Tuesday, August 17, 2010

firefly squid

The previous post on "star-gazing" revived a memory from my youth that I felt compelled to express in etegami.

Many, many years ago, when I was home from college for summer break, two friends and I hitch-hiked to the Izu peninsula. After an exhausting day of travel and play, we spread our sleeping bags on the sandy beach and conked out. I can't remember if it was before conking out, or if it was when I woke up in middle of the night, but I noticed the tide was coming in and my sleeping bag was in danger of getting soaked. I dragged the bag away from the edge of the water, then looked back at the pitch black ocean and saw that it was glittering with lights. It looked as though someone had scattered truckloads of diamonds across the water. And those lights were twinkling like stars. I was utterly AWEstruck.

At first I thought it was a reflection of the stars in the sky. But then I realized something on, or near, the surface of the water was the source of the lights. I don't remember if I knew about hotaru ika (firefly squid) then, or if it was later that I figured it out, but that is exactly what explained this mysterious vision. It was one of the most beautiful, bewitching sights I have ever seen.

Hotaru ika are tiny. Whether they are boiled and served with miso sauce, or pressed and dried like jerky, each one makes just one mouthful. They are incredibly flavorful, though, and I have become addicted to them in the decades since that awesome sight. Please don't think badly of me that I can enjoy these amazing creatures both as art and as food.

The letters that accompany the image say "chindon'ya" and refer to the costumed, noisy groups of performers that used to weave through the streets advertising the opening of a new store or a special event (sort of like sandwich men in the west) when I was a child, but are extremely rare nowadays. I think the phrase came to mind because the shape and sparkle of the firefly squid reminded me of those flashy performers with their musical instruments, triangular headgear, and bamboo-framed umbrellas.


  1. A case of 'You are what you eat"? Arty sparkling and delicious that is!

  2. Debbie, I love your posts so much - I learn such interesting things about your life in Japan, which makes your art all the more exquisite. Thank you!!

  3. Gosh, Chris, I'm honored! And thanks so much for taking the time.

  4. I wonder if this is what my parents saw stirred up by the propeller of the ship one night as they cruised from Japan to the U.S. in 1958. What a wonderful story!

  5. Linda, that could very well have been the case!