What I Learned From a Cartoon Cucumber

Japanese vegetables helped me pick better ones in the U.S.

Kaki Okumura
Heated
Published in
5 min readJul 2, 2020

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Illustration of a hanging basket with 3 tomatoes and 3 cucumbers in it, surrounded by plants.
A still from ‘My Neighbor Totoro.’ Credit: Studio Ghibli

When I was young and lived in the U.S., I really disliked vegetables. I thought they were either bitter, sour, or bland, and compared their consumption to taking medicine. I would always force them down by covering them in ranch, or refusing them unless they were steamed into mush and covered with butter and salt. So it seemed odd to me when I was watching Ghibli’s My Neighbor Totoro that there was a scene where the main characters sat down to eat some raw cucumbers, seasoned with nothing, and snacked on them like they were chips.

It was just an animation, but I still couldn’t get over how fresh they looked picked right off the farm, and the crunchy, crisp sound the cucumbers made when they bit into the vegetable. For the first time in my life I remember feeling like, Hey, I want to eat one of those.

It was just an animation, but I still couldn’t get over how fresh they looked picked right off the farm, and the crunchy, crisp sound the cucumbers made when they bit into the vegetable.

When we visited Japan for the summer, I begged my mom to let me have one of those Japanese cucumbers. I was adamant it was Japanese because I wanted to be just like the girls in the movie. We visited a supermarket, picked a few out, and brought them home to eat — and lo and behold, I thought my tastebuds were deceiving me because it actually tasted good.

That summer, I began to take note of other vegetables that were supposedly the same as the ones in America, but for some reason, tasted better in Japan.

Japanese vegetables taste different: a few examples

Japanese cucumbers

  • Crunchy and crisp. The peel is thin, and so it doesn’t leave a rough chew if you leave it on. They’re much skinnier, and they have virtually no seeds to pick through. They’re never sour, always a bit sweet.

Japanese eggplants

  • These are much smaller than American ones. They have delicate skin and the flesh…

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Kaki Okumura
Heated
Writer for

Born in Dallas, raised in New York and Tokyo. I care about helping others learn to live a better, healthier life. My site: www.kakikata.space 🌱