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Sake Set and Napkin Holder courtesy of Eri F. Yasuhara

“We still use the sake set, chipped though some of the pieces are, and toast in the New Year with sake on January first.”

Eri remembers growing up with her sister in the San Gabriel Valley at a me when hers was one of only a few families of Asian descent in the area.

My family immigrated to the US from Japan in 1953, not too long after the end of World War II. The language, culture, and customs of ‘the old country’ constituted a major presence in our home, eventually directing the trajectory of my academic career into the field of Japanese literary studies.

Per Japanese tradition, the New Year invited a big celebration, during which the sake set displayed here played an important role.

The biggest holiday of all was New Year’s — oshôgatsu — the single most important holiday in Japan. My mother and grandmother (who lived with us) spent days preparing numerous traditional dishes, each of which had some symbolic, propitious meaning.

The meal began with a toast of warm sake and the greeting ‘Akemashite omedetô gozaimasu’ – Happy New Year! Even we girls, once we had reached a certain age, were expected to participate; after raising the cups and giving the greeting, we just ‘licked’ the surface of the sake once and then gave the rest to one of the adults.

While they made sure to foster such continuities with their home country, Eri’s parents were likewise committed to ensuring that she and her sister experienced as “normal” an American childhood as possible.

They wanted to make sure that, as immigrants, we were not made to feel any more “different” than we already were.

So, they started a new tradition – summer family vacations.

My parents got the idea that many American families went on vacations together during the summer. Thus, for many years when my sister and I were in school, we would go on low‐cost vacations. For several years, we visited two to three of the California missions at a me. In other years, we went to Yosemite and other national forests. I don’t recall the exact year or place my parents bought this napkin holder, but forever afterward it sat on our kitchen table holding napkins.

The napkin holder, on display here, got so filthy from constant use that Eri often wondered why her parents didn’t just throw it away.

When it eventually came into my possession along with my parents’ household effects, I tried to throw it away—but just couldn’t bring myself to do so. I suppose that’s because, by now, it represents so much of what I remember about my childhood.

Today, both the sake set and the napkin holder hold a prominent place in Eri’s home.

Together, the napkin holder and the sake set represent two important aspects of my family’s history: its deep cultural roots in, and continuing strong ties to, Japan; and my parents’ urgent efforts to do everything they could to ensure that my sister and I had the same experiences growing up as all our American friends.

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