17 March, 2009

Where in the World is Vegetable Japan?

You might have noticed the lack of food here recently. I've been promising Thai recipes that haven't materialized. There have been no curries, no sweets, no pancakes, no breads. You'll be happy to know that I have been eating, but it's been more about ease and convenience than creative imagination. Tonight I had bread and peanut butter for supper. It was okay, but still it wasn't what I have been used to and nothing about it sang its way down my throat.

Because the truth is, I haven't felt like cooking recently. I've been stressed out about what will be my 5th move, when I make it, in a year.

This was the year that I packed up my life and threw half of it away, gave away another third and set off for home to re-connect with the self that I had left in limbo when I went off for my second stint in Japan eight years ago. Last March I packed up some small boxes with my Japanese treasures and mailed them home, and except for two bags of clothes that I could carry on the plane, that was all I had of 7 years of accumulated goods and life. I didn't miss most things too much, though for awhile I mourned the little dark-polished plank floored kitchen with its rice cooker and sharp knives, store of Indian spices, and big steel wok that with its wooden handle and perfectly seasoned bowl was ideal for making curries and stir-frys. My suribachi and pestle for making fragrant mixtures. And the gorgeous blue-as-the- sky enamelled cast iron pots that you've seen pictured here sometimes, a wok and an oval cocotte that were far too heavy to mail and found a home with another English teacher in my town. I hope she has as many delicious days with them.

Mustache's litter-mates, a few months old, in the front garden.

And I certainly missed Mustache, my feral cat turned friend, who had at the last minute refused to imagine another life outside the garden where she was born. I couldn't blame her for that, though I still think of her and how she curled warmly on my lap making winters just a little more cosy. Now when I think of her I hope that she has found another friend and another lap to curl in. I so hope that she is safe and happy and well fed.

Mustache, Queen of the futon.

I travelled from the Japan I had come to know and love, my neighborhood almost as familiar as the one I had grown up in here. I knew which stars would rise above the rooftops on my way home from classes, when the moon would light up my garden so that I could see as well as smell the familiar Rosemary bush at my side door. I knew where to buy the freshest produce and which of the Sunday market sellers had the best bargains. I knew how to ride my bicycle around all the narrow corners of the little lanes and which ones I had better slow down at and be careful of cars or walkers or other bicyclists.

I knew where to ride to see all the best gardens on a Sunday stretch for fresh air. I knew the people at the post office and the people at the drugstore, the people at the local conbenie where I paid my electric bill, and the people at the small health food store where I shopped every week. The fruit store where the obaa-chan snuggled a few molasses candies into my hand with the change. The best place to buy fresh green tea. Where the tofu was fresh and creamy. There were always smiles and the comfort of seeing the same people, and the extra politeness and smiles they reserved for regular customers.

I travelled to Vancouver and stayed with my sister for a month in her big house on one of the main streets. Everything was strange and big and a bit intimidating, and suddenly everyone looked angry and stressed and miserable. Or maybe that was just me. I was having a painful adjustment I discovered, but still I had a great time visiting my favourite Emily Carrs at the Art Gallery and the incredible Totems and gargantuan art at The Museum of Anthropology. And I managed to find an ethnic market and buy Indian spices and begin to cook curries and salads even if I was the only one who enjoyed them.

Emily Carr, The Little Pine, at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

When I came here to Nova Scotia, I stayed with my Mom for about 10 days, and then I left to stay in a little country village in the beautiful old house where days were slow and a lot like the life I had been dreaming of those last years in Japan. I was able to stay there for about four wonderful months, time in which I realized that this was my dream, slow living in the country where life could be the only goal, life and growing things and learning to heal myself and the land and be as natural and as far from the consuming culture as it was possible to be. Other than food and one book and some rug hooking supplies I bought nothing much for those months and was quite happy.

But as hard as I had saved for the year before I left, there was a point where the money started to run out and I had to think about getting work. Unfortunately there wasn't much of that in the country, and so I had to move to the city where I have been staying with my daughter ever since, picking up as much substitute teaching as my head can stand.

