I first tasted ozōni, a comforting mélange of vegetables and broth topped with toasted rice cakes, in Hakodate, a charming port city on Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaidō famous for its squid and Western-style architecture. It was New Year’s morning, and I had arrived in Japan just a few days earlier. The previous evening had been a blur of rapid-fire Japanese, new and exciting foods (candy-sweet black beans! Bright yellow chestnuts and sweet potatoes! Raw quail eggs with soba noodles!) and unfamiliar etiquette. Of course, my confusion was compounded by jetlag and culture shock, not to mention a few sips too many of sake and umeshu. The next morning, after my attempts to watch the sun rise over Goryōkaku park were stymied by a blizzard, I felt a powerful craving for a hot, warm breakfast.

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One Year Later

Today marks one year after last year’s disaster in Japan. At that time, I was living in Saitama prefecture, just north of Tōkyō. Although the earthquake was powerful there as well, some 230 miles from the epicenter, our lives were in no way immediately endangered by the resulting tsunami and nuclear crisis. The memories of that day are still vivid and painful, and writing about them has been difficult. In retrospect, however, my experience seems trivial in comparison to that of the thousands who lost their families, homes, and livelihoods.

Today, please take a moment to think of the people of Tōhoku and consider supporting one of the following relief efforts:

Thank you all for your support. It means the world to me and my friends in Japan.

– Emma


Growing up, there was nothing I loved more for breakfast than a bowl of sugary, crunchy cereal drenched in cold milk. It wasn’t only the sweet taste and colorful cartoon characters that entranced me; I also loved the ritual involved: unhinging the cardboard flap, rustling the plastic bag, hearing the tinkle tinkle of wheat flakes and puffed rice tumbling into the bowl, poring over the product-specific recipes printed on the side of the box. Ultimately, it was the process I loved, not the product.

As you might expect, my taste for cereal has since diminished, but there’s still part of me that craves breakfast food served in a bowl. In Japan, the answer to such a craving would almost certainly be ochazuke, an incredibly simple dish of hot tea over rice with a sprinkling of savory garnishes.

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