something from the ocean and something from the hills

Read this book in Secondary 1. 15 years on, this part has stayed with me……

Beginning to understand what “something from the ocean and something from the hills” was all about, Totto-chan had doubts whether the lunch her mother had so hastily prepared that morning would be approved. But when she opened the lunchbox, she found such a marvelous lunch inside, it was all she could do to stop herself shouting, “Oh, goody, goody!”

Totto-chan’s lunch contained bright yellow scrambled eggs, green peas, brown denbu, and pink naked cod roe. It was as colorful as a newer garden.

“How very pretty,” said the headmaster.

Totto-chan was thrilled. “Mother’s a very good cook,” she said.

“She is, is she?” said the headmaster. Then he pointed to the denbu. “All right. What’s this! Is it from the ocean or the hills?”

Totto-chan looked at it, wondering which was right. It was the color of earth, so maybe it was from the hills. But she couldn’t be sure. “I don’t know,” she said.

The headmaster then addressed the whole school, “Where does denbu come from, the ocean or the hills?”

After a pause, while they thought about it, some shouted, “Hills,” and others shouted, “Ocean,” but no one seemed to know for certain.

“All right. I’ll tell you,” said the headmaster. “Denbu is from the ocean.”

“Why?” asked a fat boy.

Standing in the middle of the circle of desks, the headmaster explained, “Denbu is made by scraping the flesh of cooked fish off the bones, lightly roasting and crushing it into fine pieces, which are then dried and  flavored.”

“Oh!” said the children, impressed. Then someone asked if they could see Totto-chan’s denbu.

“Certainly,” said the headmaster, and the whole school trooped over to look at Totto-chan’s denbu. There must have been children who knew what denbu was but whose interest had been aroused, as well as those who wanted to see if Totto-chan’s denbu was any different from the kind they had at home. So many children sniffed at Totto-chan’s denbu that she was afraid the bits might get blown away.

Totto-chan was a little nervous that first day at lunch, but it was fun. It was fascinating wondering what was sea food and what was land food, and she learned that denbu was made of fish, and Mother had remembered to include something from the ocean and something from the hills, so all in all everything had been all right, she thought contentedly.

And the next thing that made Totto-chan happy was that when she started to eat the lunch Mother had made, it was delicious.

Totto-chan: The Little Girl at the Window, Tetsuko Kuroyanagi


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