by Liz Crain, June 27, 2017 3:13 PM
Photo credit: Malte Jager
Recently I spent a good amount of time watching the great PBS food series The Mind of a Chef
. The show typically sticks with one chef for several episodes — shadowing them at their restaurant(s) and with their staff, and also traveling with them into the wider world of their inspiring culinary adventures.
I’d watched most of the episodes already, and I rewatched the Gabrielle Hamilton ones (she’s an inspiring chef and author of one of my favorite food memoirs, Blood, Bones and Butter
). I’d never watched the eight Ed Lee
episodes in season three, though, and after watching episode one I was hooked. Lee is the Korean-American chef-owner of 610 Magnolia
in Louisville, born and raised in Brooklyn.
In one of the latter episodes of season three, Lee talks about how much he admires the late Jim Harrison
and his gutsy, freewheeling, inspired ways. He adds that we’ve shifted our modern-day focus to favoring the experts and scholars in their fields so much so that we no longer tend to celebrate the lifelong adventurers, the Jim Harrisons of the world — who have a primary pursuit for which they are most known but who also keep their work and adventures wide and varied. He points to all of the growth, learning, and fun that come from this more gutsy way of living — of trying new things, regularly getting out of your comfort zone, and always being as hungry as Jim Harrison
most certainly was.
Tokyo-based Teruo Kurosaki
embodies all of this and then some for me. Kurosaki is the mastermind publisher behind True Portland: The Unofficial Guide for Creative People
, yet he has so many other pursuits beyond publishing. In the 1980s, he opened Idée
, which quickly became Japan’s leading contemporary furniture design business. Many more Idée shops followed in Tokyo and throughout Japan before he sold the company. In 1999, he founded the Tokyo Designers Block — a world-renowned international design event. Since then, he has founded Tokyo’s United Nations University Farmers Market
and hosted many food and drink festivals there, published numerous books and publications through his Media Surf
, founded Freedom University
— a forward-thinking continuing education school, and opened three Midori co-working spaces
throughout Tokyo. The list goes on and on.
I am about to write something that I have not told Kurosaki that will most likely make him feel a little funny when, or more likely if, he reads this. He reminds me so very much of my late Grandma Amy. I’ll get back to this. For now, here are photos of them both just so you can see that I’m not speaking about physical appearance. Although
, as you can see, they both are very fashionable and have beautiful, welcoming eyes and smiles.
Because of Kurosaki I got to visit Tokyo this past winter while finishing up the edits to the first English edition of True Portland: The Unofficial Guide for Creative People
that Hawthorne Books just released.
I’m the co-organizer of the annual Portland Fermentation Festival and Kurosaki was so inspired by stories of our fest from folks who attended the 2016 festival in October that he decided to start one in Tokyo three short months later.
Lucky for me, he invited me to come to Tokyo to be a part of his Fermentation Future Forum (F3) and speak at it. I was in many ways an ambassador of Portland and I used that exact verbiage, in fact, when I called our congressman Earl Blumenauer’s office in early January on the day that I was supposed to fly to Tokyo and realized en route to the airport that my passport was expired. Long story short, they helped me get an expedited passport in Seattle (I drove there and back that day), and my boyfriend Jimbo got me on the very same flight departing Portland the next day by referring to me as his boss when he spoke with Air Canada. Jimbo’s boss frequently flies internationally and she will certainly spread the good word about Air Canada if they graciously honor her original flight on the following day. They did. He is a very talented fellow and I love him very much.
Kurosaki took care of my Tokyo flight and my lodging from the get-go and made sure that all of my needs were met while I was there — professionally and socially. He was incredibly generous and supportive.
I stayed in a businessperson’s hotel near Suidobashi Station in Tokyo, where for the early a.m. complimentary (and crazy-delicious) hotel breakfasts just about everyone, myself excluded, wore a suit. I could almost touch the east and west walls of my hotel room when I stretched out my arms.