But it doesn't pay that well, and the sporadic nature of the work means that I really can't support myself. For this house I am staying in is getting ready to be sold, and so I will be moving again.

My neighborhood here in autumn.

I have no idea where. The idea that I could come home to Nova Scotia and afford to live here is slowly fading. For the fact is, like many Nova Scotians, I can't find a job here. After one year at home I am going to have to leave again. This time I'm not sure that I will be able to come back. In a way, I go into exile.

Whether this will a happy experience or not, I don't know. I'm hoping I will find a country and job that will support learning, and where I can save enough money so that I can come back at least for short visits. I hope I will find a place of peace, where I can have a small garden, set up a kitchen and feel inspired to cook again, a place that will nourish creativity and soothe the soul.

I don't know where in the world that will be, but if you have any good suggestions I'm ready to listen. In fact I'm all ears. In the meantime, I will be sending out resumes and dusting off my suitcases once again. I will be renewing my passport and figuring out what I need to take to be comfortable in whatever country I end up in.

I won't be going for about a month or so, and I will be continuing this blog from wherever I end up. I have found in blogging not only friends that offer encouragement when times get tough, and I thank you because it seems there have been plenty of those this year, but a place I come to when I have something I need to say. That may not always make for the best writing, but it does make for a kind of home, which is a real comfort right now.

With any luck there will be more stories, more recipes, and more living in the future of Vegetable Japan, wherever in the world it, and I, can be found. I hope you'll stick around.


Catofstripes said...

Oh my, much sympathy and best wishes for your next move. Fingers crossed for you here.

Erin said...

I just want you to know that your blog is the reason I started blogging-because I was so amazed that someone cared enough to tell me their ideas about gluten free and vegan cooking, and it all looked so very good, and it was tastefully done too. I have missed your posts recently, and now I see why they haven't been there.

I have also spent way too much time moving in the past few years, and now, after 6 months in Basel, Switzerland, the longest I have lived anywhere in almost 3 years, it's a constant struggle not to turn and run somewhere new. Here you are in the opposite predicament, and yet I feel like I understand exactly the feeling you must be having. That anxious, stomach-turning feeling of impermanence.

All I can say is, no matter how doubtful it can seem from the inside, from the outside it's obvious you will find what you're looking for. Out of pure determination, if nothing else. I hope you know that there are lots of us rooting for you-I wish you the best of luck in your move, and I hope you find the perfect cottage and garden, wherever they may be, to bring you a perfect new beginning.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora VJ,
You share such honest and heart felt reflections and realities. So many over in my home continent are being displaced, the Great American Dream has become a nightmare for so many I know and love.
The recognition of simplicity is a Quality you already possess, a much harder journey lies ahead for a much more prevelant consumerist society. I sometimes wonder what, if any, benefits will truly result from all this turmoil, or if we will simply slip back into the ways that got us here in the first place.
I have an amazing Kiwi friend, now living in Korea for almost 10 years, it has become his home. As much as I miss him it is a place that suits his soul far better than here. Just as mine seems to, at times, finds peace here where I did not back there. I think maybe you have such a place as well, a place that makes you truly happy and connected.
I will always tune in here VJ, your place is very important to me, at first for the lovely food and ideas to live healthier and better, but now for the friendship and connection I gather here. Kia ora.
New Zealand needs quality teachers VJ. It may be worth checking into, and if not the place you need to be, maybe closer in helping you get there. My thoughts are with you. Kia kaha.

Julia said...

This was so beautifully written. I totaly feel with you! My experience of the last 12month is a bit similar. I came back to Berlin after one year in Japan and it seems rougher than ever here. I haven't found a job since that supports me, just doing this and that, but nothing that fills me out (nor my bank account).. I would like to stay here, since I have some wonderful people here, I like to be with, and I found a cozy home (also after moving from my mom's to a friend's place and finally here), but without a job this won't be possible for long. And there is so much more to see and learn and live out there...
I am also torn between city and countryside living - I love both and when I'm here, I want to be there and the other way around :)
I hope you can find a wonderful place to live and work and stay and cook! And I hope to read more of you here on your blog :)

vegetablej said...

