Monday, June 14, 2010


This photo is the one I promised Rebb in one of my previous blogs. We Japanese call it “sasa.” The root meaning of sasa is small. We don’t use it by itself, but when I say, “That’s a small thing” in Japanese, I would say, “Sasainakoto(些細なこと).”

So, this is like a sasa. I was alone in a small café. Two men came in and sat at the table behind me. A waitress rushes back and forth. The men and the waitress seemed to know one another. The men talked about their work, and one of them said something like this: “Chinese are buying the lands in Hokkaido, and Koreans, Tushima. They have a law against Japanese to buy their lands, but we don’t have such law.”

It reminded me of a similar situation back in ’80s. Japanese businessmen were buying the tall buildings in downtown Los Angeles. The headlines and photos on the Los Angeles Times flashed through my head. The other man said, “We should get together and be one.” The tone of the men’s voices was even. I thought it good idea like the EU. It would be excellent if N. Korea disarms and joins. Let’s focus on Peace.

Later, the waitress brought the men drinks and joined their conversation. She spoke louder than them about a celebrity they mutually knew. I tried to read my book by Suzuki Daisetsu, a Japanese philosopher, and waited for a second cup of coffee. The waitress was the only one in the café, and the book was fascinating.

The waitress went on talking. Then, she lowered her voice and said, “This might sound a racist thing, but…I learned that so and so is a foreigner, did you know?” The men said nothing. “The mother of so and so is also,” she went on talking about more celebrities. I kept my eyes on the page. I didn’t turn around.

So, I thought about it and concluded that the people the waitress mentioned must be Japanese. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have held their current and past high posts. Well, I’m familiar with the American minorities’ struggles, but the difference is that we look alike. I don’t see anything wrong with talking about races, but not in a negative way.

I used to think the negative way of talking about races was vague. Now, I think it is quite clear. So, if the café conversation were a straight, thoughtful talk, I would have turned around and joined the conversation. With straight talks, I don’t think we need to lower our voice, or to avoid responding to questions or facing the speaker.

Out of the conversation in the cafe, I thought the waitress used to work in a publishing business, and the men seemed to be journalists. I turned around and asked the waitress for the second cup which I had ordered with my first cup because no refill was available. She said yes and smiled. (In Japan, many waitresses do not come to our table and ask, “Is everything all right?” This is annoying.) Anyway, the waitress returned to the back of the counter and brought me a coffee in a new cup and saucer. I sipped coffee, took out my pen and papers, and started to write. The men stood up, went past me, and left. Another waitress came in to the cafe and wore an apron. I kept writing. The head waitress whispered something to the waitress who just came in. I wondered why she began to whisper, but after I heard a few whispering talks, I put back my pen and papers into my bag, paid my check, and left the café.

Going back to the low growing bamboo, Sasa is written as 笹 in kanji: The top part of the kanji means bamboo, and the bottom, a world. Thank you for reading to the end.


Rebb said...

Keiko, Thank you for posting the Sasa. I have never seen low growing bamboo. It is so cute. Does it stay that short forever?

What's funny is we just had a working lunch meeting on Friday and we ate at a new Japanese restaurant that I picked called Sasa. It had wonderful ambiance, but it seemed to be a Japanese fusion and the portions were very small, so I see the association with the name-hehe.

I agree that if we are going to talk about race, it should not be in a negative way. That doesn't really solve anything. And yes, "Straight talks." I like that way of saying it. It sounds like you had quite a lot to observe and overhear in the small cafe. I love reading your narratives. I've said it before, but you really are a great storyteller. It would be fun to watch you tell a story. I still have to get back to my blog, but I see you have done this before.

Why don't Japanese waitresses come back to as if everything is all right? That's interesting. Do they get tips?

Did you leave the cafe because you were tired of all the whispering? Do you still go to this cafe?

I really like the meaning of the kanji for Sasa. Thank you for sharing, Keiko!

Now I'm off and running to give my speech!

Vincent said...

I'm not sure what the men meant when they said “We should get together and be one.” At first I thought it meant that they wanted to unite against the Chinese buying the lands.

Do you think the EU a good idea? Most people in England are strongly against it, I think, which is why our government doesn't allow a referendum.

The book you were reading - was it by DT Suzuki, the Zen scholar? What do you think of him?

And on matters of race, surely we all need to speak frankly in private, to share our sense of frustration about other groups? This is not racist. It is racist if we speak openly in such a way as to offend someone who cannot help being of that race; or treat someone without equal respect.

We should not censor our own thoughts! But even then, we can practise universal respect and kindness.

keiko amano said...


Yes, sasa stays short. We use the leaves in our presentation of food.

