Distant Disasters

I have a nonfiction story online today over at Trop about my experience during Hurricane Katrina and the Great East Japan Earthquake. I was in Fukushima for Katrina, and in New Orleans for the quake, the tsunami, and the ensuing nuclear disaster. Strange days.

New Orleans and Japan are both defined and cursed by their geographies: Zoom out from the French Quarter, and people unfamiliar with the area are generally shocked by how little land there is in southeastern Louisiana.


While certain areas of Japan are farther from quake zones than others, nowhere is immune, and all across the island there are reminders that disaster could strike at any moment.

About half an hour to the east of the town where I lived was the small town of Bandai (磐梯), which is shadowed by Mount Bandai. The mountain is about half the height of Fuji, but it makes for a much prettier climb since it is covered in trees and surrounded by beautiful terrain. I climbed it three times, once every year I taught. The southern face of the mountain is a familiar mountain landscape: green in the summer, brown and white in the winter. It looks out onto Lake Inawashiro, and the Inawashiro ski resort on the skirts of the mountain; the smooth slopes were covered with snow by New Year’s, and more adventurous teachers than myself spent nearly all of their free time zipping down the runs in the winter.


The north side was rocky and scarred. On July 15, 1888, three earthquakes hit the region, and shortly after the third, a large volcanic eruption blew out the northern face and resulted in a landslide that covered towns at the foot of the mountain. Nearly five hundred people died. In the place of the destroyed villages and croplands, the eruption created five lakes of all different colors, which is reflected literally in the name of the area: 五色沼 (ごしきぬま). The area is filled with onsen and hiking paths.

Whenever I climbed Bandai, I parked on the south side, took an early bus around the mountain to the lakes, and then hiked up to the top. In certain places, the north side feels like the bottom of an empty riverbed or a forgotten quarry. We scrambled over large rocks making our way to the steeper ascent, which was lined with chains to help climbers. I often wondered if it would blow again, without any warning, as we were climbing.


Sometimes there’s a man – I won’t say a hero, ’cause what’s a hero? – but sometimes there’s a man. And I’m talking about the Master here – sometimes there’s a man who, well, he’s the man for his time and place. He fits right in there – and that’s the Master at Jintei in Koriyama:

仁亭 from Daniel Morales on Vimeo.

I debated whether or not to make a video of Jintei for a while. It’s a small yakikatsu restaurant, and I wouldn’t wish even one unpleasant customer on the Master (not that I could cause him to get any more attention than he already has). I finally decided to make the video for a couple reasons. First, in twenty years I’ll want to look back at this video and just go, Damn, we ate some tasty katsu at that place. And second, the Master is well-equipped to deal with the attention of any unruly customers, whether they be Japanese or foreigner. Regular customers are well aware that the restaurant’s queue runs on the honor system. There are benches, groups of chairs, and many people even wait in their cars if the weather is uncomfortably hot or cold. Noobz will peek in the door or even ask the Master what the deal is – wtf is everyone doing just chilling outside? – but he always just replies that he takes customers in the order they arrived. There’s no need to form an actual line, the Master knows.

(This last time I went, a Japanese couple pulled up in a big van and parked blocking several cars in the lot. The guy was clearly starving – he had his wife jump out and figure out what the deal was. There were several groups of people waiting, but after looking inside, this lady camped out right next to the door, probably thinking she’d be the next one in. Her beau finally got out and went in himself, probably convinced that the other half dozen of us were just sitting outside in the nice weather. The Master came out of the restaurant, the first time I’ve ever seen him do that, and personally assured that the next people in line got in ahead of them.)

I kept the video text-free because anything I could write would only detract from the katsu, so I’ll try to keep this post short, too. Just take this one piece of advice – unless you live within walking distance of this place, the only two items on the menu you should even consider ordering are the “Jintei Special Pork” or the “Jintei Special Chicken.” (The actual Japanese names for these are 仁亭凡焼きかつ and 仁亭チキン焼きかつ, and they are on the far right of the menu, which is printed on a fan.) These are the yakikatsu, either chicken or pork, which are stuffed with cheese, a slice of ham, and leaf of basil. They inspired my love of the katsu.

(Oh, and one more thing – the correct salad dressing ratio is two scoops of the creamy dressing for every one of the dark one with peanuts.)