I spend a lot of time on tour, traveling all over the place for music, for many months out of the year, many years on end. I get homesick sometimes but it’s not really for a place—more like for a feeling.
I don’t really feel like I’m “from” anywhere. My family is spread out, and we’ve all moved around a lot. My dad is from Japan but moved to the States as a teenager. My mom is from Virginia, but moved to Japan as a teenager. I grew up in the States, and I’m mixed race, Japanese-American.
We ate mostly Japanese food in my family, and it’s the food that really defines my sense of home. It’s very tied to my sense of family and heritage, more so than any place I’ve lived.
When I was little, we lived in Los Angeles, and we used to go to Little Tokyo a lot. I remember this bakery that had pastries shaped like animals which were filled with sweet bean paste. We would always get noodles and a pastry turtle.
Back then, I was used to seeing Japanese and Japanese-American people, but things were really different when we moved to Michigan. I was around nine years old at the time. At my public school in LA there were kids of different races in my classes, so I never really thought of myself as unusual. But in Michigan, I didn’t see myself in other people, and I really struggled to find a sense of belonging.
I didn’t have the framework or language to talk about it, but it was definitely something I felt. I knew I didn’t fit in, and people were always asking me if I was adopted because my mom’s white. It was only at home that I had a sense that I belonged.
Some of my Japanese-American cousins lived with us for long stretches of time. We’re a very tight family, and when we were together there was always a lot of focus on meals. Whatever else we put on the table, rice and shoyu was always the linchpin. We had it for dinner every single night of my childhood. It’s intimately tied to my sense of home.
My mom did most of the cooking, and pretty much the first thing she taught me was how to make was rice using a rice cooker. I’ve had my own rice cooker since I was about nineteen. It’s nothing special—just simple—white with some flowers around the middle.
I prefer to make haiga rice. It’s not quite brown rice, but it’s got more husk on it than plain white rice. The ideal ratio for haiga is three quarters of a cup of dry rice to one cup of water, but any good rice cooker will come with a measuring cup so you can just scoop and fill to the corresponding line. A key step is remembering to rinse the rice three times to get the powdery dust off before you cook it.
For shoyu, Kikkoman is my go-to. But it should always be in a proper dispenser, ready to serve at room temperature. To pour it straight from the bottle is not a thing. Neither is serving it right from the fridge. And to finish off the rice, I like to add furikake, which is a condiment that has a lot of different iterations. My favorite has sesame seeds, tiny flakes of nori, and salt. You sprinkle it on top and it adds some good flavor and kick. If you have some pickled eggplant, ginger, or cucumber, that would be the ultimate.
The best way to save cooked rice is to put it in a sealed container or Ziplock when it’s still hot and freeze it. Then you can microwave it later to reheat it. I always make extra before I leave for tour so that when I come home, I can have a hot bowl of it immediately. It’s ritualistic.
As an adult I’ve bounced around a lot. I’ve lived in Maine, Wyoming, Colorado, San Francisco, and Portland. But if I have only one consistent thing in any house or apartment I move into, it’s my rice cooker. That, a bag of rice, and a bottle of shoyu. It’s beyond comfort food. And when I’m out on the road it’s a signifier of home.
I’ve considered taking a hip flask of shoyu with me on tour. I put it on literally everything: pasta, pizza, salad, eggs, burritos, I mean everything. It just makes things taste right to me. But I think I kind of enjoy missing it. Pining for it, and then knowing I can come home to it just sharpens my appreciation. It feels grounding when I finally get back to it. I can move around from place to place, but there is no version of my life without a rice cooker, rice, and shoyu.
Wanted/Needed/Loved: Musicians and the Stuff They Can’t Live Without is an illustrated column where musicians share the stories behind meaningful objects. As told to Allyson McCabe and illustrated by Esme Blegvad.
Along with Ripley Johnson, keyboardist Sanae Yamada is one half of Moon Duo, a prolific occult-inspired psychedelic rock band formed in San Francisco in 2009. Moon Duo’s soon-to-be-released seventh studio album Stars Are the Light is a collection of intricately woven songs about “embodied human experience—love, change, misunderstanding, internal struggle, joy, misery, alienation, discord, harmony, celebration.” The band is currently on tour.