Tofu -soy beans cake-

I am a native of a remote village in Oita Prefecture in Kyushu. I can never forget how the colors of its mountains, rivers, and modest homes changed so beautifully from one season to the next.

We certainly were poor, but people did not think of themselves as poor in those days. We thought that our situation was quite natural indeed, that was nature for us. Economically we were badly off, but spiritually we were affluent.

I did a lot of part-time work. Our village was situated deep in the mountains, so part-time work meant hard physical labor. At the rice refinery, we would sometimes be given buckwheat flour on which we would pour boiling water to make buckwheat mash. Irrigation work was a world of pickaxes and straw baskets. And setting dynamite in a huge quarry was quite a job! The pebbles that would rain down following the dynamiting would raise so much dust that the force was quite frightening.

In the autumn, we would form a team and contract to harvest the rice. I would negotiate with the farms, deciding on a price per rice field. The seven or eight people would take care of that field. It was quite a good source of income. In the summer, I would go even deeper into the mountains and have a live-in job with a forestry household, taking my books with me to study. My job there was to cut away the undergrowth around saplings that had been planted for reforestation. When I say undergrowth, actually it was weeds that could grow almost two meters tall. I had to clear away and tidy up vines and creepers that were wound around the trees. I was attacked by bees when I chopped down their nests and also encountered snakes. I remember the sweltering heat of those summer months, the droning of the cicadas, and the beautiful white clouds stretching across the blue sky, as if reaching up to the heavens.

In winter, as a part-time job, equipped with a wooden ladder and poles. I would haul gravel up five meters to the road. As you can imagine, it was freezing. I can still see the colors of the flames from the fire I made, swaying in the wind, and I can still feel its warmth.

One day it snowed. The snowflakes, blown by the wind, came pouring down from the dark sky. It grew whiter and whiter. The wooden ladder became slippery, and it was too dangerous to continue.

"Shall we leave it at that for today? Let's go have a drink," said our boss, to which the three adults gladly replied, "Yeah." I was only in the first year of senior high school, but they took me and my friend along, too. The place was at the top of a crag over a deep abyss at the tip of a winding road.

We were each given a bottle of orange juice. It was a real treat. We were very happy. The adults cleverly flattered the boss while drinking shochu (clear riquor) from tea cups.

Asked whether there was anything to eat with the drink, the owner replied, "Tofu." It had been a while since he had had any customers, so he was all smiles. The boss said "Good. Let's have some with lots of green onions and red peppers." The way of eating tofu was different from how we ate it at home. I was really curious to see what was going to happen. The boss and his employees all spread green onions on top of a 10 cm square piece of tofu, so tightly you couldn't see through it, and then piled on the red peppers until all you could see was red. The contrast of the white, green, and red was wonderful. They then trickled soy sauce over it and started to eat, taking care not to demolish the three-layered construction. Then they gulped down the shochu. The tofu looked good, and I really wanted to try some. I was waiting for us to be asked, "Do you guys want some, too?" The boss and his men were Koreans. Now in my home we eat cold tofu in exactly the same way. For me, Korea became much closer.

The great success of the World Cup Korea-Japan 2002 made me feel that a new era has begun.