~8~ Shingo’s Father

Shingo’s Father

Trusting someone else means improving yourself

When food enters the body, it becomes nurishment.

When cooking enters the heart, it warms the person.

He’d gotten into cooking professionally because he believed in such things, but actually, he’d been influenced by memories from long before that, from when he was a child.

The man holding the knife in the kitchen at this Japanese-style restaurant, Ikkyūan, [1] was Shingo Ochiai. At work, he was always called Shingo, written with katakana rather than kanji. Of course, that’s how the kanji for his name were pronounced, but his older friends seemed to attribute another meaning to the nickname.

Shingo’s shingo-isms. [2]

Whether because he’s jumped to the wrong conclusion, or has gotten the wrong impression, Shingo Ochiai has a habit of interpreting words in his own way.

For example. One of his shingo-isms is debu-shō, meaning Chubby Syndrome. People who don’t put in many outside appearances are said to be homebodies, debushō, but Shingo thought it caused an actual illness called debu-shō, Chubby Syndrome… Since it made at least some kind of sense, setting him right again was a challenge.

At one point, he confessed himself to the kitchen manager, whom Shingo always called oya-kata, Coach.

“When I thought about doing something bad, but then changed my mind, I’d say it like, ‘I can’t do that, my conscience, my ryoushin won’t allow it.’ I never say ryoushin as the characters for a good heart, I always think of my parents, ryoushin.” [3]

Coach didn’t say anything

“Because when I use those words, it’s like saying, ‘My parents won’t let me.’ I used different words without really meaning to, until quite recently.”

The person he was speaking to must have been giving him a blank look indeed, but this was the only coinage where there is some cause to make allowances.

There’s a reason he chooses to say oya when most people would say ryoushin. [4]

Shingo’s parents divorced when he was in second grade. His father left home. They hadn’t met once in the more than twenty years since then.

Shingo didn’t know why his parents divorced, since he was in elementary school when it happened. His mother hadn’t told him even one story about his father, so in fact he still didn’t know. He didn’t particularly wish to know.

“There’s that saying that even a kid with a parent won’t grow up, right.”

Shingo’s twenty-nine now, and he’s worked out his own understanding of the matter.

It seems to be a misunderstanding of the phrase, “even without a parent, a child will grow up,” but this coinage, too, is close enough to get the gist of it.


When cooking enters the heart, it warms a person.

If we consider things from Shingo’s perspective, this isn’t necessarily one of his baffling shingo-isms, but has instead a rich significance. There is one memory which seems to have had an influence on him, but it’s from when he was a fourth grader.

His mother was always at work, earning money for them to live on. Not just during the day, either, she worked at a snack bar at night. [5] He had an older sister, too, much older than he, but she was gone that night, on a field trip. Shingo got home from school and ate the dinner his mother had rushed to put together for him.

He’d never been a kid who watched a lot of television, but that day, for whatever reason, he hit the button in the remote after he was done eating.

He wanted to watch something, even if it was a boring game show, and as he was flipping through the channels, his eyes suddenly stopped on a cooking show.

“Chinese fried rice made with leftovers”

He still remembers the title of the show. He was fascinated by the way the host handled the food and the tools, and he lapped it up all the way to the end.

He finished watching TV, did his homework, and got in the bath, and who knows what he’d been thinking to do after that, but he suddenly found himself standing in the kitchen.

He opened the fridge. There weren’t many ingrediants in it. He took out some leftover vienna sausage and a couple of vegetables.

He hadn’t necessarily taken any notes while watching TV, but he’d gotten the order of things in his head. Cut up your carrots, but not any thinner than this.

By the time the Chinese fried rice with leftovers was done, it was eleven o’ clock. Young Shingo had made the food, but he wasn’t hungry in the least, so he put it on a plate without even tasting it, wrapped it up, and went to bed. When he thought about it later, he realized this had been his first cooking experience.

In the middle of the night, he’d heard sounds in the kitchen, and had woken up and gotten out of bed.

Ah! Young Shingo quickly hid himself behind a pillar.

