47. Nukazuke — A Taste of Grace

May 30, 2023 - Roger W. Lowther

Welcome to the Art Life Faith Podcast, bringing this to you live from Tokyo. This is the show where we talk about art, what it has to do with your life, and what it has to do with the Christian faith. And I'm your host, Roger Lowther.

We host Art Life Faith gatherings every month. One reason we started this podcast was so that you could hear some of those stories. Most of the time, we gather in pretty small rooms, so even if you were here with us in Tokyo, only so many of you would be able to fit. Well, the other day, we gathered in a home in the southern part of Tokyo known as Meguro. It was an old home. You know it's an old home when you have to lean down to pass through the doorways. Unfortunately, one time I didn't lean down far enough, and I knocked myself clear to the ground. I hit that door frame really hard. In fact, I still have a bruise, now, on the top of my head a couple of weeks later.

The owner of the house gave us a little tour, which was pretty cool, explaining various parts and its history. He grew up in the house when it was surrounded by fields. It's hard to imagine that now with Tokyo being so full of buildings. But one day developers came in and built up a rectangular grid of new straight streets with homes alongside it, leaving this house buried in the backyard of others. You have to pass through what felt like a secret narrow passageway between two homes in order to get to the house. But it was beautiful, covered in greenery, opening into a well-kept Japanese garden, and then the living room with sliding doors that opened up into the garden.

The home had one of those traditional kotatsu, a dropped floor under a table where you could put a pan of hot coals during the cold winter months and then surround it with a thick blanket to keep in the heat. Of course, nowadays most homes with a kotatsu at all use electricity. The walls had interesting decorations on them with bamboo screens and traditional wall hangings. And you should have seen the staircase to the second floor! It was so steep and narrow. You wouldn't want to fall down those stairs!

Then he showed us a panel in the floor of the kitchen.

“This is where we keep the nukadoko,” the owner said. “If the whole house was on fire, we had to bring that with us.”

Nuka…doko?” I asked, shy about not knowing that word.

“Oh, that's where we keep the haha no aji,” he said with a smile, “the flavor of mom.”

The flavor of mom? That sounded a little sketchy to me. I obviously still had no idea what he was talking about, so he went on to explain. Okay, so apparently, nukadoko is a mixture of rice bran, salt, and water, where cucumbers, carrots, radishes, and other vegetables could be put in to make a specific kind of pickle called nukazuke. It has to be stirred daily to prevent the growth of mold and allow fermentation to continue to happen. And here is the interesting part. It has to be stirred by hand. The yeast in the fermentation comes solely through the hands of mom in the kitchen and can be passed down from generation to generation. This is the reason why it is called haha no aji, the flavor of mom. It is literally the taste of mom, but not only mom, but grand-mom and great grand-mom as well. It is nothing less than the taste of home. And the flavors are unique to every single household. Daughters take part of the yeast culture with them when they marry and start their own households, continuing the tradition of nukadoko.

As he was explaining this to me, I thought, wow, what a great picture of God's work in our lives. All of us are in a fermentation bed of sorts, stuck in the damp and the dark. Everything around us would quickly mildew and rot if not for God’s daily care in sticking his hands into our mess and stirring. Through his work in our lives, we don’t lose heart, but can be renewed day by day. We are being prepared for an eternal weight of glory through the troubles and challenges we face every day. Each is different, but so are the stories of God's grace in our lives.

“We do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” (2 Corinthians 4:16–17, ESV)

In a nukadoko, vegetables are preserved. They break down. They “suffer,” but this suffering ultimately turns them into something that is healthier, tastes better, and lasts so much longer.

God sticks his hands into a world which is quickly falling apart. He prevents the mold and mildew of anger, bitterness, and despair from taking over our lives. He builds a place where we can flourish in the midst of our brokenness. He cares for us in more ways than we'll ever know.

God gives us megumi no aji, a taste of grace. He gives us a taste of our heavenly home. And every time we take a bite, we see God delighting in us and rejoicing over us in the midst of his preparation.

This is Roger Lowther, and you've been listening to the Art Life Faith podcast. Check out my website, www.rogerwlowther.com, to see a picture of nukazuke and a transcription of this episode. As we say in Japan, “Ja, mata ne! See you next time.”

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