Takeshi Kasumi & Eating Freely

Japanese food. Free image via Pixabay.

Someone recently asked me what makes me truly happy. Emphasis on truly. Without taking a lot of time, I said, preparing breakfast and eating it in peace. I find a like-minded soul in a man named Takeshi Kasumi, who relishes, quote-unquote, "eating freely without being held back". He's a wonderful guy, whom I'd love to share a meal with someday. Unfortunately, he's a work of fiction.

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It was in 2018 when I discovered the series, Samurai Gourmet on Netflix. I was fascinated by it because it's about an ordinary man, for real. Ordinary. I mean, nothing happens in his life. The adventure is inside, in his mind.

So the title is Samurai Gourmet. The Samurai being Takeshi's alter-ego, encouraging him and teaching him how to be a slightly less awkward sixty-year-old man.

The premise of the show is, he just got out of retirement and done with being a salaryman, he has all this free time and money. And he doesn't know what to do with it! In every episode, we witness him struggling to figure out what to do with his day.

He'd say something like, "Why am I in a hurry to go home? I don't have to go to work tomorrow." So he's still shaking off his habits and way of thinking.

Most of the struggle is with enjoying food — dining. Him being slowly awakened to the joys of eating freely without being held back.

In one episode he wanted to relax but there was a very noisy crowd at the other table. He was bothered, naturally. And the Samurai, his Samurai alter-ego appears out of nowhere to help him to talk to those strangers and ask them to keep quiet. And that's as relatable as you can get. I'm sure we're like that sometimes, we hesitate. I know I do.

In another episode, he was in an Italian restaurant. He's very excited because there's a nice view, it's elegant; but he wants to do something out of the norm — at least out of the norm in that particular establishment — he wants to eat pasta with chopsticks and pair it with beer.

Apparently all the other customers, he sees all these other well-dressed diners drinking wine with their pasta, and using a fork and a knife; so again very elegant, but he wants to do things differently.

And again, what we could say as the climax of the episode is him finally doing what he wanted to do. Which is mustering the courage to enjoy the meal how he would like it to be enjoyed: pasta eaten with chopsticks and paired with beer; at a beautiful table by the window; wearing a short-sleeve shirt, sunglasses and a hat, as if going to the beach, while the others are in fancy kimonos.

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While I was watching this series and being amused by all those relatable scenarios, I also had this question of, Why was he so confused about what to do with his free time? I was thinking, I was doing that in my 20s when I got my first job.

When I started working in Makati, yeah I spent my money on eating great food, in trying out popular restaurants. Taking pleasure in solitude, with no care in the world. I realize now of course that I had that luxury because I was single and had no big responsibilities.

Also, it's only now, when I — so for the past couple of years, I've been working part-time as an English trainer to Japanese professionals. In the beginning I shared a recent conversation about true happiness. The one who asked me what makes me truly happy is actually a Japanese professional. We were discussing an article on happiness as this perpetual chase for the next thing that we can't have.

That's what I learned from my Japanese trainees, especially the older ones. They have this attitude — maybe our parents are the same — they have this culture wherein all their life, they're working hard to earn money. When they retire they are lost because they don't know what to do without their work. Their work has been their life. Also because they've developed a deep loyalty to their company.

It's unlike us, people my age, I assume, where we can’t wait to retire; and maybe from the moment we got hired, we already have an image in our heads of what we'll do once we retire.

But for them, retirement ushers in another phase of discovery, which is scary, and sad for some. I guess that's part of why this series was created. Shows that put food at the center are pretty common in Japan, but in this case perhaps they are using the pleasures of dining to show that life post-retirement can be fun and fulfilling.

That uncertainty about spending time is intriguing for me, and it gave me a whole new perspective and appreciation for the lifestyle I'm building now. Because in a way I had a head start.

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On second thought, maybe it's not fair and healthy to think that I have had a head start, because that means I'm still viewing life as this linear story where we all have the same stages to unlock. (I don't think it is.)

Another thing I like about Samurai Gourmet is that it makes you less afraid to grow old. I'll never forget that scene where, there was an older man — even older than Takeshi — handling a conflict with poise and efficiency. Takeshi muttered to himself, he said, "I'll never age as gracefully as him". So he was talking about aging, he's talking about being old, growing old. He is 60 and there is a whole lot of future (if you can count it that way) ahead of him.

We think 60, even 40 and 50. We think we're dinosaurs by that point. Actually, when I was younger, I always heard the phrase, Lampas ka na sa kalendaryo. Which implies that you're already in your 30s and you have not done anything meaningful in your life yet. And this usually means having a stable job and raising a family. And that added to my notion, my idea that once you reach that age, the adventure stops. Life — the vibrant kind — stops.

Well when you're 30 you’ll learn it’s not true. Or you simply refuse to accept that your best days are over.

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Takeshi's new goal in life, it seems, what he achieves day by day, is an enviable ordinariness.

It's taking control of your time, making your own decisions.

Maybe that's all of us, that's our common denominator in our dreams. Maybe it comes in different forms. One of which is the stereotypical image of success wherein a person is in charge of something big, like running a business or being a renowned artist or athlete.

But it can also be on a less conspicuous scale, wherein a person has every liberty to decide how he must enjoy his meal.

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