A Birthday Celebration at Yasai Ya Mei

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I had a birthday a couple of weeks ago and as usual,  I wasn’t going to celebrate it.  However, the students surprised me with a wonderful cake after class and later that evening, a festive dinner at a restaurant.  I was truly moved and surprised by the festivities—a cake made by one of Ahn Eunsun’s friends  (matcha, orange cream and chocolate) and then dinner at a nearby vegetarian restaurant–Yasai Ya Mei (vegetable house) at Gotanda Station.  I felt guilty because it was a tough weekend—back-bends—and I had just been hard on the students regarding their lackluster homework assignments.  I couldn’t believe that any of them would even want to talk to me after that lecture, yet alone celebrate my birthday!  However,  I did remember hearing Ahn announce to the students after the check in circle  a week ago, that they were all going to go out. I thought “that’s nice they’re going to be supportive of each other and do something socialable together.”

After we finished the cake,  I noticed people getting dressed up and as I was about to walk home, someone said, “Do you know where the place is?” I said,  ‘What?”  “You mean no one told you?”  Surprise!— and off we went about 26 of us!  Former 200hr graduates, Yumika Matsuo and Rysosuke Ishida also showed up (he generously assisted us one weekend).

We started off with drinks made of fresh ginger root and appetizers of raw root vegetables that were dipped in a heated mushroom sauce,  “Bagna Càuda” (vegetable dip).  On each table were “Shabushabu” (hot pots).  Large, colorful baskets–more like bushels–of assorted fresh vegetables were brought to the tables.  Shabushabu is a traditional dish in Japan that is usually meat based, but this was vegetable based.  We were instructed on how to make our own soup—first there were slivers of paper thin beef in the broth for seasoning (I’m not a rigid vegetarian), along with burdock root, mushrooms and leeks—we were then instructed to put greens and other vegetables from the basket in every five minutes.  As things stewed, we all took out what we wanted with “haishi” (chopsticks).  This went on throughout the evening until the baskets were empty and all of the vegetables created a flavorful broth which was then poured over bowls of rice called “zousui” (rice porridge) which is then sprinkled with seaweed.   Delicious!  What I liked most about the meal was the ritualistic process surrounding the preparation, communal aspect of sharing and resourceful use of ingredients—everything in the pot was utilized and consumed down to the last drop. “You have to give a speech” they said, “its the custom.”  I apologized for being so tough on them and they all laughed. Ryosuke got up and gave a toast, he’s a natural politician—the ladies love him!

This wasn’t just a party for me, it was for everyone.  Furthermore, I sincerely appreciated the students generosity.  That’s why I decided to post the photos because they want to see them. The Japanese like to celebrate—its very common to see groups of people out like this— very hard working as a culture, they go out together to de-tress and bond.  I noticed in class the next weekend that the small groups of students who usually sat together for lunch had grown into a larger circle.