His mother was crying. As she spooned the Chinese fried rice young Shingo had made into her mouth, tears fell from her eyes.

Concealing his footsteps, he went back to his bedroom. His heart was racing, and he never did get back to sleep that night.

Around that time, young Shingo and his mother had gotten quite awkward around one another. The young boy was frustrated with a mother who was never around, and the mother was deeply tired. Whenever they came face to face, the only attitudes they could adopt with each other were crusty, dry ones.

The following morning, Shingo remembered clearly, that all suddenly changed.

One might even say that they each regained a meekly considerate heart for the other. That transformation surprised even his older sister when she got home from her field trip, so there was no mistaking how stark a change it was.


He’d been told time and again by his school friends, “You should be a chef.”

He studied English at college, causing his mother considerable trouble. He’d even gone to England as an exchange student. Isn’t cooking a bit out of my field? he’d wondered, time and again.

In school, he’d always answered, “I certainly am a glutton.”

Indeed he was a glutton, but even he understood that it wasn’t just about that. It would sound smug to say it out loud, so he didn’t, but he did clearly think, “It’s because I’m so creative.”

There was one thing a person couldn’t fail to do, as long as they were alive. They had to move their heart, every day.

He’d come to believe that what produced such movement was creative use of the original meaning of words.

He didn’t know if that was really a perspective gained from that Chinese fried rice with leftovers he’d made when he was in elementary school, but still.


But still, he couldn’t just let it slide.

After he graduated, he went to cooking school while working part-time, and after completing the course, he started an apprenticeship he’d learned of through the school.

It didn’t last.

In half a year, he’d quit two restaurants. It wasn’t that the work was hard, or the wages were terrible. He was just disappointed in the people. Like that one kitchen manager.

Being first had nothing to do with it. He was just a man who took great pains to cut corners in everything he did. It wasn’t the sneaky kind of cutting corners, either. More than anything else, he was just nasty, boasting to the apprentices about how good he was at cutting corners. Shingo could never work under those conditions.

The kitchen manager he signed up under next was a great change – he excelled at his vocation. But Shingo recalled something stopping him, something that felt wrong. What was it, back then…? It came to his mind. There definitely had been something missing. It was a love for cooking.

The man’s skills were sharp, but he had no great ability to teach people. That had to be, of course, because he had no love for cooking. Shingo quit as soon as he’d realized it.

“Isn’t there anyone good enough in this whole world?” Shingo had said, disappointed with his own limited experience.

“It has to be cooking that connects with something deep in people’s hearts, it has to be creativity.”

That was the feeling that caused him the greatest disappointment.

Both of those kitchen managers were about the same age as Shingo’s absent father would have been, maybe that made the impression of inadequecy more conspiuous.

A little while after he’d lost his willpower, he’d suddenly seen a Japanese-style restaurant in the help-wanted ads: Ikkyūan.

Maybe he was still disappointed, but he thought he should try for it anyway. If this one turned out not to be good enough either, he’d give up on this world completely. That’s what he was thinking as he muttered, “The face of hell, three times.” [6]

He probably meant “the face of buddha,” but this Shingo-ism, too, managed to communicate the nuances of the original somehow, and his feelings got through.


“After all that, it was a shock to meet Coach,” Shingo still says to his old school friends, whenever they go out drinking or anything.

When you ask him, “What was shocking? His technique, his great lines?” he answers, “Mm, everything, including those.”

His composure. His deep gazes. His tender hands.

In other words, his character.

“This is where I belong,” Shingo thought, quickly, passionately. It was love at first sight.

But this old master with the composed expression listened calmly to Shingo’s story and said, “I’m sorry, but what we’re looking for is someone ready to jump right in. I don’t want you to end up thinking ill of us.”

It was all very polite, but he was clearly being rejected.

“Please, let me do something, even if it’s just washing dishes,” Shingo said greedily. It didn’t help.

He went home temporarily, but headed out again the following day. Even he was surprised to find out he was such an obstinant person.

He waited for hours, and was finally granted just five minutes. He was happy to get it, but when it came time to answer the question of how best to make his appeal, his head went completely blank and no words came out.

