a long and dreary winter complicated by the recent lockdown here in Toronto and the threat of COVID-19 throughout the world. Many of us may recall the adage April Showers bring May flowers – it’s a positive reflection, no doubt created to provide a glimmer of light during dark days. It’s no wonder people get spring fever at the first rays of warm sunshine.

Rural country side

As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow remarked in his poem The Rainy Day:

“Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.”

We’re all experiencing degrees of darkness now because of the pandemic. If April’s rain is a metaphor for tears, it’s because the whole world is crying: Tears of anguish from sickness and losing loved ones, failing businesses and economic hardships. On the bright side, there are tears of joy for the positive environmental changes we’ve noticed: Smog has lifted, water has cleared and animals have returned to places after long absences. While the month of May is just around the corner, it’s not likely we’ll see a deluge of the quarantined rushing back to work or steady streams of insatiable shoppers hungry for retail experiences.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and, in this rare moment of repose we’ve all been granted, it’s a wonderful opportunity for deep reflection on the world we live in. It’s reminded me how grateful I am for fresh air, clean water and nutrient-dense food. Yet how often do we take these key elements including our own good health for granted? Will we return to our wasteful and polluting ways? Or will we have learned important lessons? We’re all connected whether we believe it or not.

Outside of preventative measures such as handwashing, few are looking at eliminating the actual sources that grow these preventable pandemics. One widely accepted school of thought links these new crops of infectious influenza outbreaks directly to our food systems. There’s no shortage of information from films such as Food, Inc., and books like Big Farms Make Big Flu on how this era of food production prizes profits above all else and endangers the lives of unwitting consumers. Food producers have created ideal breeding grounds for these dangerous diseases in factory farms and wildlife markets where animals live short, miserable lives in cramped, squalid conditions. Stamp out the source and stop the spread.

To respect the earth and return to balance, we need to extend our consideration to animals – both wild and domesticated – and put an end to factory farming and the wildlife trade.

If we can hang on a little longer, the skies will shine bright again. When we finally re-emerge from our dens after this forced hibernation, will we have gained any clarity of vision? Will this crisis have given us the hindsight on environmental issues we’ve been lacking all along? And more importantly, will we finally heed the call to act and effect lasting change?

Our ancient Mother Earth has issued a message: Every day should be Earth Day; she needs our help now more than ever.

Shopping for Japanese Food

In Food, Glorious Food on February 18, 2020 at 11:04 am

Pictured from L to R: gobo, sato emo, daikon, napa.

Pictured from back, L to R: gobo, sato emo, daikon and napa.

Whenever I get the chance, I like to go shopping for Japanese groceries with my friend and neighbour Nori.

As a person of mixed Japanese Canadian (JC) heritage, I’ve had a more traditional upbringing in terms of exposure to the foods, language and culture of Japan–but that’s not the case for many JCs.

Although I like to eat and cook Japanese food, I know the two aren’t necessarily interchangeable for others. In our family, not everyone knows how to prepare certain traditional dishes, those long-time staples we grew up on.

And don’t worry, if you don’t recognize specific ingredients in their raw states. For example, you may have eaten some of my favourite vegetables before: from gobosato emo to the mainstream daikon (white radish) and napa (Chinese cabbage). You may have simply walked right by them in the grocery store and not known what they were or how to cook them.

Napa (Chinese cabbage) and daikon (white radish) can be found in almost any grocery store these days, and often are actually called by their Japanese names. Great in stir-fries and salads, they make for hearty fare year-round.

Gobo, also known as burdock, is a fantastic root vegetable – after you peel off the woody skin, it’s amazing sliced into small sticks and fried with sesame chilli oil. As kids, we used to call sato emo “hairy potatoes” since they’re a type of starchy potato sometimes referred to as eddo root or eddoes, and are from the same family as taro. Easy-to-find in Asian supermarkets, they’re a bit tougher to locate elsewhere but worth grabbing if you happen to stumble upon them. Delicious in stews, they’re also a mainstay in savoury Japanese cabbage pancakes known as okonomiyaki. 

Happy shopping!