By GEORGE YOSHINAGA
If I asked some of my Nisei friends if they knew what President Obama’s wife’s favorite food is, I’m pretty sure none would have the right answer.
Yeah, since Mrs. Obama has lived in Hawaii, some may guess some Island food.
The most well-known island fare is probably poi, followed by poke.
Then there are other dishes such as kalua pork and coconut salad.
Well none of the above is listed as Mrs. Obama’s favorite.
It’s kimchi, the Korean pickle, which is like Japanese tsukemono.
In fact, Mrs. Obama serves kimchi at the White House.
I was introduced to kimchi when I was living in Japan and a fellow office employee, a Korean-Japanese, took me to a Korean restaurant in the Shibuya district of Tokyo.
Needless to say, since I’m a tsukemono fan, I took an immediate liking to kimchi.
So, when I saw the story with the headline “Kimchi: The First Lady’s a Fan,” I had to read the article.
Yes, in addition to kimchi, I’m a fan of other Korean food.
And in Gardena, which has a large Korean population, I can find Korean food on almost every corner.
Of course, compared to other ethnic food, Korean dishes cost more than others.
Oh well, I just thought readers might want to know about Mrs. Obama and kimchi.
For me, it was sad news indeed.
That would be the story released the other day that the famed Hollywood Park race track will be shutting down after its winter meeting, which ends in December.
The area now occupied by the once-famous race track will be developed into a shopping center and residential area.
I’ve been a Hollywood Park fan almost from the day it first opened, so many years ago.
But we know the popularity of horse racing has been going downhill rapidly in recent years.
Crowds of 60,000 were commonplace at Hollywood Park during the good old days, but not so in recent times.
If they attract 6,000 fans these days, it’s considered a good turnout.
I could always bump into Nisei race fans at Hollywood Park in the old days.
Today, I could run around the grandstand and toss handfuls of dry rice and not hit one JA.
Why has horse racing’s popularity died?
Well, in the old days, it was often said, “The two-dollar bettor is the backbone of racing.”
Today, a two-dollar bettor is “in the hole” before he makes his first bet.
Check this out. In the old days, the admission to the track was a dollar. The race program was 25 cents. And the racing form, 35 cents.
Today, admission is five bucks, the race program $2.50 and racing form $3.50.
So before the two-dollar bettor places his first bet, he’s already in the hole over ten dollars, so it’s kind of tough to bet only two dollars.
Hence the “backbone” of racing has lost, well, its backbone.
And the Nisei horseplayers’ favorite jockey, Corey Nakatani, doesn’t get any mounts anymore.
He’s still a good rider, but for one reason or another, the trainers won’t sign him to ride one of their mounts.
I know when I see Corey on three mounts at Hollypark, I drive out to put a bet on his rides. And, percentage-wise, he wins his share of races.
Just for public relations, the track should tell some of the trainers to give Corey a mount on every racing card.
Heck, the leading rider at Hollywood Park, during this meeting, just rode his 3,000th victory the other day and they made a big fuss about it on TV.
Well, Corey scored his 3,000 wins two years ago at the Inglewood track, so he can still ride.
This is about an American living in Japan who goes to see a Japanese dentist. The dentist likes to ask questions about current topics even though the American, with the dentist’s fingers in his mouth, can’t answer clearly.
“Now he cleans my teeth and grinds at today’s topic.
“‘I have this friend in the States. He’s lived there since the ’70s and at last decided to take U.S. citizenship. After all these years. So why not you? Why not become Japanese?’
“To which I say … ‘Ummth.’ But this time, the translation wouldn’t be ‘Yes.’ The closer interpretation would be … ‘Huh?’ …
“I wonder … How can I become Japanese? Really?
“Yes, I know people do it — in a legal sense. Family reasons, business reasons, personal reasons — the possible motives line up like the drill bits on a dental tray. They each might fit perfectly according to the need.
“Yet isn’t such a change merely clerical? A new cap on an old tooth? For no one can drop his or her background. Can they?
“It’s not like plopping in a set of dentures. It’s more like slipping on a different skin.
“No matter what my passport reads, most Japanese are forever going to see my face as foreign … My dentist, on the other hand … hears me say, ‘Ouch’ in Japanese and assumes I am fluent. That I could BE Japanese.
“But I can’t. If my face didn’t betray me, my voice would. I speak Japanese like a parrot on a perch. With its tail feathers on fire. Both a bit predictable and frantic.