Oh dear friends, thank you so much! I'll write more later, but tonight I just want to say a heart-felt thanks!

Ensrude Mihoko said...

I like your recipes!
nice blog:)

Ruahines said...

Kia ora VJ,
A bit of wonderful news for you. The wind turbine project I was objecting to has been defeated - much to my amazement! It was a long battle and one I was giving up on to be honest, but a strong focus on the objections and over seas interest, ie the petition and other activity, helped to prove the vital natural heritage of these mountains. We cna really change the world my lovely friend!

vegetablej said...

Oh Robb:

What good news! I'm so very happy that all your hard work and care was recognized in this most wonderful result. All of New Zealand should be grateful that the Ruahines will continue to be the natural treasure that they are.

I can forsee many good walks ahead for you and your sons and grandchildren. :)

Do you have a celebration trek planned?


Ruahines said...

Kia ora VJ,
In my excitement I forgot to acknowledge your own contribution to this effort VJ! Kia ora for caring, and posting that concern. It all matters, I have learned, and I am heart felt and sincere in writing you are awesome!
Yes VJ I am leaving Monday morning for 4 days in the Ruahines. Stay Tuned - I have already thought of the name of my post about the forth coming trip. Celebration!

vegetablej said...

Cat of stripes:

Thanks so much. I need all the luck I can get.


vegetablej said...


Thanks so much for telling me about this. I feel happy if I helped inspire you in any way, and your food blog is just great, good-looking recipes "with just a smidge of Erinization". I'm always excited when I discover vegan/vegetarian and gluten-free blogs and recipes. You go, girl!

I wish I were as sure as you that I will land in a good place. Right now it's all up in the air and I seem to be freaking out a bit. But I'll have to trust you, and I guess just get on with it and if fate is kind I will find a wonderful place to be living and cooking more again.

Good luck to you, intrepid traveller that you seem to be. I have one question, though. Doesn't yoga settle the mind and calm you down when you feel the urge to "run somewhere else"? Or maybe that's just a stereotype.

In any case, thanks for your thoughts and good wishes. They are so appreciated right about now!


vegetablej said...


This is in response to your earlier comment of support. I just want to say that I have really enjoyed your visits and comments here, and yes, your friendship. Thanks so much for coming here and always leaving up-beat comments just when I need them most.

It's been wonderful to see your own blog grow, as you talk about what you believe in straight from the heart. We need more people who will do this so that they can be better role models for the next generation than the corporate executives who have been lionized as heroes in North American culture and who seem to have led us down a road with no pot of gold at the end, either for the individual or the earth.

Thanks again for your support. I appreciate it so much. And I hope you will have the best celebration trek ever. I'll be over to read all about it.


vegetablej said...


So nice to hear from you! So you're back in Germany. I sure hope that somethiing will turn up for you, job-wise, so that you can stay longer if you like.

You're right that travelling for work can be fun and a great way to learn, but it's better if it's a choice rather than a necessity. I sure wish our governments would get a clue and bring in a guaranteed income for all citizens. I'm absolutely sure they could afford this if they stopped bailing out greedy corporations and banks and made a few other wise decisions.

I'm not holding my breath, though. I think that idea is a century or so away, maybe.

Thanks for visiting and supporting me now. I really appreciate it, and I'm sending good energy your way for a happy future/good job/great life!


vegetablej said...


Thanks! I just went over to your blog, Vegetable Gohan. It's great to see Japanese recipes in Englsh. Keep up the great work.


Beth Grim said...

Reading your post got me feeling homesick for Japan; and I've never been there! I appreciate your sharing about your experiences there, and, of course, the wonderful food.
I'm so glad you had that time in the country in Nova Scotia; it sounds as if it was grounding and sweet.
Transitions can be hard, and stressful, even when they're asked for, and especially when they're not.
I wish you the best of luck and hope that you find security and inspiration in your next home (not to mention prosperity!)
Thanks for keeping VJ going; it's a great blog. I look forward to the cooking muse striking you soon!

russ said...

