This month’s Japan Times  article is about sweet potatoes*, which are called satsumaimo in Japanese. Satsumaimo means “potato from Satsuma”, referring to a region of southern Kyushu which at one time was very powerful and influential. In the article I wrote about how the sweet potato played an important role in saving the people of the Edo (old Tokyo) region from starvation, and how there are still several Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples dedicated to honoring the sweet potato. There’s also a recipe of course, for ringo kinton, a wonderful sweet-sour dish. (And the recipe for the daigaku imo or “university potatoes” mentioned is right here .)
I also talk about the cry of the ishi-yaki-imo-ya or stone roasted sweet potato seller. I looked around on YouTube and sure enough, some people have uploaded videos where you can hear some ishi-yaki-imo-ya in action.
When my family moved back to Japan from the US (where we’d lived for a year; prior to that we lived in the UK for 4 1/2 years) when I was 11, we lived for 2 school terms in Mita, an area in Minato ward in central Tokyo, while our house in Hachioji was being renovated. Mita was and still is a place with many foreign/expat residents and several embassies, and the apartment building we lived in was right opposite the Italian embassy. I don’t know who was in charge there, but they apparently hated quite a lot of things about everyday Japanese life. They lodged a complaint with the management of our building about unsightliness of the futons being hung out on the balcony railings (Japanese people like to air out their futons every sunny day if possible), not to mention the laundry. (I guess because laundry hanging out is associated with poor tenements in Italy?) Another thing they objected to was the ishi-yaki-imo-ya’s sing-song announcement on his loudspeaker. The building management had no spine, and issued an edict to all residents of apartments on the embassy side to refrain from putting out their futons (which the residents revolted against, and only about half complied with). Bt the ishi-yaki-imo-ya ignored the requests to pipe down the announcements, thus risking an international incident. Good for him, we all thought. I loved rushing down from our 5th floor apartment to buy some piping hot potatoes wrapped in newspaper from him.
Anyway, I hope you check out the article !
(*I know a lot of people call them ‘yams’ in the U.S. too, but I find this very confusing since another totally different kind of root vegetable is also called yam, so I stick to sweet potato.)
I’ve been home now for a few days (they let me out on Tuesday, and it’s now Friday). The operation went very well, and while I still have quite a lot of pain I’m doing ok. I’d like to thank you for all of your wonderful well wishes! I’m quite overwhelmed. I’m going to be allowed until January to heal up, then the doctors will evaluate my need for radiation therapy and so on.
While my body is getting better, unfortunately I received some really bad news literally 10 minutes after getting home. My father, who lived in New York, had passed away over the weekend. I was in a state of shock and panic for a couple of days - I knew I couldn’t travel right away, and Max was all set to go on my behalf - but my sister Meg, who lives in Florida, has been an absolute star and been able to handle things as best she can. I’m hoping I’ll be well enough to travel to the memorial service in a couple of weeks. My father’s death was sudden, though not quite unexpected - he had a serious case of diabetes, but was doing quite well recently. We think that he passed away suddenly without pain, so that at least is a relief. I will try to write a bit about my father at a later time. (Oh, and I know there are quite a few fans of my mom who read this site - she and my father split up years ago, so she’s not grieving or anything, though she said she’s much sadder than she thought she’d be.)
In the meantime though, I’m going to try slowly posting again, though the pace will be rather slow. Writing is actually therapeutic for me. Please don’t worry that I am in deep mourning or anything like that, although I am of course very sad. It may sound cold, but I was never that close to my father, unfortunately. (If you read this  I guess you got an inkling of that.)
What a year it’s been. I’m really hoping for a much quieter 2012. ^_^;
P.S. My father loved sweet things, including ishi-yaki-imo.