“Yes, I have ‘Ouch’ down pat. But not much else. And I speak better than I comprehend.
“And I can’t bow right. I had a friend tell me that years ago. ‘You bow like an old Disneyland automation.’ Stiff. Slow to start. Slower to stop …
“And I can’t wear a yukata. When I sleep, the obi always gets twisted around and almost ends up a noose. In fact, I don’t look right in any Japanese garment, not a kimono nor a blue business suit.
“Proverb: If the shoe fits, wear it. But Japanese shoes don’t fit. I always end up buying imports.
“Another proverb: Clothes make the man. Yet they can’t make me something I am not.
“And I am not Japanese … I can be flexible. I can bend. But I can’t break from my upbringing.
“Be Japanese? In the literal sense, I could never do it.”
That’s an article I found that I thought might be entertaining to read.
I often feel that we overplay the wartime internment of JAs.
This thought strikes me when some JAs talk about their experience in camp to today’s school students and the students say they learned of the painful chapter in U.S. history by listening to former internees.
In this case, the person who delivered the talk to students at Simi Valley High School said he was seven years old when his family was sent to the Minidoka camp in Idaho.
And this seems to be the rule rather than the exception.
All these speakers, in this day and age, who tell of their experiences were not even teenagers in camp. So to them I ask, “What do you really know?”
Not that I might know much more than a 7-year-old, but I sure don’t feel that at his age, he understood camp life better than me.
He talked about sleeping on straw mattresses, using bathrooms without stalls, and working on a sugar beet farm.
Come on. Didn’t a single student at Simi Valley High ask him why he was working on a sugar beet farm at age seven?
I worked on a sugar beet farm in Wyoming and I never saw a 7-year-old working beside me.
In fact, at 18 years of age, I was probably one of the youngest working on the farm crew.
I guess those students who listened to his talk were impressed by his speech.
The high school’s history teacher said her students are surprised when they learn about the internment camp experience of JAs.
Man, I’d like to speak to the same high school class and give the students my version of camp life.
They may be even more shocked by the difference between my experience and the one they heard from the then 7-year-old camp “victim.”
I opened today’s column by chatting about President Obama’s wife and her favorite food.
Well, what about the rest of America?
According to a survey, America’s favorite food is “fast food.”
You know, stuff like Big Macs at McDonald’s.
Which is the reason, according to the study, Americans are overweight.
I can believe that. Since I quit fast food, I have lost eight pounds.
In fact, I am at my lowest weight since I was a junior in high school, where I played on the varsity football team at 182 pounds.
Yeah, hey fatso.
The other day when I was driving my wife on a shopping tour, she glanced at the odometer on our car and asked, “Am I seeing it right? It says our car has 222,000 miles on it.”
I said, “Yes.”
She then said, “Isn’t it about time we got a new car?”
I agreed with her again, but added, “Who is going to pay for the new car?”
That kind of silenced her.
Of course we need a new car, but when I see a photo of a real old car, I think we can get a few more miles out of our Toyota Avalon.
Japanese cars do stand up a lot better than American models.
Take a peek at the photo I’m tossing in here. It’s a 1910 Ford.
I think our Toyota can make a trip to Vegas better than the pictured Ford.
I guess in 1910 nobody ever thought there would be so many Toyotas, Hondas, and Nissans on our roads.
Especially a Toyota with 222,000 miles on its odometer.
So I’ll add my usual “heh heh.”
By the way, I’m sure some of you may wonder what life was like back in 1910.
Well, the average life expectancy for men was 47 years.
Only 14% of homes had bathtubs.
Only 8% had a telephone.
There were 8,000 cars and 144 miles of paved roads.
The average U.S. worker earned between $200 and $400 per year.
Ninety percent of all doctors had no college education. They attended so-called medical schools.
Sugar cost four cents a pound. Eggs were 14 cents a dozen.
The population of Las Vegas was only 30.
There was no Mother’s Day.
Well those are some of the facts for the year 1910.
Time to laugh.
Where can a woman over the age of 60 find a young, sexy man who is interested in her? Try a bookstore under “fiction.”
How can you increase the heart rate of your 60-plus husband? Tell him you’re pregnant.
How can you avoid spotting wrinkles every time you walk by a mirror? The next time you’re in front of a mirror, take off your glasses.
What is the most common remark made by a 60-plus-year old when entering antique stores? “I remember these.”
George Yoshinaga writes from Gardena and may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.