The Nameko-Sitter

As you may be able to guess from the intriguing title of this post, it has been a difficult one to write. After compiling a multi-page explanation of the bizarre stories behind it, I decided too many words would only ruin the magic of the moments I shared with a coworker over a nameko mushroom block…

Therefore, in as few words as it takes to set the stage:

I bought a nameko mushroom block at the Kawamoto Sangyo-sai in November. I was told that keeping the block wet and in a cool, dark place would result in the growth of the classically slimy nameko mushrooms on the sides of the block.

I did as instructed and only began to see the first small “baby mushrooms” forming in mid-December – a few days before I was leaving Japan to visit the U.S. for the holidays.

Distressed at the potential waste of a block-full of mushrooms I asked a fellow teacher if she would take care of the block and eat the mushrooms if they matured while I was away.

The difficult part of the story is what follows:

The teacher took the responsibility of caring for the block very seriously. She referred to the mushrooms as my children, thought of herself as the blind witch from Hansel and Gretel (who feels her captive child’s arm every day to tell when he’s fat enough to eat), and told me she both anticipated and feared the day she’d have to harvest and eat the mushrooms.

Upon returning to Japan in early January, I found this note on my desk:

I was perplexed, but quickly understood who had written the note quite intentionally in a child’s handwriting. I went to the nameko-sitter’s office and asked her if she had written the note. She looked baffled and responded: “I have no idea what you’re talking about. Did you receive a note from your children? I’m sorry to say they grew too quickly to await your return…I enjoyed eating them very much.”

She then handed me a stack of photos she had taken of the block as it grew while I was away. I’m impressed with the size and amount of mushrooms the block produced. I wish I could have enjoyed eating them too, but I’m glad they didn’t go to waste.

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