Coach made a bit of a troubled face, and asked, helpfully, “Why do you want to cook?”

Shingo was ancy, thinking he’d better make some answer, but his throat closed up. But in that moment, something rushed out of his mouth without him even attempting to think about it.

It was the story of that time in elementary school, the Chinese fried rice with leftovers. He furiously told the tale of that dish his mother had eaten in the middle of the night as she wept.

Coach listened silently. And then, when Shingo finished telling his story, he said, “Is that so.”

The result was, Shingo stuck his landing.

The following day, he was contacted by the store and accepted. Just as he’d asked, his days were spent washing dishes.

Shingo wasn’t mistaken in his love at first sight, though.

More than anything else, what he was hoping for was to come face to face with Coach’s cooking, but actually it was handed down to him directly, in the flesh.

“The ingrediants are to be truly cherished. Fish is a fish, shellfish is a shellfish, they’re living things, and you honor them as such, you get it? It’s like a painter honoring the scenery they’re about to paint.

Shingo told his friends about it.

He was eager to steal Coach’s handling techniques.

Blood flowed through Coach’s carving knife.

That was the feeling it gave. It wasn’t a metaphor, Shingo couldn’t help but think that nerves and blood vessels really did flow from Coach’s arm into that carving knife.

The word for carving knife was originally written with the characters for “kitchen” and “servant” but that particular character for “kitchen” wasn’t on the official list of commonly used characters, so they’d changed it to the character for “carving.” The character for “kitchen” was pronounced kuriya, an older word for kitchen, and the second character in the word was “servant,” which by itself was pronounced yohoro, and meant someone who did work. A person who worked in the kitchen.

When you looked at it like that, a carving knife became a person. So maybe Shingo’s sense that Coach was becoming one with his carving knife was only returning to the original meaning of the word.

One day, about three months after he’d been hired, Coach handed him a small plate.

“Oi, Shingo, here.”

He seemed to be saying, take a bite. Shingo had been eagerly awaiting his first chance to put something that had been made by Coach into his mouth, but what was on the plate was a completely featureless scrambled-egg roll.

What the heck, a scrambled-egg roll?

A little disappointed, Shingo put the roll into his mouth, and suddenly felt like he was going to faint.

It wasn’t even about whether it was delicious or not. That was just commentary.

At that moment, all the encouragement Shingo had ever received was altered, it felt like he was standing on his head and looking at the scenery around him.

So this was cooking, was it. That was the only phrase that passed through his mind. It wasn’t something you felt with your tongue, it was something you felt with your heart.


A number of years passed. Shingo grew into an adult.

He’d run out of things to steal from Coach. Before, it had been like peering into fog, but that fog had been clearing by the day.

Coach hadn’t taught him by moving his hands and feet for him, but had instead always offered short pieces of advice.

He’s watching over me as I mature.

Shingo had a strong sense that it was true. It was the first time in his life he’d ever been able to savor the sensation. If he had to put it into one phrase, it filled him with happiness.

“The character for parent…”

He remembered his middle school language arts teacher saying during a lesson, “If you deconstruct the character for parent, it looks like someone watching you while next to a standing tree.” [7]

As far as Shingo was concerned, Coach was the only old man in the world who fit that definition. Even now, his biological father, the man he was connected to by blood, was off living somewhere on his own. He didn’t feel like someone who watched over him while standing next to a tree to Shingo.

But Coach would slip in with interesting, deep sayings during breaks. They weren’t moral lessons or sermons, but rather they had a gossipy tone.

For example:

“You like rivers, Shingo?” he would suddenly say.

“Yeah. I used to swim a lot when I was a kid.”

“Watching a river calms you down, don’t it?”


“I thought so.”

Shingo didn’t say anything.

“That’s because a river never waivers. The only thing it can think about is returning to the sea.”

And that was all he said.

It took him a while, but Shingo finally got it. “Ah ha!”

It was just a little slump, but Shingo had been kind of off just around that time. He struggled against it, but he just couldn’t get things right.

