In our last blog post, we introduced you to Masahiro Sasaki (Masa), who shared his stories of his upbringing in Japan, moving to America as an adult and his marriage to our co-founder James.
Below is a continuation of our interesting conversation with Masa - how he incorporates the nutritional benefits of Mekabu seaweed, the importance of The MASAMI Institute to his region back home in Japan and the challenging aspects of learning Japanese.
What do you think is unique about the Japanese approach to beauty & nutrition?
I think natural beauty is a Japanese standard. We constantly are trying to find real beauty and real nutrition from nature and our own ingredients. Japanese are not interested in adding anything from the outside, like cosmetics or wearing expensive clothes. We are trying to beautify from the inside of our bodies. Like having a warm heart to be nice, kind, respectful, neat and appreciative from your core. We Japanese think it's the base of beauty and the real meaning of nutrition. “Truly Beautiful” like what MASAMI means.
Masa's photo of a "Truly Beautiful" sunset on the coast of Japan
Mekabu seaweed is the hydrating Japanese botanical ingredient in our MASAMI products. It’s also very nutritious and delicious to eat! What is your favorite dish to prepare with it?
Mekabu is an ocean vegetable and seasonal food only available for a limited period at harvest time. When Mekabu season arrives, we eat it almost every single day, especially in the morning.
A simple dish that I like to make: After boiling the Mekabu, cut very finely. Then add soy sauce and rice vinegar. Mix well until tenacious juice comes out and top on rice.
One of my mother’s signature dishes uses the Mekabu stem part. She cuts the Mekabu stem, adds sliced carrot, ginger, bitter green pepper and marinates with some kind of soy-based sauce. She serves this dish to our guests as well, who always ask “what is this?” in the beginning and end up completely finishing it.
Mekabu seaweed, harvested fresh from the Pacific Ocean in Japan
For the past 14 years, Masa has devoted his international and management expertise to help the people of the Iwate Prefecture of Northeast Japan recover from the catastrophic tsunami and subsequent coastal marine life devastation. As a Tri-State (NY, NJ, CT) representative to this community, Masa is deeply connected and familiar with his home town region’s history, people, culture and potential. Masa has co-founded The MASAMI Institute to support and champion the ocean restoration of the North Pacific’s Sanriku area through education and documentation.
How did you get connected to the Tri-State non-profit organization?
The timing was after 311, the Great Tōhoku Earthquake of March 11, 2011. Many people were in deep sadness at that time after the tsunamis and earthquakes destroyed Japan. There are many immigrant Japanese living in the Tri-State area and they were looking for someone who could control and manage the association at that time and they picked me from a few younger generations to be the Director.
What are your hopes for The MASAMI Institute?
You may think it's a small thing such as a day-to-day discovery or something that has been a legend from your ancestors, but it can be information that is of a sufficient benefit to people in other countries or regions. Because of global warming, the sea environment is beginning to change markedly with the rise in sea temperatures. In fact, the habitat of fish and corals in the south is going north, and fish that have never been seen before are beginning to be caught in the northern Pacific area. Maybe people do not want to face it as a reality.
The situation and signs that the ocean fish do not return to the fishing ground are beginning to occur. The salmon, which is also a symbol of the arrival of the season, is becoming less reproductive. Eventually, everything may only exist in a controlled environment, like fish farms, by people in the future.
In the area where our Mekabu grows, sea urchins begin to become active in the water as the temperature rises, and they eat Mekabu and other seaweeds. I think that it is possible to liken it to a large grasshopper when replacing it with the land. It is similar to the current situation of them flying into a cornfield in a large group and eating up all the corn. Or it's similar to the Amazon, where trees have been cut down repeatedly and regions turned into deserts.
Therefore, Kazuya Yoshino, who is also a member of our team, dives into the sea twice a month to get rid of sea urchins. Because seaweed is the ocean’s vegetable or trees, we’re trying to get the forest in the sea back. In an oasis with greenery (like MASAMI’s green bottle color), there are many kinds of life that gather together. I strongly hope that we will continue our activities to regain a healthy sea, disseminate it through The MASAMI Institute with the people of the world, share information, and become a place to challenge various initiatives.
Mekabu seaweed in it's ocean environment
One final topic - when James first visited your small village in Japan in 2012, he could not communicate in Japanese more than the basic words of "Hello", "yes" and "no". It must have been difficult to hold conversations with your family.
Here’s a funny story from that first visit while we were staying at my mother’s house. Again, he could not speak Japanese and my mother could not speak English. I was exhausted from jet lag, being their translator and James’ tour guide, so decided to take an hour-long bath to relax. I was worried that they could not communicate without me but I really needed a break. Anyway, when I came out of the shower room, James and my mother were laughing so hard. So I asked what’s happening here? Both said that they were able to somehow communicate with only hand gestures. It was a very amazing moment and made me happy. That was a moment that proved humans could communicate somehow. It was wonderful!
According to the US Department of State, Japanese is one of the hardest languages for English natives to learn. It doesn't have many similarities in structure to English. They estimate it takes 88 weeks of learning, or 2200 hours, to reach fluency. Recently, James has restarted taking Japanese classes in NYC. Sounds like he's determined to have a real conversation with your mother some day!
Yes, he's still continuing to learn the language, and so am I. There is a trend in Japanese. If you don't use the newest trendy words or sentences right now, people think you're behind. If you include old phrases in a conversation, young people will think you're an old person or a person who doesn't know about the times. There are many kinds of honorifics (phrases that respect older people), humble words, seasonal words (words appropriate for the season), and so on.
The English language is used very differently from how we use Japanese. For example, when you go to a hospital in the United States, you may be asked to indicate your pain in numbers from 1-10, but in Japan, you can express your pain in words. Each expression is different, such as burns, cuts, scratches, and internal organs.
In addition, the Japanese are learning a standard language in general. It is the intonation of the standard heard from the television. I'm from a rural area, so I have my own words, expressions and intonations in my region. My local intonation is a French version of Japanese. There are ups and downs in the intonation as much as it seems. The sound of the tingle and the sound of the basket. For example, if you jump on a fishing boat, you may not even understand the word of the wire to pull the net. I have no idea what he is talking about? Kind of a feeling. You can't go to this level unless you actually live in that place.
However, everybody speaks and understands the standard Japanese language, so if you can remember it, you can go on a trip to Japan by yourself with peace of mind.
Follow @lovemasamihair on Instagram, Facebook and our YouTube channel to view Masa teaching James basic words in the “Learning Japanese with Masa & Me” ongoing videos.
MASAMI "Learning Japanese with Masa & Me" video series