Some of my room’s most distinctive features were a wall-mounted trouser press, a tiny efficient washing machine, and a fancy Japanese toilet that I will miss until I return. If you have not experienced the joy of a Japanese bidet toilet I hope that you get to soon. There are a handful of them throughout town in Portland brick and mortars, but I’m not going to tell you where.
The first night upon my arrival in Tokyo, exhausted from travel and pretty well under the weather with a cold, I got some really spicy curry at this tiny izakaya next to the hotel shortly before they closed.
Dr. Curry is about the size of my 150-square-foot writing studio. There was some miscommunication when I ordered. I usually want to try as much of the menu as possible when dining in a new yummy spot and this desire was very much lost in translation at Dr. Curry. I ended up getting not one but two full plates of curry, along with a large plate of sushi, and a really strange wine. I still don’t know what that cloudy, slightly off drink was that I drank. I chased it with a small glass of whiskey and called it a night.
My week in Tokyo was one of my all-time favorite trips, and if you care to read more about my reason for going — F3 — you can here. I posted loads of photos there as well. Over 10,000 people came out for the Fermentation Future Forum and it was a joyous, crazy-inspiring all-weekend event.
Yusuke Sezaki, fourth generation owner of Kaneshichi katsuobushi company in Makurazaki, and me at F3.
Me holding and practicing my F3 speech (in close proximity to my hotel room’s AMAZING Japanese toilet ;).
Other highlights from my trip and time with Kurosaki include going to two very beautiful, seasonal, special tea ceremonies with him where I tasted all sorts of incredible matcha, bancha, and kurocha (all different types of teas), and candied kumquat, wagashi (traditional Japanese confections often served with tea), tiny rolled buckwheat crepes filled with buckwheat paste, brown rice sake, and more. I’d never been to a tea ceremony before and I’ll never forget them.
Left: Our kaiseki tea ceremony at Higashiya Ginza. Right: Kurosaki-san being served one of the many incredible teas at our tea ceremony at Sakurai Japanese Tea Experience in Shibuya.
Late one night, Kurosaki also took me and a couple of his employees to one of his favorite high-rise whiskey record bars. We entered the tiny low-lit bar via the elevator. The bartender shifted between making cocktails and spinning records, as we sipped on Kentucky bourbons and talked about Kurosaki’s long-haired high school days playing bass in a psychedelic band. During my week in Tokyo, I got to witness Kurosaki’s numerous cell phones — he’s a very busy fellow and always has multiple international projects in the works — and his ability to power nap while sitting perfectly upright in the middle of a party (his party ;). On all of our outings, for which Kurosaki always had a book in his deep jacket pocket, I witnessed firsthand why he so highly respects enthusiasm. In other words, I wonder when he sleeps.
A very strong, complex relationship has grown substantially in recent years between Portland and Japan. To sum it up most simply, Japanese folks see Portland as a land of enchantment that is at once familiar and quite foreign. Portland shares similar latitude as well as comparable landscapes with Japan. Portland also has overlap with Japan, particularly Tokyo, in terms of its forward-thinking city planning, love of niche businesses, and deep and abiding art appreciation. Portland has all of this and more on a much smaller and relaxed scale. If you want to know more about the Portland-Japan connection, I highly encourage you to read one or both of these Willamette Week and Oregonian articles. They’re both very informative.
In Japan, the one-pathway (personally and professionally) is quite severe, and the norm. One is expected to choose a partner and a career quite early in life and not veer from that path. Perseverance and dedication is lauded. Many Japanese people see Portland, on the other hand, as a city in which just about anything is possible — where dreams can come true no matter what your age. They see Portland as a place where you can easily and quite acceptably reinvent yourself and not be so focused on the bottom line as Japanese culture insists. They are not wrong. Portland certainly embraces the be-as-you-as-you-can-be ethic more than any other city I’ve visited or lived in, that’s for sure.