Thanks for sharing such strong memories and emotions with us here in your virtual home. I'd like to add that I also discovered the world of blogs through this very blog, and reading your posts has constantly inspired me to keep writing, keep cooking, and keep dreaming of Japan. I wonder how many others out there have been touched by VJ's writing.

Good luck in the search for the place of your dreams! It sounds like a cottage in the cotswolds to me!

Cha-chan said...

Warm thoughts and good wishes for you! I can't imagine having to move yet again, and though I was able to keep at least HALF my stuff from my last move, I do often find myself wondering where something went, only to remember that it did not make the cut (my lopsided obi yesterday was proof that I got rid of a full-length mirror in the last move).

I know of many lovely places to live, but not of any that are particularly easy to get permission to live in long-term! Maybe somewhere south, like Costa Rica?! And after watching Michael Moore's "Sicko," I am intrigued by France and all their healthcare benefits! My ultimate dream place to settle down and live: Okinawa.....

Wherever you end up, I hope it feels like home!

vegetablej said...


I just tried to post a comment on your beautiful blog (which I've added to my list) but it didn't seem to go through, so I'll repeat the gist of it here.

I love the idea for un-stirred oven polenta with the fresh spring greens. I love polenta but hate the hour of stirring it usually takes. I'm going to try this soon, maybe even today.

Your recycled dress is beautiful, too. I'm so glad that there are people like you full of spring energy to inpire me now just when I need I most.

Thanks for your great comment and future wishes, which I hope will come true. :) I so appreciate them!


vegetablej said...


Thank you! I've often been inspired over at carrots! by your gorgeous pictures and recipes. Eveything always looks mouth watering so it's dangerous to visit unless I've just eaten.

The Cotswolds look really fabulous, and maybe someday when I'm rich and famous (Ha!) I can buy a cottage there and live like the lady poets. Well, they say a dream is almost as good as the real thing. Nah, I guess not, but it was fun to follow your link to such beautiful country. You know, they need English teachers in Japan, so if you ever feel like going for a year or so, you could make YOUR dream real.

Thanks for leaving your nice comment and fun link!


vegetablej said...


Doumo, tomo-chan!

Your comment was so timely because I just packed up most of my stuff, including the Japan treasures, and put it in storage yesterday. But this time it feels good because it's one thing off the list, and my mind.

I'm so glad that things have worked out for you in moving home, and that you won't have to move again soon, unless you want to.

I wonder why okinawa is your dream place to live? I never made it down there, but heard the folks were really friendly. Can you elaborate on why you like it so much?

A lop-sided obi and no full-length mirror? Oh the insult to sartorial elegance. Chin up, my dear!


bee said...

i wish you peace and joy and freedom from stress. you will be in my thoughts. keep us posted. simple things are so hard to attain. there's something fundamentally wrong with our world today.

they just laid off 100 odd teachers in our town 'cos the government has no money (idaho), when there's a severe shortage of teachers.

ted said...

Wow, this post really tapped into my own complex and confusing feelings about leaving Japan. I'll go in August, after 15 years here. And those things you mentioned, plus a myriad of others, are starting to tingle and prick my heart. I've noticed that each day grows richer with those details whose combined sum is 'Japan.'

Awareness is truly the god os small things. (Wink to January post.)

Best of luck to you...

vegetablej said...


Thanks so much for your kind wishes. There have been no jobs for teachers here, except a few specialists, for as long as since I have graduated, though we were promised there would be lots. Government cut-backs are so short-sighted when they affect education, because they will be paid for later in social problems.

I do agree about simple things, and feel sympathy for the many people struggling through these tough economic times, both here and in America. I so wish for better days for us all.

vegetablej said...


Great to connect with you since you really know the feeling I was trying to describe. I hope you enjoy the last days there, but I guess I don't really need to say that having read about some of the great walks and explorations on your blog. Japan definitely gets inside you and part of it will be there always, whether you leave or not.

I love that you have a bit of a critical eye, though. That will defintely come in handy when you return to the West (I'm assuming).

Awareness is the god or maybe devil of small things. I haven't decided. :)