The World of Shig Sato: Food in Japan

A reader discovering the world of Shig Sato will soon learn that food becomes in interesting side character – Miki’s breakfast of miso soup and rice, Abe’s early life growing up in a ramen shop, Ses Fujimori’s love of okonomiyaki, Shig’s lunchtime katsudon, even Mos Hishida’s nickname, a result of his steady diet of Japanese-style hamburgers. Any reader not familiar with Japanese cuisine might wonder at it all. In truth, the food of Japan is as simple as it is varied.

The simple: fish and rice. But is that really all there is? It doesn’t begin to encompass the world of sushi, much less the whole of Japanese cuisine. The popular Japan Talk website lists 100 types of sushi. Notice that fish, vegetables, eggs, meat – it’s all included. Sushi, sashimi, makiit can take minutes to prepare, a lifetime to master.sushi

The importance of rice in Japanese culture cannot be overstated. The language uses the word gohan for “meal” as well as “cooked rice.” Gohan is a part of each word signifying breakfast, lunch and supper. In feudal times, wealth was measured how much rice one possessed and peasants were keenly appreciative of a payment in rice for their labor – coins were no good to them when they had to eat. Japan’s propensity for natural disasters, and it’s involvement in war, often led to a scarcity of food. Rice stockpiles were worth fighting for.

As an nation comprised of many islands large and small, a reader would be right in thinking that all types of seafood is a part of the Japanese cuisine, from the common tuna to the exotic –  pufferfish, anyone?

What many Western readers of the Shig Sato series may not realize is that farming – livestock, grain, vegetable, fruit, any combination and variety – can be found in most of the nation’s 47 prefectures. Almost any grocery store or market will have fresh local produce, seasonal fruit, cuts of meat and poultry, and packaged foods like curry mixes and spices. (When my in-laws came to visit from Canada, flour and vanilla were found and donuts were produced in an afternoon!)

One may not think of baked goods when thinking of Japanese cuisine, yet the tasty sweets and snacks appeal to young and old. And it doesn’t take much to find pan – bread – and some have even embraced the staple, when it’s made with rice flour.bakedgoodies

The varied: Being an international city, Tokyo is home to an array of dining experiences any world traveler would appreciate. Michelin stars are not unknown in the city. Gourmets and foodies alike can find were the finest food is served, and also the stores that sell the products for those daring and talented enough to create at home.

Regional specialties abound. I’ll conclude with this list of a prefecture’s favorite dish. See if you don’t recognize some, and have probably eaten some others (and some not!).

Hokkaido – Grilled mutten

Aomori – Sea urchin and abalone

Miyagi – Oysters

Yamagata – Potato stewsweetpotatoes

Fukushima – Pickled herring

Ishikawa – Turnip sushi

Gifu – Potatoes with sweet chestnuts

Nagano – Buckwheat dumplings

Aichi – Deep fried chicken wings

Tochigi – Giyouza (potsticker) dumplings

Chiba – Steamed peanuts

Kanagawa – Curry

Mie – Lobster

Shiga – Duck hot pot

Osaka – Okonomiyaki

Hyogo – Kobe’s famous beer-fed beefkobebeef

Tottori – Snow crab

Tokushima – Buckwheat porridge

Nagasaki – Sasebo burger (thanks to the navy base there)

Kukamoto – Sliced horsemeat

Miyazaki – Kyushu-style fried chicken

Okinawa – Fried pork belly

To get a copy of  The Gangster’s Son click here . To get a copy of  Shig Sato Book 2 The Thief’s Mistake click here — and don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter and enter the World of Shig Sato. 

The World of Shig Sato

Do you remember where you were in 1991? Some of you do, of course, and some of you don’t. And one of the great thrills of reading is being taken to a time and place you may never have been: Paris, 1870; Dublin, 1904; Rome, 30 A.D.; A galaxy far far away — stories take us to memorable places with people and creatures that entertain us for hours.