Is that it? he thought. It’s because I’ve got this selfish desire to “do it right.”

Coach’s story about the river was just a contrivance meant to help him realize that.

Coach was usually a composed man, but he did raise his voice once.

That had been during a break, too.

Shingo had mentioned his two previous kitchen managers to Coach, when Coach had asked him how he’d arrived in his current position. When Shingo had said that they weren’t very good people, Coach pretended he hadn’t heard. Apparently, bad-mouthing people didn’t please him.

He pretended not to hear Shingo, and turned away, but Shingo continued, “They were both about my old man’s age, too. Maybe that age is just no good.”

He’d laughed and told the story of his no-account father leaving when he was in elementary school. It was the first time he’d ever told Coach about it. That was when Coach had yelled.

“You moron, don’t talk talk such flippant crap!”

His voice echoed like a slap.

For three days, he didn’t say a word.

On the fourth day, at break time, finally:

“Listen, Shingo.” He didn’t seem especially angry. “Have you heard of the phrase, ‘Earthquakes, thunder, fires, fathers?’ I always thought they meant fathers were domestic.”

That’s what he said. So even Coach had his own shingo-isms, huh.

“I thought it meant a father looked on sweeping and laundry the same way he looks at earthquakes and thunder, because instead of ‘fires,’ I thought they said ‘hires,’ like hired help.”

“That’s a pretty big misunderstanding.” Shingo laughed, putting his own issues on the shelf for the moment.

“My old man left, too, Shingo, when I was a kid. So, when I was in high school, I hunted down his address, and I even went out there to his place.”

Shingo didn’t say anything.

“I was peeking in through the back, and I saw him, my old man. He was wearing an apron and vaccuuming. I started crying and went home without ever saying anything.”


For some reason, Shingo was deeply moved.


When food enters the body, it becomes nurishment.

When cooking enters the heart, it warms the person.

As Shingo grew into a competant chef, he came to believe this more and more. It was that kind of cooking that he had to hold up as his goal, that was the thought that stuck in his heart.

But then, about a week ago…

That night, Shingo was having a beer in his apartment when he got a call from his sister. She’d gotten married and moved to Kyuushuu. Since she was so far away, they hadn’t seen each other in more than three years.

“I met with father.”

His sister got straight to the point. They’d been reunited after a series of coincidences through an acquaintence in Kyuushuu. Apparently, their dad lived in Kyuushuu now, too. His sister said even their mom hadn’t known.

“What, really?” Shingo replied. He didn’t have any particular feeling about it. He said that their mom had been on her own since he’d left anyway. Even if someone had told her, she wouldn’t have gotten excited about it.

“That’s why I’m telling you, Shingo,” his sister continued, apparently not pleased with his lukewarm response. “He’s coming to Tokyo for some business next week Wednesday, so he was wondering if it might be alright if he came to Ikkyūan.”

That was an outcome he’d never imagined.

His father really did show up that Wednesday, too, after lunch time was over, during the lull before dinner.

“Ochiai…” One of the hall staff came over to Shingo with a troubled look on his face. “I think there’s one of your relatives maybe? He introduced himself as Mr Ochiai, and asked if Shingo Ochiai was here, but I mean. Should I tell him you’re not here?”

Coach caught his eyes with a look that said, get out there, quick. He’d told Coach a bit of the story.

Shingo went out into the hall.

“Shingo?” the man said. It was a voice Shingo hadn’t heard before.

“Yes.” Shingo made a quick bow in greeting.

This little guy…? he thought. What are we supposed to do now?

The man took a seat without a word. Shingo sat down beside him.

The man repeatedly cleared his throat.

Shingo didn’t say anything.

He’d gotten a second phone call from his sister. Twenty years ago, his father had gotten intimate with another woman, and that was why he’d left home, she’d told him. But he broke up with that woman almost immediately, and had been on his own ever since. He’d talked to some friends and moved to Kyuushuu, and lived there still, his sister had said. Shingo had wanted to ask, yeah what about it?

“Excuse me.” Shingo got up from his seat and headed back to the kitchen.

