Translation Note: “Sensei” (a title of respect used for teachers, doctors, etc.) in this essay refers to Saeko Nishimura, the manager of the Komadori Group, a youth acting and voice talent agency. Ms. Nishimura previously appeared several years earlier in the 10th installment of the “12 Kind People” series, as well as in “I.D.”, Maaya’s first essay collection. As her name is never used in this essay, she will be referred to by the title of “Sensei”.
Recently, with soba, which gives me a keen sense of how old I’ve become. It also reminds me of Sensei.
Sensei was the teacher, president, and manager at the youth voice talent agency where I hung my hat from when I was eight to my graduation from college, and to us in the agency she was somewhat like a mother. The difference in our ages is enough to make her my grandmother, but she’s very youthful, and always in tune with the latest fashions and trends. A firm adherent to the policy of putting schoolwork first, she was full of mystery, with both a strong side that kept careful watch over us so we could grow up soundly, as well as a side of innocent girlishness.
As she always made it a point to go with me to every one of my jobs, we spent every single day together. This meant we usually shared a meal together nearly every day. Sensei is quite the connoisseur when it comes to food. Her mind is programmed with a navigation system for gourmet food that covers Japan and dishes out such facts as, “Here’s the best place for soba,” or, “Here’s where to go if you’re near this studio,” and with her leading the way, I saw a multitude of restaurants. There were also times when she absolutely had to have a certain dish, and even a significant distance would not keep us from making the trip. Being treated to such a variety of foods from when I was still a grade schooler who didn’t know much about flavor has had an undeniable influence on who I am today. Somewhere along the line, the restaurants Sensei frequented became the restaurants I frequent.
Only back then, there was one point on which we were fundamentally at odds. I was a teenager, preferring meat to fish and pasta to soba, and with a particular fondness for greasy, heavy foods. Sensei’s preference was for lightly flavored, refreshing, healthy dishes. Here, the generation gap was prominent…. So even when I went along with Sensei’s wishes to a soba place, in my heart I still longed for yakiniku and would at times begrudgingly order the katsudon.
I wonder if Sensei would be surprised to hear me say that these days katsudon is too heavy for me to eat. Seven years have passed since I left the agency. The number of chances I have to share a meal with Sensei has gone down drastically. I am busy, and she has taken on years and stopped eating out so much. What a shame, since our tastes in food now match, and a meal together would be great fun.
I am often asked, “How is Sensei doing?” by the owners of restaurants we regularly visited long ago. With her generous smile and equally generous appetite, this lady of mystery gains instant popularity wherever she goes. “I don’t see her much these days, but she seems well,” I answer, thinking to myself how nice it would be to come here with Sensei once more.
On occasion I send her gifts of her favorite things. Being able to confidently pick out from the vast catalogs of items on the internet something Sensei would definitely enjoy is a skill that comes from Sensei’s gourmet genes that were imprinted on me in my youth, and the long hours we spent together, sharing the same meal. Sensei, please eat until you couldn’t ask for more.