In the Shig Sato Mystery series, the reader enters the world of Tokyo, 1991. A world capital, a center for government, entertainment, industry, diplomacy, a cavalcade of characters from the world over stepped onto the shores of the Land of the Rising Sun. It was a time of Japan Inc., riding an economic boom, the nation making its mark as an industrial leader. A city and a nation with a new emperor, a new vision for the future.

japan_imperial_palace_217304The world of Shig Sato was unique: a long-serving, highly respected police inspector, Sato returned to Azabu Police Station after two years of diplomatic security detail and security assignments for the Imperial Household Agency. Sato’s world was heart of Tokyo – the Imperial Palace, Roppongi, the embassy districts, and Sato knows every inch of it.

Roppongi: served by Sato’s beloved Azabu Police Station, isn’t so different now than it was in 1991. And Sato knew that among many of the foreigners out for a good time in that nightclub district were American servicemen, including some stationed with the U.S. Navy and Marine forces in Yokosuka, 37 miles down the coast. In the Shig Sato mystery The Gangster’s Son, Kimi Yamada’s beloved Cpl. Charlie Parker Jones is a Marine stationed on a American ship at the Navy base.

Sato’s return to Azabu Police station, the murder of Kimi Yamada, and his journey to finding the truth about her killer and himself make The Gangster’s Son “A highly readable murder novel with authentic Japanese flavor and a fresh, intelligent plot,” “Unique,” “Gritty. ”

Next time: Tokyo Inc.

To get a copy of my ebook mystery The Gangster’s Son click here and The Thief’s Mistake click here.  And you’re invited to keep up with the latest Shig news by signing up for my monthly newsletter.  See you soon!

Sato and Abe are called to a murder scene

(An excerpt from The Gangster’s Son, a Shig Sato Mystery)GangSon1400

The police inspector knelt over the dead woman. He gently tilted her young, battered face. Her hair, dusty with debris, fell at odd angles. Sticky crimson blood oozed out her nose, ears, and mouth. One eye stared into the night, and what remained of the other was a swollen bloody mass. He pressed his finger against a plum-colored cheek split open. Some bone was still intact.

As he got up, he noted how her legs were oddly twisted beneath her. The sleeveless silk blouse and short black skirt she wore did not look disturbed. Nothing lay beside her. In the harsh crime scene lights, he thought the girl looked like a broken mannequin, carelessly discarded and alone.

It was a still, humid Tokyo evening, past midnight. Detective Ken Abe watched Inspector Shig Sato. Five minutes had passed since Sato said he wanted to take another look at the body. Abe wondered if his friend had lost his ability to concentrate, with his wife so ill, and this being his first night back in Criminal Investigations after two years of diplomatic security duty.

“Inspector?” Abe believed he hid the concern in his voice.

Sato raised his hand to shade his eyes from the blinding lights.

“Yes?”

Abe pulled a cigarette from his lips.

“So?”

Sato took another long look at the young woman, walked over to Abe, and said, “She was probably surprised, then beaten and left for dead. Probably dropped to the ground where she stood.”

Abe was relieved to see Sato focusing on the crime, putting what he saw into some sense of order.

“You said she’s a waitress at the jazz club?” Sato asked.

“Yep. Right in there,” Abe said, pointing at a neglected brown door. “A jazz club. Called the Down Low.”

There were many scattered anonymous doors along the alley. Some led to long, narrow, dim bars selling grilled chicken and beef on sticks to whet the appetite of the tired businessmen drinking beer after lonely beer. The meat’s lingering aroma, the grease, the alcohol, the sweat of the cooks, all clung to the thick night air. Behind other doors, sushi denizens had watched countermen slice their tuna and eel and octopus, caress their roe and rice, priests preparing their offerings. In tiny cabarets with low and plaintive jukeboxes, hostesses rested their aching feet while night managers quickly counted the evening take after rousting patrons from their drunken stupors.

The inspector saw these doors, once open in the vain hope of catching a midnight breeze, now closed tight against the bad luck that came with a dead body.

“It is too quiet here,” Sato said to himself. He did not like the quiet, not in that part of Tokyo, on the fringe of nightclubs and cabarets and bars and restaurants, that place where two alleys met, where a girl lay dead.

Sato took another look at the dead girl, then turn toward the medical examiner.

