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The Sushi Shop

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“To see a world in a grain of sand, And a heaven in a wild flower: Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, And eternity in an hour.”—William Blake

Straight after school, Sachi and Tomo had hurried home and changed out of their uniforms. They had put on some jewelry and makeup, and had splashed on a bit of perfume. They wanted to appear older, and did. Now, just past six in the evening, they were near Ginza in Shimbashi, strolling (excited, yet strangely quiet) arm-in-arm toward a sushi shop they did not yet know the name of. The girls knew where the shop was located, and that its reputation was excellent. That was enough.

Because it was early, the narrow streets were still pleasantly warm from the afternoon sun and not yet crowded with the swarms of hostesses and businessmen who would be drinking late into the night after work. They found the tiny, yet elegant shop next to a small neighborhood temple, exactly as their Ikebana teacher had described it, and learned that it was called SUSHI ARAKI.

Sachi and Tomo nodded to one another—yes, this was certainly the place—dabbed on a bit more lipstick, stepped up to the sliding wooden and glass door with blue noren curtain hanging over it, counted to three, slid it open, and stepped in. 

“Irasshai!” They were greeted by a loud, businesslike voice.

ARAKI was as tiny inside as out but due to the early hours was still empty. They were the only customers here. The two girls took seats at the counter under the scrutinizing gaze of the Chef-cum-Master, who waited in front of them on the other side of the counter. It was unusual for ARAKI to have such young customers. He took a guess: “From Kamishima Sensei?” They nodded. “Okay. Welcome.” He served them hot tea and went back to his work, a lot still to do before his regulars would begin to trickle in an hour or so later. The girls would speak up when they were ready.

The menu, if you could call it that, were beautiful oblong pieces of cherry wood that hung on golden hooks from the walls of ARAKI. The names of the sushi and various side dishes were carved into the wood and painted black, in beautiful flowing Japanese script. As they looked at the menu, soft koto music playing in the background, Sachi and Tomo were in no hurry to order. And in fact, because they knew how expensive it would be, and due to their own limited resources, they wanted to take their time and make these precious moments last.

Which presented another problem. They couldn’t decide what to order. This surprised them. Before coming, they had talked for days about what they would order first: tamagoyaki—but now that they were here, it didn’t seem so straightforward. They were in a sushi shop; it seemed natural, therefore, that they would want to savor the various fishes on display, NOT an egg omelet dish.

But the elderly Kamishima Sensei, a former JAL flight attendant (always sophisticated, always charming) who had talked to them endlessly about many things Japanese during Ikebana class after school—Kabuki, Shamisen, Sushi, Shodo, Tanka, and much, much more—had insisted that the best way to judge a sushi shop was by the quality of its tamagoyaki.

Finally, Tomo sat up straight. She told the Master: “Toro please.” Then she sat back quickly, relieved and proud that she had ordered the very first plate of sushi in her life: tuna. Now he was looking at Sachi. Sachi had pretty much decided on ikura—salmon roe— and was about to give him her order, when the door slid open. A new customer had arrived.

Sachi and Tomo gazed in amazement at a stunningly beautiful woman. She entered the shop, sat down next to them, smiled, and bowed slightly. Dressed in an expensive black and pink kimono, her hair done up in an elaborate bun, she was obviously a hostess, maybe even a Mama-san, who worked in the area. The Master’s familiar greeting, “Konbanwa” confirmed that she was a regular here.

The beautiful woman did not hesitate, and said at once: “Tamago.” The Master nodded and served her a cup of tea. A minute later she was eating her tamagoyaki. She turned to Sachi, very politely: “Could you pass me the soy sauce, please. Thank you.” Two minutes later, she was finished, quickly paid her bill and went out, obviously late for work.

The Master cleared away her dishes, placed Tomo’s toro down in front of her, and looked at Sachi. Sachi did not hesitate: “Tamagoyaki please.”

The girls stayed another forty minutes, quiet as they ate, deep in thought. Then it was time to go; it was getting late and their mothers would begin to worry about them.

As she and Tomo walked arm-in-arm back to the station, still in quiet contemplation; Sachi knew that she would not be able to sleep that night.

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