As a native California girl, I’ve lived in the golden state almost all my life. I grew up in Los Angeles where I was raised by my Japanese Mom and my Japanese-American Dad (by way of Hawaii). I grew up in a community of Japanese-Americans from Hawaii. My siblings and I had more “aunties” and “uncles” than we could count, most of them related to us by kinship. We attended community gatherings like picnics and potlucks with the most amazing combination of Japanese, Hawaiian, and American food. Thousands of miles away, my Mom’s family lived in Yokohama, Japan, where I spent summers with my Aunt from the age of nine.
But like many teenagers, I was painfully uncomfortable in my own skin, especially around my identity: I didn’t feel Japanese or American enough. And so I did everything I could to “blend in.” When my Mom packed me a beautiful bento box, I was teased for “eating worms” (pickled seaweed).
As I got older, I stopped going to Japan, to focus full-time on proving my Americanness
It turns out, that’s part of the legacy of being Japanese-American. Not so long ago, that same loving community of aunties and uncles were rounded up and forcibly placed into prison camps during World War II, simply for being Japanese-American. It’s no wonder that the greater community, myself included, desperately wanted to fit in, to prove how American we could be. And while “fitting in” is necessary for survival in many communities, it also means that so much gets lost over a few short generations. By the time I was old enough to start asking questions about my heritage, my grandparents were gone, and the precious Buddhist family tree outlining my family’s lineage, discarded.
Eventually, I decided I needed to live in Japan to immerse myself in my heritage. So I moved to Japan to teach English for two years. It was in Japan that I learned to cook Japanese food and began cooking my way back home. I was sometimes jarred out of my idyllic Japanese countryside life when I was scolded by some in my community for not knowing my mother tongue. While my fair-skinned, golden-haired friends were treated like celebrities, when I opened my mouth to speak Japanese, I was occasionally asked if I was mentally disabled. I felt so hurt and confused, as if I didn’t belong in my country of heritage either. When I flew back from Japan to Los Angeles, I sobbed through the entire nine hour flight. I belonged nowhere.
After many unemployed months of living with my parents, I was offered a job working in food and wine public relations in San Francisco. I packed my bags and headed up north. (If I'm being real, there was a boy in San Francisco). But as the typical story goes, within a few months of moving, the relationship dissolved. I promised myself that I’d stick it out for at least a year, with every intention of eventually moving back to Los Angeles. Life moved on as usual.
Then one morning, while walking to my bus stop to go to work, I met a handsome man with the kindest eyes and a smile that could melt a heart of steel. He lived in my neighborhood and like clockwork each morning, our pedestrian commuter paths would cross. Eventually, Bryan and I began dating.
And while that was an exciting turn of events in my life, I couldn’t seem to find a career that fit me. Though my days were spent dining in Michelin-starred restaurants and sipping on some of the world’s best wine, I found myself dreading the incessant pitching of my clients to media and late night events schmoozing. Bryan, a mechanical engineer with a passion for social psychology, gently encouraged me to do some self-exploration. I discovered that I’m highly creative and deeply introverted.
No wonder I hated the constant schmoozing! I just wanted to be in my happy place, my sanctuary. Home.
Eventually, I decided to become a residential interior designer, creating sanctuaries for other people. I went to design school and got a job working for an up-and-coming designer in San Francisco. I was afforded opportunities to work in some of the most opulent homes in the Bay Area and yet, my intuition still told me it wasn’t quite right. Interior design was just one piece of a bigger puzzle.
Another major part of this story was the joining of two souls: Years after I moved into his apartment, Bryan would ask me to marry him on the same street corner where we met. We naturally discussed what spending our lives together looked like. He happened to be Jewish, and we began taking Introduction to Judaism classes together at a local synagogue. As I learned more, I realized how much I had been missing spirituality in my life. I was in awe of Judaism’s age-old traditions that seemed so well-preserved.
For the first time in my life, I felt connected to my spirituality while also feeling like I belonged.
To Bryan and his very secular family’s surprise, I decided to convert. In the process I learned two very unexpected things: How to be a leader in our community, a word I would have never used to describe myself and secondly, a stronger desire than ever to connect back to my Japanese heritage.
FORGING A PATH
While I was transitioning between careers and into married life, I began seeing a coach. Through many sessions together, she helped me uncover my ethos in life: To guide Japanese-American and Jewish innovators. For me, this meant channelling all that I’ve learned and experienced and crafted into a new way of living that allows people to become innovators and leaders of their own heritage, on their own terms.
Ethnically blended couples and mixed race people have told me that I’ve inspired them to combine their own traditions. People who used to commiserate with me about feeling like never they belonged are now piecing together new traditions. And while I used feel like a fraud for updating my traditions, I've realized that our ancestors have always done the same depending on where they lived.
That’s why Nourish exists: To light the way for cultural innovators like you.
There are so many meaningful and healing rituals to mark the cycles of the year and the cycles of life. I want to help you create deeply meaningful rituals, even if they may not look “traditional” to the people who came before us. I also hope that my easy-to-prepare recipes serve as inspiration to you, to play with the flavors of your heritages and create new family dishes. And finally, I want to help you find beautiful, heirloom-quality ritual objects with which to adorn your own sanctuary and to pass down to your future generations. I hope the tools you find here will help you feel more connected to yourself, to your families, and to all the generations before and after you.
I believe wholeheartedly that when people have a sense of belonging, feel nourished and connected to their families and communities, the world is an infinitely better place.