Born and raised in in New York City Joan Itoh Burk was teaching at the American Culture Center in Tokyo for the summer in 1964 when she met Bunkichi Itoh whom she married the following year in California. They returned to Japan and settled in to her husband’s large Meiji era home in the village of Somi in rural Niigata.
Through the 1970s she wrote a weekly column for The Japan Times, ‘Rice Paddy Gourmet’ telling stories of her Japanese country life and Niigata’s rich food culture, always ending her piece with an easy-to-replicate recipe. The newspaper published her columns in a book of the same name in 1976, and it had four editions and a rewrite in 1980. James Clavell, the author of ‘Shogun’ wrote to her, of ‘Rice Paddy Gourmet’: “It’s a lovely book and you’re a lovely writer”.
Those writings are reproduced here, with the kind permission of their author. It is an insight into another time and another world, pre-Internet, pre-Email, and shows Joan creating fusion cuisine before that phrase even existed. There is warmth and humor to her stories, and a timeless quality that makes them just as charming and a pleasure to read as when they were written.
Joan founded the AFWJ: Association of Foreign Wives of Japanese, an organization in Tokyo that is still going strong as it approaches its 50th anniversary.