“It looks like somebody struck her across the face so hard it snapped her head back against that concrete wall,” the doctor said. A slight, bald, fidgety man, the doctor was truly at ease only when performing an autopsy. He hated making definite statements at crime scenes, but knew Sato needed to hear something. “Blunt force. Caused some type of bleeding in the skull, I’d say. And then maybe something snapped. She slumped to the ground, and that was it.”

Sato looked back at the body, then at the doctor, and paused before asking, “No one moved her, touched her in any way?”

“No!” If it had been anyone other than Sato, the doctor would have been insulted.

“Any signs of resisting? Bruising? Rape?”

“I don’t know.” The doctor hesitated, scratching his ear. “Her underclothes don’t look like they’ve been disturbed, and there’s nothing strange about her thighs or buttocks. I mean, there’s no strange marks or bruises. Like I said, it looks like she just dropped. Some kind of smack in the face, her head hits the wall. Probably burst something in her brain. Anyway, it probably shut down her central nervous system. That’s probably what killed her. We’ll know more later.”

Abe watched as Sato talked to the medical examiner. He watched Sato’s face harden as the doctor gave his assessment.

“She was pretty,” Abe said.

Sato turned to look at the girl once more.

“What was she doing in a dark alley so late at night?” he asked. “What could have happened that would lead to this?”

“This is Roppongi,” Abe said. “She probably liked the excitement. Nightclubs. Music. Lots of strange new people.”

“People.” Sato grunted.

“This club has a lot of foreigners come listen to jazz.”

Sato frowned. “Foreigners.”

“Young girl looking to meet foreigners, maybe have an adventure.”

“Adventure.” Sato shook his head.

“Hey, Tokyo’s booming,” Abe said. “It’s 1991. Things are good. Lots of people come here from all over the world, looking to make money, have a good time.”

“Maybe she had a boyfriend,” Sato said. “Maybe a jealous boyfriend.”

“Maybe a secret admirer,” Abe said.

“Yes, maybe.”

(Read more here.)

Joseph Mark Brewer is author of the Shig Sato Mystery series. You’re invited to visit his web site,  www.josephmarkbrewer.com. You can get your copy of The Gangster’s Son by visiting Amazon at

US  http://tinyurl.com/ov6286h

 
 
 
 

The World of Shig Sato: Women and Medicine in Japan

In the world of Shig Sato in 1991, our hero is dealing with the loss of his beloved police career due to forced retirement at age 60, But more importantly, he is mourning the death of his beloved wife, Miki, a physician who specialized in gerontology. Shig and Miki’s love was built on mutual respect, admiration, and dedication to serving others. Miki’s desire to become a doctor was born in the war years of the 1940s when as a young teen she helped out her uncle, a doctor, and aunt, a nurse, caring for wounded in the aftermath of the air raids in Nagoya and surrounding areas in her home prefecture of Aichi.Ginko Ogino

But was it a realistic goal for a young woman in the 1940s? Perhaps. The story of women in medicine Japan dates back as far as the ancient healers and midwives. Changes to modern Japan came after it opened itself to the West in the 1850s – the modern world came to Japan’s shores. This led to opportunities for determined women.  Ginko Ogino (pictured) was the first licensed and practicing woman physician in Japan in the 1880s, practicing obstetrics and gynecology. Kei Okama was the first Japanese woman to earn a degree in Western medicine, having studied at the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania while she and her husband were in the United States. She graduated in 1889 and upon her return to Japan she worked at the Jikei University School of Medicine hospital and opened her own clinic. Like Ogino, Okama was married to a Japanese Christian.

Educational opportunities for women expanded in postwar Japan, but old traditions die hard. A young woman with intelligence, determination and drive faced a daunting academic and practical education in order to be a practicing physician. Prevailing misogynistic attitudes were always a challenge to overcome. And family pressures to marry and have children prevailed. Perhaps Miki Sato was born at the right time – when she began her medical studies in the early 1950s, fewer barriers existed than during the time of Ogino and Okama. Perhaps she met the right man: Shig Sato came from a family of strong women he respected and admired. Still, the economic boom that helped lead Japan to the join Western democracies was still decades away. Miki, and her country, were finding their way in the modern world.

To get a copy of  The Gangster’s Son click here . To get a copy of  Shig Sato Book 2 The Thief’s Mistake visit my Smashwords page or Kindle page or visit my website www.josephmarkbrewer.com — and don’t forget to sign up for my monthly newsletter.  See you soon!

