My first memory of eating sushi goes back to when I was nine years old, living in Tokyo.
I was suffering from series of unknown severe headaches, which attacked me at least once a month. When it struck me, my mom had to call in sick and stay in bed at home. My head felt like splitting in half, and there was not much anyone could do. Aspirin was the only remedy that seemed to ease the pain, not fully, but only numb my pain sort of half way. My mother suspected the cause of my headache to be either from the time I hit my head when I was hit by a car, or from the time when my friend accidentally hit my head with a baseball bat. Whatever the cause was, no doctor seemed to figure it out why and how to fix it.
I have no memory of when we started going to this University Medical Hospital in Shinjuku for MRI. I later heard that this hospital was one of the only three hospitals in Japan, who had MRI at that time. One morning, my mother told me to get dressed because we were going to a hospital.
“How about school?” I asked my mother.
“You are not going today. We are going to Shinjuku so it will take a whole day.”
“A whole day?”
“Yes, so get dressed now.”
I had no idea why we had to go to the hospital so far away, taking a bus, and two trains, though, it really did not matter to me where we were going. All it mattered to me was that I did not have to go to a school that day. It was like a small excursion trip and I loved it.
We took a bus from our home to the railroad station, got on a train, transfer to a different train, then took another bus to the hospital and the whole trip took about an hour and a half, door to door. The hospital was bigger than any other hospitals I had seen before, as I was only used to going to small local clinics. We went into the waiting area where no patients were waiting, which was positioned away from the general waiting section. I remember feeling special because there was no one waiting to be called at where we were.
A nurse opened the door and called my name, immediately after we sat down. We stood up from our chair and entered the room. I changed into a paper-thin cotton light blue disposable hospital patient robe – the kind you tie in the back. I was told to go to a different room, where I saw a big donut-shaped machine the size of an automobile with a metal bed attached to it. The nurse told me to lie down on the metal bed and stay still until finished. I had no idea what was about to happen, even though I said, “Yes” to every instruction she gave.
I lay down on the cold metal bed, waiting for another instruction. Then, the bed moved slowly, taking me to the inside of the white giant donut. There was some mechanical sound resembling nothing like I’ve heard before and I suspected, it was doing something. It felt like I was laying there for thirty minutes or maybe it was fifteen minutes: I had no idea. Because I felt nothing and only heard some quite noise, I figured it was something like X-Ray. Then, I was out of the donut machine, as the bed moved me out of the donut and the nurse told me that was it. No medicine, no shots, no checking my heartbeat.
I took off the hospital robe and changed to my clothes, and with my mother, we left the hospital. We took a bus to Shinjuku station, and that was where we had lunch – a kaiten sushi restaurant. Nigiri sushi on a conveyor belt.
“What a great idea!” I thought. Until that day, I never had nigiri sushi before. I probably had sashimi at home, and hand rolls for dinner, but not nigiri.
Hand roll sushi dinner is pretty popular in Japan. Even in Japan, not everyone knows how to make nigiri. In fact, most of the Japanese would not know how to make nigiri. Probably only sushi chefs, professional Japanese chefs, and those who attended culinary school know how to make nigiri. There are, however, many forms of sushi Japanese can enjoy at home. Chirashi is a form of sushi with vegetables and fish sprinkled over sushi rice and served either individually in a bowl, or on a large plate to share with a family. Hand roll is another one. To do a hand roll dinner, all my mom had to do was to buy pre-sliced fish sashimi pack at a supermarket, and cut vegetables like cucumber and pickled daikon, shiso leaves, lay them on a large plate, make sushi rice and miso soup. We each grabbed a sheet of nori, put sushi rice, fish and vegetables on the rice, roll it up and dip in soy sauce to eat. Hand roll is pretty easy to make, and anyone can make it at home. Prep is straightforward and easy, yet, very satisfying. I always wonder why hand roll sushi dinner is not popular in the US.