Today I stood among great, winding bamboo structures that snaked and twisted along an emerald lily padded pond. They were constructed by Tetsunori Kawana a Japanese artist that chose Denver Botanic Gardens as the location for his newest installation. I was in awe of the beauty and grace he constructed and looking at them I finally felt a piece of serenity that I had ached for during these last busy weeks. I am no expert on Japanese culture, but amidst these moments I felt I understood a bit better. There is a slow, methodical and masterful approach to how some Japanese do things. They conquer simplicity and then transform it. It is a rare beauty that I wish I could encounter more often because my life, like so many others, is filled with random clutter of the day-to-day. It was pleasant to take a moment to appreciate a peaceful moment during this chaotic time of back to school and work. That is one reason I chose Japan as this week’s selection. Try to suggest some ways to enjoy a little serenity before we fully awake from our summer slumber and jump back into the labor that follows Labor Day.
Eat: Sushi, it might have once been a Californian fad but if you do it right it can be a true Japanese experience. Sushi is clean, simple but full of style and flavor. It perfectly represents how the Japanese are able to capture simplicity and amplify it to perfection. However to get this experience you need to ignore any type of sushi roll because although delicious they are dumbed down versions of Japanese food. Like my last article explained, this fake culture is not going to work for us anymore! Instead you should order Edo style sushi, more commonly known as Nigiri, which is a piece of raw fish such as tuna or salmon placed on top of a pad of white rice. Sashimi is also a great option and good for those anti-carb people because it is just the raw fish. Both versions are delicious and if you have held out on trying them because they are too intimidating or you do not like seafood, there is nothing “fishy” about it. Rather Nigiri and Sashimi are delicious and filling. And although I am not going to claim it is like biting into a steak there is a familiar protein richness that most Americans can enjoy. This type of sushi can be found at most sushi restaurants however when it comes to consuming raw fish quality is key.
Although Sushi Den is amazing some people are not into raw fish. If that’s you then another great option is Domo, which is a very well-known Japanese restaurant that serves more traditional country Japanese food. I would recommend their ramen noodle bowls. It will make you forget any of those horrific college dorm room experiences you might have had with the stuff and make you realize how amazing ramen can be. This place provides the variety and authenticity to make you feel like you’ve actually experience a piece of Japanese culture. It also has a Japanese garden and museum which only amplifies the authentic atmosphere created by the amazing food. This place is really the place to go if you want to experience Japanese culture in Denver.
Do: There might not be a bustling Japanese scene in Denver but there are definitely a couple of places that you can go to experience this culture. The one place you need to visit is Sakura Square off 20th and Larimer in Denver. This building complex, although small, has everything Japanese from restaurants to shops, Buddhist temples and even a market. I come to this area mainly for the market because it has a variety of Japanese and Asian goods and it is a great place with an amazing history.
The Pacific Mercantile Company first opened in 1944 and has been operated by the same family for over sixty years. I had the pleasure of talking to one of the store managers who told me about the original store owner, his great grandfather George Inai. Shortly before his 1944 arrival in our great city, Mr Inai was released from a Japanese interment camp. He was imprisoned in Tulelake, California for the sole reason that he was Japanese American at the wrong time in the U.S.. Once released Inai came to Colorado in 1944 after a friend mentioned Denver as a great place to live and create a business. Inai arrived in Denver not only for the economic opportunities but hopes of a fresh start… I found this short background of the store quite amazing not only because this place persevered through so many years but also through such historical repression. It only made me more proud to be a Denverite and a patron of the store. Today you can still come to the same store that Mr. Inai opened decades ago in Sakura square. Here one can find hundreds of Asian good from around the globe. They have everything from a huge selection of different sesame oils to colorful foreign candies and even beautiful ceramic dinnerware. It one of the many hidden gems of Denver and is worth visiting.
Make: Origami might seem an odd choice for this weeks selection, however I believe it perfectly represents the Japanese experience that I intend to portray. Starting with only a sheet of paper and a little patience, origami can provide you the skills to master simplicity and create beauty. From making a traditional paper crane to a Stellated dodecahedron, origami can challenge, fascinate and center you. It can also be a great skill to have because you can use it to make party decorations, interesting birthday cards, or even party favors. It is something that I do in my spare time, especially while waiting for a check or at the mechanics, and it is the perfect way to try something new. I find that it brings me peace in the way the Japanese who invented intended it to. So if you’re willing to try something new give origami a chance on a rainy day or an otherwise tedious moment, it is definitely one good way to incorporate a sense of Japanese inspired serenity into your life.