I just finished Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa, and I will admit, this kind of soft soft slice-of-life stories are not my usual fare, but they definitely deserve a place in any diet (When it comes to Japanese writing I am more a Yoko Ogawa / Junji Ito kind of a person.) If you liked Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen, you’ll probably enjoy this one a lot; it gives me that same warm fuzzy feelings. It is a simple story that follows the unlikely couple formula; washed out man working at a dorayaki store meets an extraordinary woman with extraordinary circumstances and gives him a new perspective in life and gently encouraging him. His problems aren’t all magically solved in the end but there is some hope for his future. And at the same time, the story sheds light on social issues in Japan - the way lepers (yes literal leprosy not a metaphor) were treated and continue to be treated today.
And then a friend of mine introduced me to the mobile game Hungry Hearts Diner (Available on the Apple store and Google Play store). I highly recommend this! The game takes place in a post WWII Japan, where an old lady is trying to keep her husband’s diner going after he’s had an accident. You interact with customers, which unlocks conversations and you find out more about them as well as the old lady, and you have to be heartless to not be moved by the storylines.
I also adore reading the descriptions of the different dishes she cooks. The Braised Pork description is sassy “Some heathens leave behind the fatty bits” while Edamame is educational '“Selectively bred to accompany beer… or so you would think. Did you know they’re actually baby soybeans?” The game has also given me an intense desire to try to cooking Nikujaga, and also maybe giving Japanese potato salad (which is superior to the Western variety I maintain) a go.