The World of Shig Sato: Ses Fujimori and the yakuza

Yakuza.

In some countries it’s called tong, triad, mafia, la cosa nostra — in Japan it’s yakuza. Organized crime. As an institution, it is a part of the fabric of Japanese life. For an individual, yakuza means many things: outcast, criminal, brother, compatriot.

But what is yakuza? Our hero Shig Sato’s closest childhood friend is Ses Fujimori, boss of a powerful yakuza clan, a position not just inherited from his father, Key Fujimori, but earned by Ses’s ruthlessness and business acumen. The Japanese police, and media by request of the police, call yakuza “bōryokudan” – violence groups – degenerate, violent gangsters with no sense of tradition or honor. Yakuza consider this an insult. They refer to themselves as “ninkyō dantai” – chivalrous organizations. Members often have elaborate tattoos, sometimes covering most of their body.yak

These organizations – often called clans, or families – in the Tokyo of 1991 view themselves much as Ses Fujimori does in the fictitious Shig Sato mysteries: legitimate businesses and charitable organizations, motivated by nothing but concern for the public good. The yakuza response to the 2011 tsunami and the 1995 Kobe earthquake are well documented. But so are the criminal aspects: Extortion, loan-sharking, day-labor contracting, drug-trafficking and blackmail all fall under the various clans’ control. It is gambling that is at the root of yakuza – the name comes from the worst hand possible in a card game (a reflection of the low opinion society views the men and the organizations).

Some say yakuza dates back to the 17th century and ronin – masterless samurai. Authorities knew roving bands of the “kabuki-mono” – crazy ones – were troublesome and were intensely loyal to one another. Some say the men viewed themselves as honorable, Robin Hood-like characters who protected towns and citizens. These gangs of men, among them some gamblers and some peddlers, gradually organized into clans, or families, adopting roles of  leader/father and follower/child. Gambling, prostitution – legal and sometimes encouraged from time to time by the government of the day – were businesses the yakuza controlled. In the Shig Sato series, gambling is the activity that built the Fujimori empire, from its humble beginnings in Kawasaki in the late 1800s to its nearly untouchable status as a quasi-legitimate business empire 100 years later.

Shig Sato’s  sense of giri – obligation – is central to who he is. This includes honoring his relationship with yakuza kingpins Key and Ses Fujimori. And Sato must reckon with this situation as he begins his new life as a reluctant P.I.

Next time: Miki Sato and women in medicine in Japan

To get a copy of  The Gangster’s Son click here . To get a copy of  Shig Sato Book 2 The Thief’s Mistake visit my Smashwords page or Kindle page or visit my website www.josephmarkbrewer.com — and don’t forget to sign up for my monthly newsletter.  See you soon!

The World of Shig Sato: Japan Inc.

Tokyo, 1991.

Our hero Shig Sato suffers a double whammy that summer. When he closes the file on the murder of Kimi Yamada, he never returns to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department. He accepts his forced retirement, but that is an afterthought as he tends to his beloved wife Miki during her final days. Her death and his retirement wounds Sato in ways he has yet to work out as Book 2, The Thief’s Mistake, begins.

And for Japan: 1991 is the beginning of the end of the Bubble Economy. Before long, the country will change from high times to The Lost Decade.

What happened? It helps to know a little something about Japan Inc.

Japan Inc.

Tokyo-picsIt’s no secret that Japanese business and government work hand-in-hand to help bring prosperity to the island nation, especially back during the post-war recovery years. The Ministry of Finance, which sets monetary police and indirectly controls the Bank of Japan, and the (then) Ministry of Industrial Trade and Industry, are key partners. Chief among the business organizations is the Keidanren.

Monetary policy going back to 1985 set in motion land speculation, and the Nikkei stock market soared – from 13,000 in late 1985 to a historic high of 38,957 in late 1989. But within a year, the stock market lost 35% of its value, land prices stagnated, and a strong yen and tight money controls became the norm. Political scandals rocked the long-established political elite, and a new generation of business and social leaders demanded to be heard. In the years to come, what the world knows as Japan Inc. lost much of its luster.