Ok, so what exactly is the connection between Teruo Kurosaki, the original publisher of the Japanese version of True Portland, and my Grandma Amy? My grandma was a University of Cincinnati (UC) classics professor in the 1940s and '50s. Because she was a woman — one of UC’s first female professors — she was not given her own office. Instead she had to share an office with the Dean’s secretary. Later in life, my Grandma Amy became a travel agent and I was lucky enough to get to travel with her all over the world as her “assistant” (aka knocking on folks’ hotel room doors when they were not in the lobby on time, handing out printed itineraries before each new city, handing out yummy treats at one spot or another). I don’t know if it was tricky for my parents (also travel lovers) to get me out of my public schools for those trips and others or not, but I doubt it.
Left: My Grandma Amy’s 1968 passport photos. Right: My Grandma Amy and I somewhere in Asia (I wish I remembered where) on one of her tours in 1988.
My grandma was a curator of culture wherever she went. She connected people and forged new relationships. She was less concerned with the bottom line in her life (although she certainly did well for herself with her riverside apartment, diesel Mercedes, regular wining and dining) and more concerned with all of the people to meet and get close to, all of the adventures to have. She had, like Julia Child, great confidence and joie de vivre. Kurosaki-san has both as well. So did the late Jim Harrison. And so do Ed Lee and I. Perhaps you do too?
True Portland is an important guidebook, in large part, because it is a Japanese take on Portland. We’ve translated this new edition but the point of view remains the same — a collective one from a group of bright, hip, and adventurous young Japanese folks. It’s a very different way of looking at our fair city, and I learned heaps while editing it. At a time when America is becoming more and more politically xenophobic — closing diplomatic doors and talking of building walls — we think that it is important to do the opposite. This is one of our attempts.
One thing that I learned while editing True Portland is how connected Tokyo-based architect Kengo Kuma is to Portland. He is known for many incredible designs/builds including the underway 2020 Tokyo Olympics Stadium, as well as the newly redesigned Portland Japanese Garden AND the downtown Portland restaurant Shizuku by Chef Naoko. I haven’t gotten to visit either of the latter since the Kuma redesigns and I’m really looking forward to it.
When I was in Tokyo, I went on a super fun and informative all-day Culinary Backstreets tour (highly recommended!) and in Kichijoji we got to try Hoppy (a beer-flavored, super-low-alcohol drink typically mixed with shochu), tripe stew and yakitori at a small izakaya that Kuma designed. This place is so fucking cool! The first photo is of the tiny ground-level, alleyway bar with its bar top made out of recycled plastic, and the other is of the bar’s second floor completely covered in Ethernet cables. Yet another Portland-Tokyo connection that makes my heart sing.
We read books for many reasons, but one very important one, of course, is to shift our POV, to see things differently. Cheers to that. There are plenty of unique city guidebooks in the world. I enjoyed using these ones the most on my Tokyo trip (some borrowed from the library, others bought): Food, Sake, Tokyo by Yukari Sakamoto; Rice, Noodle, Fish by Matt Goulding; Tokyo Precincts by Michelle Mackintosh and Steve Wide; and Tokyo on Foot by Florent Chavouet. I like all of these books a lot because they each have a strong voice and vision and a somewhat narrow focus, and each is wholly unique. Portland has a handful of such guidebooks as well, and now we get to add True Portland to the list.
I hope you and I learn and try some new things today whether at home or in another locale. More importantly, I hope that you feel good about trying them. And, if you are planning a trip to Portland, or even if you’ve lived here your entire life, I hope that you’ll consider grabbing a copy of True Portland to fuel your adventures. You’ll learn some new things — I certainly did while editing it — and you’ll come to appreciate Portland even more as a result. That’s a given. Tanoshinde!
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Liz Crain is the author of Food Lover’s Guide to Portland and Toro Bravo: Stories. Recipes. No Bull. A longtime writer on Pacific Northwest food and drink, her writing has appeared in Cooking Light, Budget Travel, VIA Magazine, the Sun Magazine, the Progressive, the Guardian, and the Oregonian. She is also an editor and publicity director at Hawthorne Books as well as co-organizer of the annual Portland Fermentation Festival.