What a coincidence about the name of the restaurant! But just I was going to say that such restaurant must not be a Japanese restaurant, you said a fusion. That makes sense. As I mentioned before, we don’t usually use sasa by itself. It always comes with some other word or words such as “sasanoha (the leaves of sasa.” So, I stepped back and thought about the title of this blog. Wow, it gives me a sense of cultural fusion. I never know what we find writing blogs.

About the Japanese portion of food, I can imagine how small it was. Sometimes, American portions can be too generous so that two Japanese can share one plate, and even Americans themselves bring a left-over home. That’s another lucky thing in the U.S. But there is always yin and yang. Behind the lucky thing, there is an unlucky thing: many people waste food.

About the Japanese services at cafes, we say thank you (actually some other word which I have a problem with which I can talk about it some other time.) instead of a tip, but I don’t think that’s the reason why they don’t come and ask customers if everything is all right. Maybe, I have opportunities to delve into this aspect later on.

Since I’m complaining, one more shouldn’t hurt. Waitresses and waiters here often say, “this becomes coffee (コーヒーになります),” to mean “here is your coffee.” This drives me nuts. The usage of become(なる) is okay if they bring a glass of ice cubes and say, “This becomes water.” Well, in that case, maybe customers might resent it, but at least, the phrase would be accurate. Unfortunately, it seems to be on the way to become a common Japanese language.

About the continued whispering, I felt uncomfortable, so I left. I’m going to the same building in a week or so, but I’ll walk to another café nearby.

Good luck with your speech!

keiko amano said...


About “we should get together and be one,” I think he meant us as Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans, and perhaps other Asians, and to be one as some kind of union, body or group. I don’t know what his thought was exactly, but I doubt it if any intelligent Japanese is hot enough to debate about it and really want to unite people for that purpose. The trauma of WWII is too great. And the democracy has multiplied with Japanese socialistic tendency to the point that the nation cannot produce heroic leaders who can rise above the baggage and influence other countries.

About the EU, I heard about the British position and wondered why. So, I’m interested in what you think. The common Japanese thinking is that isolation or different from others is always not good. But with that simplistic mantra alone without core validity, my spirit has never benefited from it. If the British people are standing on a strong, valid principle, I admire their stubbornness.

Suzuki Daisetsu is DT Suzuki? I guess he is the same person. I like his books. They make me think. I’m not impressed with his calligraphy, but I really appreciate his analysis of classic Zen calligraphies, words, and poems. I can understand why my mother was so into it. I took some photos right after I left the café that afternoon, and relating to the photos, I have a small story to tell about him, so I’ll blog about it later. The book I'm reading is "Japanese Spirituality." It is complex to learn about myself and ourselves and others.

Rebb said...

And because it seemed more focused on the artistic element, which was beautiful, the portions were especially small. I like the bento box lunches, but they didn’t seem to do that here. They presented on a long skinny ceramic plate, the way some Japanese restaurants usually bring out large orders of Sushi. It was definitely a stunning visual presentation.

Yes, American portions are way too big and wasteful. On the other hand it’s horrible when someone can eat the whole order. That must not be very healthy.

I’ll look forward to when you have time to talk about the word for saying thank you and your thoughts about it and differences of service.
Oh…I didn’t understand at first about the use of “become.” Now I see, at least I think I do. (And of course, laughter from Rebb, when she reads), “Since I’m complaining, one more shouldn’t hurt.” You are sooooo funny. Ok, So, because she says, “this becomes coffee,” because in the Japanese language, it’s not correct usage because the coffee doesn’t become anything? How about for tea if she brought hot water, an empty cup, and a tea bag, would that be okay to use become or does it have to be a direct change like the ice cube example? Very interesting, Keiko. I learn something new about Japanese culture all the time.

Thanks for the luck. I went pretty good. Two more to go.

keiko amano said...


The popular Japanese phrase to say thank you after we are treated for a meal is “gochiso-sama.” Gochiso is a treat, a feast, hospitality, a sumptuous meal.
Go and sama are for respect. We use the phrase daily to our mothers who cook our meals, and since it is a respectful and appreciative phrase, people tend to over use them even when they pay out of their pockets.

In the linguistic class I took, I mentioned this. All six or so classmates and even the teacher disagreed with me. I was amazed at not even one person knew, but I told them if the majority used it that way, it would be that way. I know its usage because of my mother and grandfather, but I also know the majority wins. I forgot the name of a writer, but I know some people agree with me. The teacher said I would say “gochiso-sama” to the chef who cooked a wonderful meal. I didn’t say it, but I thought if I were a chef and someone said gochiso-sama to me, I would feel pressured to treat the person.

About ice cubes and become, I made fun of the situation, but you probably understood it. So, your example about a tea bag and hot water made sense to me. No, it isn’t just made-sense, but it is so good! I can’t wait to give such example to make my point. Thank you. So, here is an alternative scene: a waitress brings an egg to her customer and says, “It will be a chicken!”