As the Shig Sato series begins, forty-plus years after the end of WWII, Japan has a new emperor and the nation has a new vision of the future. But change is an awesome thing. For some, prosperity ended and their lives shifted to uncertainty. For Shig Sato, will his new life as a reluctant P.I. match the lost decade to come?

Next time: Ses Fujimoiri and the yakuza

To get a copy of  The Gangster’s Son click here . To get a copy of  Shig Sato Book 2 The Thief’s Mistake visit my Smashwords page or Kindle page or visit my website  www.josephmarkbrewer.com — and don’t forget to sign up for my monthly newsletter.  See you soon!

 

One reason why we create

Richard Johnson of the Washington Post answers the question “Why We Draw” in a poignant article that appeared Dec. 31.  Johnson drew pictures of his infant son in neonatal intensive care as a way of coping with the boy’s heart condition after his birth.

Johnson says, “I don’t really remember the person I was before he was born. I don’t think any of us really become the person we are until we face some adversity. In this case, having a sick child made me the person I am, and in a way, he even taught me to draw. I owe him a lot and I don’t think he even knows it.”

I know what he means. My son was born two months ahead of his due date when his mother developed eclampsia. Although she had been feeling unwell, one evening she said she was feeling better, and since she had an appointment at her clinic the following day, we began an evening typical for most expecting parents: laying in bed, watching television, and making plans for the birth. Despite language and cultural barriers, we decided to remain in that city for the birth. We had found excellent support and believed we could manage. We were confident the experience would be memorable.neonat

She began convulsing at about 10 in the evening, and by 1 a.m., was at her doctor’s clinic. The nurses sent me home, to return when the clinic re-opened. When I did, I learned she suffered more convulsions during the night, and was taken to a hospital I had never heard of. I rushed to find the hospital, then the maternity ward, then a doctor who spoke English, and learned that in order to save my wife’s life, the baby would be delivered by c-section. My son came out in good form. My wife survived. She spent a month in hospital, the baby two months in NICU. We left Canada about six weeks after his release.

I remember these events not only because they are burned into my mind even after 24 years, but because from the moment I returned from the clinic, I began keeping notes on what was happening. My journalism training kicked in. Aside from wanting to record all the details for family so far away, I was in a mental state where everything is reduced to its most elemental. For me, it was writing. Take notes. Get the facts. Write what  others were saying. Write what I was feeling. Make sense of a confusing time. I knew I had a story to tell, if only for me, and for her, and the baby.

Why do we draw? Why do we create art? Why do we tell stories? All artists have their reasons. For me, I think it’s important to remember that our creativity erupts when our world is turned upside down, and there’s nothing left for us to do but pick up a pencil and draw, or pick up a notebook and begin writing, in the hope that after a while, the world will make sense again. And maybe, we will have created something to remember, if only for ourselves.

Tell your own story

So today I’m perusing what’s in my Twitter feeds,  cruising along, looking at some of my favorite sites from Japan, like The Tokyo Reporter and The Japan Times (fond memories of working there. Great people) when I see a book review for Barry Lancet’s new novel, “Tokyo Kill.” Lancet wrote “Japantown” and earned much praise and an award or two, and has the type of mojo going any author would kill for.
Lancet writes about a reluctant private investigator and Japan and mines his extensive knowledge of Japanese art and martial arts to add depth and flavor to his enviable writing ability. A long-time editor and Tokyo resident, Lancet has everything going for him.
And I wanted to kill him.

Jealous much?

But then I started remembering what every writing coach, friend, counselor and guru has said countless times:

“Write the story you want to read.”

My reluctant P.I. stories, the Shig Sato Mysteries, began life as a spinoff from my American in Tokyo ex-pat novel. I lived in Japan off and on for five years (GI and civilian), met my ex-wife there, married there, my son was born there, and I worked there as a journalist and book editor. My small observations, coupled with my fascination for Japanese art and literature, which my no means made me an expert, propelled me into taking more than a casual interest in the arts and events and culture, modern and ancient.
The one thing I noticed living in that culture so unlike my own was the similarities – how people laughed at jokes, how grandparents doted on grandchildren, how teenagers clustered and giggled and strived to be different by being the same. Harajuku_girlsTired salarymen, weary housewives, industrious students striving to gain entry into elite universities — this could be anywhere.
My fear of writing about Japan and the Japanese fell by the wayside because I saw the similarities, not the differences, between my culture and theirs.
Sure, there are many people with more intimate knowledge of that language, life and culture. God bless them. I wish them all the success in the world. Me? I’m happy that a few people like my stories, and if I work hard and remain true to my vision and my story, maybe a small band of dedicated readers will like what I write and want more.
It’s all a writer can ask for, isn’t it?

