THE BOOK: The Makioka Sisters introduces the reader to upper-class life in Osaka, Japan in the 1930’s, just before World War II, when Japan was having its own struggles with China. Told primarily from the perspective of Sachiko, the second oldest of four girls, much of the action involves making a match for Yukiko, the third-born child. Taeko, the youngest, completes the Makioka quartet. Although the two oldest sisters grew up during the prime of their father’s career, enabling them to fully appreciate the benefits of wealth, their fortunes declined after his death, and though they still had the Makioka name, their social standing was in decline. This is a domestic, rather cozy, novel, with great attention to detail: characters and their clothing, the rooms in their respective domiciles, favorite places to visit, and the natural world are all described in scrupulous detail. At nearly 600 pages, there is plenty of time to become submerged in the fabric of their daily lives and develop a reader’s relationship with the characters. One of the things that struck me about Japanese life, was how much these people drank, and how one’s ability to hold one’s liquor was a source of pride. There were rules, of course, about how to behave, and the sisters, especially Sachiko, were always worrying about offending one another. Except maybe Taeko, the youngest, who never knew her father and didn’t grow up with the same entitlement as the older girls, so she was the one most likely to be wearing Western clothes, and behaving independently.
The Makioka sisters’ annual trip to Kyoto for the cherry blossom festival was a much anticipated event. Sachiko especially loved the weeping cherry trees at the Heaian Shrine.
Out of all the wonderful food she could have chosen, Sachiko’s favorite dish was sea bream. Others in her family pooh-poohed her choice of this humble fish, but to Sachiko, it was the flavor of Osaka. I couldn’t get it locally so I ordered it from Fulton Fish Market in the Bronx. Fed Ex delivered it a day later than initialy reported, but the fish was well-packed and still fresh. This dish, served with broccolini, baby potatoes and multi-colored carrots was truly memorable. Simple preparation of the sea bream by sauteeing it in a bit of oil let the flavor of the fish shine. It was delicious. I only wish I could get it locally so that we could have it more often.