It wasn’t that he couldn’t bear the oppressive atmosphere, he just thought he shouldn’t be sitting there in a customer’s seat like that during business hours.

When he got back to the kitchens, Coach was plating up a familiar dish.

“Why’d you come back?” Coach asked, puzzled.

“No, it’s just that, I mean I’m supposed to be at work…”

Coach silently pointed to the wall clock. It was break time already. There were only three customers, including Shingo’s father. The people at the other two tables were already finishing their meals, and there weren’t any new customers coming in.

Shingo washed his hands and headed back to the table where his father was sitting. Coach’s specially made dish arrived at the table like it’d been chasing him. His father was clearing his throat as usual, and Shingo didn’t open his mouth.

“Oh.” A stuffed-up sounding noise came out of his father.

Shingo thought he was about to clear his throat again, but then there was a sounds like someone was wringing him out.

“De- de- de- delicious.”

He was admiring Coach’s cooking. When Shingo glanced at him, his eyes were red around the edges.

“This is really good, Shingo,” his father said again, his voice husky like he was overcome with emotions.

“I think so too,” Shingo answered.

What was completely mysterious, though, was that in that instant when Shingo gave his mildly apathetic response, a transformation occurred in his chest.

That’s not to say the transformation entailed some welling up of nostalgia. Something a bit more meek spread through Shingo’s heart, like ripples in a pond after a pebble’s been thrown in.

His father spent about an hour at Ikkyūan.

They didn’t exchange many words, but Shingo didn’t feel awkward. Sitting there next to him, Shingo couldn’t help thinking, “This was the day I met him for the first time.”

To put it another way, he thought this was a person he could get close to in the future.

Why was that? Shingo wondered as he saw his father as far as the subway station.

When they parted at the entrance to the stairwell, his father said, “If I end up coming to the capital again, I wouldn’t mind visiting you.”
Shingo answered, “I’ll be waiting.”

As he answered, though, Shingo thought, Will I? Huh.

He’d been feeling awkward these past few days since he’d heard that his father was coming to the store. He’d been thinking, “Do whatever you want.” After his father had disappeared, Shingo had simply wandered around on his own until he finally arrived where he was now, and he’d felt like telling the whole tale and then all the little details of his current life was just going to be gloomy. He didn’t feel even the slightest desire to speak, but if he kept silent and was misunderstood, that would be infuriating. Of course, explaining was also irritating.

Such things were what had given rise to that awkward feeling.

But then his father had been so moved by Coach’s cooking.

Everything had broken loose with that one moment. He didn’t need to say anything else. It was a relief to have declared what was important to him now, and why he was training the way he was.

The awkwardness had vanished.

The social power of cooking.

Shingo watched his father’s retreating figure until it disappeared, his mind filled with all these thoughts.

The social power of cooking. In inheriting all he could from Coach, he was mastering that skill.

He was keenly aware of it, too.

“Thank you, Coach,” Shingo called out when he got back to the store. Coach had his back turned, inspecting the ingrediants, and he raised his left hand a bit, but didn’t turn around.

The more Shingo looked at it, the more flexible that hand seemed.


[1 – 一 = one, 久 = ye olde, 庵 = respite/hermitage. the kanji for shingo’s name are: 落合 meaning a casual meeting, sometimes a romantic rendezvous, 伸 means to stretch and 吾 means onesself]

[2 – shingo is also the pronunciation of the word 新語 meaning, “a new word.”]

[3 –  because the word for conscience 良心 and the word for parents 両親 are pronunced the same. this is going to be a whole story of me explaining puns, isn’t it. (T_T)]

[4 – 親 parent, vs 両親 parents, literally “both parents”]

[5 – a sort of hostess bar, where men can order drinks and snacks and the company of a lady]

[6 – the phrase is: “The face of Buddha, three times,” the longer version of which says that even the Buddha will get mad if you slap his face three times.]

[7 – because it’s made out of parts that come from the symbols to stand, a tree, and to watch. 親 = 立 + 木 + 見]

1 Comment

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.