 

You’re invited to visit my web site, my Kindle page or my Nook page.

Stumbling onto the Perfect Plan


Shig Sato Mystery “The Thief’s Mistake”roppongi3

 

Chaper 1

 

The plan was too good to pass up, and Nara knew it.

It pleased him that the job was set for the morning after next. Nara hated waiting. Four years at Fuchu Prison frazzled what little patience he possessed. And he knew when he got out he would not be able to wait for fortune or luck to bring work to him. He needed something.

And he got something.

Nara first heard about the plan while in Fuchu. He had confided in a cellmate he respected, saying he needed money to return to Hokkaido, his home prefecture, and never set foot in Tokyo again. He needed a lot of money fast, so he needed an easy job that paid well, a job that would not land him back in prison.

The cellmate said nothing as he listened to Nara’s worries all those months. Then one day the cellmate said, “I know a man. Oshiro is his name. He always has little jobs that pay well. If you’re interested, I’ll see what’s out there.”

Nara said, “Good.”

The cellmate asked what Nara did on the outside. Nara said he was a mechanic. Which was true -‑ he even had mechanic’s overalls among his few possessions.

The cellmate said nothing more. But four days before Nara’s release, the cellmate said he had heard from Oshiro. There was a job. Did he want it?

Nara said “Yes.”

 

Nara’s first telephone call on his first day of freedom was to Oshiro.

The cellmate had told Nara: Identify yourself as “the mechanic,” and say “the car is ready to be picked up.” The cellmate had said Oshiro would give a time and location for a meeting.

When Nara phoned Oshiro and repeated what he was told, Oshiro said, “Yamanote line. Gotanda station. Main entrance. Noon tomorrow.” Nara was about to ask how would he recognize him, but decided this Oshiro fellow would find him. Nara decided not to worry.

At noon the next day, standing on the bus island across from the East Gate of Gotanda station, wearing his overalls, dirty sneakers and an old Yomiuri Giants ball cap, Nara watched the ebb and flow of people around him, and at exactly noon a man dressed in a fine suit, shined shoes and sporting a pencil-thin mustache approached Nara and asked, “Is the car ready?”

Nara said “Yes.”

“Follow me.”

Nara followed the man through the pedestrian walkway under the station, turned right, and saw a green taxi with red lettering. The door was open.

Oshiro said, “Get in.”

Nara did what he was told.

Then Nara saw there was no driver.

“What’s going on?” Nara asked unpleasantly.

“Don’t worry,” Oshiro said. “I own this taxi. The driver is having his lunch. I own a dozen taxis. See that van over there? The blue van? I own three of them.”

Nara nodded. He saw the van, saw the cartoon of a teddy bear in a diaper on the side.

“Okay.” But Nara was still wary.

“I need a man who can follow instructions exactly,” Oshiro said, not smiling, not frowning, not giving Nara any indication that he was happy, anxious, or miserable. The man seemed business-like. Nara relaxed a little.

“Go on,” he said.

And Oshiro said, in terms simple enough for a child to understand, exactly what needed to be done. Nara was shocked at its simplicity.

When Oshiro finished, he said, “You understand, when this is all finished and you get your money, you disappear. You don’t know me. I don’t ever see you again. That’s what the money is for. You disappear.”

“How much money?”

“Two million yen.”

Nara didn’t blink. “You won’t see me ever again when this is finished.”

“Good.”

~

Nara returned to his rented room, and for the first time in four years, was able to relax. He felt his mind relax, his muscles relax, his tendons, his neck, his shoulders, his arms, his fingers, his legs, his toes. He sat in his bed, drank from his small bottle of whiskey, and thought about the plan.

It was the perfect plan.

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