James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

Japanese Oranges Are Not Like Other Oranges

Japanese Oranges Are Not Like Other Oranges

Oranges in Kyoto

Because the city was spared most of the World War II bombings, Kyoto is one of Japan’s best-preserved cities, and its many temples are one of its biggest draws.

Our trip to Kyoto involved visits to several temples every day, each with distinct architecture or features. Kinkaku-ji is a must-see for its Golden Pavilion, Fushimi Inari-taisha for its bright red torii gates, Ginkaku-ji for its Silver Pavilion.

For a break between the crowded temples, my mother and I took a detour before Ginkaku-ji temple to hike up Mount Daimonji-yama. The hike is just one left turn before the imposing temple, so close that you could stumble upon it by accident. The path leads so quickly to neat rows of houses and crowds of schoolchildren that the bustle of the temple and street vendors feel worlds away. Here, I was reminded that I was a visitor. It’s one thing to hang out among crowded streets, quite another to intrude on quiet neighborhoods.

Climbing up the path, populated mostly by older regulars with jackets around their waists and children on a school trip, we passed a monument to a 15th-century civil war, a Sennin-zuka.

Before the journey, we had stopped at a grocery store for some oranges. After a lot of careful inspection, my mom picked up two “Dekopon,” a Japanese-developed hybrid known for their sweetness and the protruding bump at the top, which make the oranges look like they’re wearing a little hat.

Our destination was a wide platform at the top of Mount Daimonji-yama. When we found a spot to sit, my mother carefully pulled the Dekopon out of her bag. They peeled easily, and the delicious juice was delightful. Even better, there were no pesky seeds. I was genuinely thrilled by our find, but I also put on a show of being even more impressed, because I know my mother loves to brag about her ability to select good fruit. Wasn’t this a good idea, she says. So much better than those chips or snacks that you eat all the time.

As a woman who finds incredible joy in routine, my mother functions best by eating a ton of fruit every day. All the better when she can make her daughters—who have junkier taste in food—follow her example.

My mother will tell me after our vacation that she loved this moment most of all. How funny it is, I thought, that her favorite moment in Japan was the one that most resembled our walks back home by the river, sitting on our regular bench as she peels the tangerines she’s carefully picked out for us.

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