Ten years ago, my first job in New York City was waiting tables at the Prince Street location of Souen, the city’s oldest and best-known macrobiotic restaurant, now closed. I made fast friends with a co-worker named Sarina, who went to Fashion Institute of Technology; she encouraged me to visit her family with her in Kurashiki, near the Kaminocho station in south central Japan.
Two years later, I made the trip: As soon as I arrived in Japan, I got in touch and took a bullet train to spend a week with what would become my adopted Japanese family.
My spoken Japanese was “maa-maa” (so-so) and Sarina’s dad, who, she said I could just call Otōsan for “father,” spoke a bit of English, so we communicated well enough.
The first night I was there, Otōsan asked me if I would eat udon, and his eyes were skeptical. I told him yes and he said to be ready at 6 a.m.
I paused: Maybe he had misspoken, but he hadn’t. “A.M.,” he said. “Morning.”
Matsuka Seimen is a noodle factory first and restaurant second. As the latter, it’s only open from 6 to 7 a.m. That’s it. Just in front of the entrance to the restaurant is a heavyweight denim split-fabric door with the shop name and a heavy red brushstroke, the symbol for udon.