Quotes from “Sweet Bean Paste” by Durian Sukegawa

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Clearly it was not smart to shut up shop while it was still light, but if he was going to get new customers then he had to stay open until the evening rush was over, which meant keeping the shop open until at least eight or nine at night…Who would make all the extra bean paste that would require?
This was the wall Sentaro ran up against. He didn’t think it was possible for a 76-year old woman who sat down at the drop of a hat to work any harder than she already was.
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working morning to night was bound to speed up his release from being chained to the grill
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That’s what puzzled him; this feeling he had of wanting to cheer, along with a sense that things had become somehow complicated. He didn’t know where he stood any more.
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He had not chosen to do this work because he wanted to; he wanted to be free of it as soon as possible. That’s all he was aiming for. And yet, he felt a sense of achievement from today, as if he’d turned a corner
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Tokue at least made a show of trying to stay out of sight, even if she made no move to leave, but if a customer holding a baby happened to appear in front of the window, she would lean out of the shadows, half-showing her face, and cluck, ‘Oh, my, my, my.’ When groups of children appeared, she would say within earshot, ‘Give them a little extra, boss, go on.’ It was only then that Sentaro would be driven to say loudly, in spite of himself, ‘Isn’t it time for you to be leaving?’ Upon which Tokue would open the back door and quietly disappear.
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No matter how much he told Tokue that she shouldn’t show herself to the customers, she would always stay in the kitchen for an hour or two after Doraharu opened, and Sentaro weakened.
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Tokue was a stickler in the extreme during the process of making the bean paste, but when it came to tasting the results, the opposite if anything was true; she actually seemed to enjoy a variation in quality.
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He briefly considered other ideas, like selling dorayaki according to the beans’ place of origin, since it seemed to make such a difference. Or making more money by branching out into other types of Japanese confectionery for which bean paste was the main or only ingredient, such as adzuki bean jelly or kintsuba. The bottom line, however, was that he did not want to make any more work for himself.
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Sentaro could see that it meant more work ahead, but by now he too had become mesmerized by the whole process
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Tokue consistently turned out excellent bean paste; she never had a bad day. Sentaro had the feeling that it was her posture while she worked that ensured this. She treated the adzuki beans with the greatest of care, always bringing her face up close to them, painstakingly carrying out every step in the process of cooking, and moving her fingers as if there were nothing wrong with them.
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How can someone who doesn’t like sweet food be running a dorayaki shop?’
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Even as he spoke Sentaro heard a voice screaming in his head: Don’t make any more work for yourself. But the words were already forming. ‘If the pancakes were better, it’d be much better overall, don’t you think?’
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‘I just realized that your bean paste is so good, it makes the pancake seem superfluous. It’s unbalanced.’
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‘Sentaro, let me get this straight. You don’t like sweet food?’ she said, with her eyes glued to his face.
‘It’s not that I don’t like sweet food, more that I can’t eat a whole…err…’
‘My goodness, boss.’ The more Sentaro’s voice trailed away, the louder Tokue’s became. ‘So why are you working in a dorayaki shop?’
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‘I almost never eat a whole dorayaki.’
‘You what?’ Tokue’s mouth hung open. ‘How can that be? You make them. Don’t tell me you don’t like them?’
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‘Finally, a sweet bean paste I can eat.’
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The aroma seemed to leap up at him, as if it were alive, racing through his nose to the back of his head. Unlike the ready-made paste, this was the smell of fresh, living beans. It had depth. It had life. A mellow, sweet taste unfurled inside Sentaro’s mouth.
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Today, unusually, Sentaro managed to cook all the pancakes to perfection in an evenly round size. Maybe it was the thought of having quality bean paste for the first time, or perhaps it was due to a healthy tension brought about by Tokue’s presence.
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‘Why don’t you take notes then? It’s the fine points that matter with confectionery. How can you remember anything if you don’t write it down?’
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Whenever Sentaro had tried to make bean paste, most of the beans were usually split by this stage, with the starch spilling out from their insides. These beans, on the other hand, simply shone – each one in perfect, sparkling order.
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