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Nikkei Chronicles #6: Itadakimasu 2!: Another Taste of Nikkei Culture

In Praise of Konbini Ice Cream

My brothers and mom eating ice cream outside of the convenience store.

I can remember those thickly hot Kobe days, when my brothers and I sat for hours on tatami mats, sluggishly scratching and slapping at the hot, swollen welts covering our legs. We would trace the patchwork fields indented on our knees and our thighs from the pressure of sitting on bamboo mats for too long, all the while dragging the page of a book to read on, numbly pawing at our Nintendo DS, or maybe even sinking into the couch cushions to stare at the television screen as it frustratingly highlighted Japanese Olympic athletes when all we wanted to see was the good ol’ red, white, blue, and gold.

I can remember those Yokohama days, when mosquitos impatiently and incessantly rapped on our screen door as my cousin and I sat on our beds to hastily absorb the rare coolness of a rainfall just finished, before the foggy humidity would settle in a cloud around our windows for the afternoon. Then, too, there was a stillness that drenched our muscles, such that we sat in the garden to watch as lazy July raindrops trickled down the tips of broad green hydrangea leaves, or tossed coins into a single clinking pile as we counted change to buy a soda, meanwhile minimally satiating our throbbing thirst for a sweet carbonated drink with slick sips of bitter mugicha.

And I can remember those suffocating Hiroshima days, when the heat pressed down on us, and was only relieved by heaving flicks of my fan as it sliced through the stagnant air, an indecorous behavior that would surely provoke stern, jabbing looks from my Grammy. That summer there was always a buzzing in our ears—the rattle of a trolley zipping by; the discordant, whirring chirps of cicadas hidden in the trees; and even the low pulsing of fluorescent lights as we sat in the brittle, plastic air of department store AC—a hum that itched our cheeks and our chins, and never once relented.

It’s not difficult to remember the taste, the sound, the feel, the colors of my best times in Japan; after all, the best laughs, the best stories, the best memories were always punctuated with quickly interspersed nibbles of icy sweetness dissolving on our tongues, rolling beads of condensation running down our hands, the startled squeak of a plastic wrapper suddenly torn open, and the heavenly humming glow of green neon signs. Konbini ice cream was always the best.

It usually began with a proposition: a question, an announcement, or even a habitual assumption—“Konbini?”—and we would peel ourselves off the floor, spring up, fling off our house slippers, and step down to the door to jam our already anxious feet into our meticulously parked shoes, leaping, head first, out into the torpid air.

Or maybe it would be me or my brothers who, after a hefty meal of dark brown ramen or a market lunch of crinkling, cellophane onigiri, or a stick of sweetly glazed and glistening “street” mochi, would see the neon signs and rush toward them. 7-Eleven! Lawson! Family Mart! The doors would dash outward as if to coyly flaunt a fleeting taste of richly sweet potato chip, korokke, aluminum, magazine scent, a sumptuous lungful akin to a burst of color after black and white—an overstimulation of the senses that made our pupils curl into tight black balls and our arm hairs shoot out, desperately, to graze all plethora of textures in sight.

Of course, though, our clunking strides would tear past the sembei and the kohi and the Ramune without pause—what we wanted wasn’t in the aisles or the glass-lined refrigerators. It was in the white freezer box, sandwiched between all of these trite pleasantries as if to command the rest of them to submit their feeble grasp on the customer; what lie in the white freezer box was all we wanted!

There were minutes, culminating in hours at that box—

“What should I get this time?”

“Is this flavor good?”

“I like how this one looks!”

“Did you decide what you want to get?”

“Hey, I wanted to try that one!”

“I’ve never seen this one before!”

We would rush, giggling and gathering at the cash register in anticipation of our purchases, and on a gleeful high that can only stem from the unloading of whatever variety of grimy coins we had accumulated in our linty pockets in exchange for the rainbow stack of cold snacks before us.

We would step out, into the clingy atmosphere of a city summer, a cloud of shrill screeching of cellophane and plastic enveloping us as we, much to the chagrin of our grandparents, chose to forgo the confines of Japanese politeness to relieve our bodies of an aching heat.

We bit into them.

There was the Styrofoam-like lightness of the orange-tinted waffle cone that creaked underneath the eager chomps of our teeth, easily splintering into light flakes quickly overtaken by the compacted block of cold matcha cream—cream which fell from the rest of the bar in small, fluffy curls, and jolted our mouths with its aching coldness against our teeth, a sensation only heightened by the sudden stop of a bite at its hard, chocolate shell center. There was the shocking cold of the ice balls we popped in our mouths, a space that would be immediately penetrated with a cold steam that seeped into our windpipes, forcing our mouths open, and bursting forth with a frosty breath subdued as the exterior gave way, melting into a bursting eruption of crisp, dissolving apple juice that pooled, coolly on the tongue. There was the vanilla-speckled creaminess of soft, but icily crunchy Coolish that so easily slid down our throats and chilled the backs of our mouths, coating our tongues with a full-bodied sweetness such that there would be momentary hints of velvety aftertaste interjected throughout the rest of our meals for the day.

All that remains are small dots of dripping treats, remains thoroughly cleaned with our now-frozen tongues, sweet mementos of what laughs, conversations, and sugary moments were shared together—wispy afterthoughts of vibrant summer tastes, like the slowly slippery trickling of memories from their moments of conception.

 

© 2017 Danielle Yuki Yang

12 Stars

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About this series

In response to popular demand, we are bringing back Nikkei Chronicles’ most popular and beloved theme: food! Itadakimasu 2! Another Taste of Nikkei Culture will revisit the role of food in Nikkei culture, the subject of the first Nikkei Chronicles in 2012.

We invite you to share your personal stories and essays, memoirs, academic papers, restaurant reviews, and other prose works that share your perspectives, experiences, and/or research on food.

How does the food you eat express your identity? How does food help to connect your community and bring people together? What kinds of recipes have been passed down from generation to generation in your family?

Submissions for Itadakimasu 2! closed on September 30. Thank you very much to everyone who submitted stories!

Read the Itadakimasu 2! stories and help select the Nima-kai community favorite. The last day to vote is OCTOBER 25, 2017.

For more information, visit 5dn.org/itadakimasu2.


Check out these other Nikkei Chronicles series:

#1: ITADAKIMASU! A Taste of Nikkei Culture 
#2: Nikkei+ ~ Stories of Mixed Language, Traditions, Generations & Race ~ 
#3: Nikkei Names: Taro, John, Juan, João? 
#4: Nikkei Family: Memories, Traditions, and Values 
#5: Nikkei-go: The Language of Family, Community, and Culture