The Japanese have a word, “natsukashii”, for which there is no English equivalent although I suppose “nostalgia” would come close. But whereas “nostalgia” suggests a feeling of longing, a certain wistfulness, maybe even a sense of loss that is closer to the fatalistic tone of the Portugese “saudade”, the term “natsukashii” possesses an almost evanescent quality suggestive of fond memories and feelings recaptured, a sort of magical journey back to a pleasant instant in one’s past, triggered by a sight, sound, smell, or flavor. So, while “nostalgia” is probably the easiest way for Westerners to grasp the concept, I prefer “this takes me back” as a truer definition of the term.
Whether it’s a certain food, a t.v. show, maybe even a particular scent, you’ve all experienced this sense of natsukashii. I have – as recently as the other day when I was driving home with the window down and had those fond remembrances triggered by, of all things, the smell of skunk.
Yes, believe it or not, the smell of skunk is one of my natsukashii triggers. It takes me back to my childhood growing up in the Montreal suburbs, where skunks were plentiful and their wafting aroma was as much a part of our family evening patio sit-downs as the chirrup of crickets and bzzzzAP of the bug zapper. And that got me to thinking about the otherwise unremarkable elements of every day life that serve as personal and particular catalysts, awakening my sense of natsukashii.
In addition to skunk, it’s the smell of mint – which is somewhat strange given that it’s an herb I don’t particularly enjoy and generally tend to avoid, but the scent takes me back to my childhood days spent running my fingers through the mint my parents used to grow in their backyard.
60’s t.v. is a huge trigger, especially The Flintstones, a show my sister and I would watch every day when we’d come home for lunch. We’d head downstairs and eat smoked meat sandwhiches or, on those special occasions, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Bubble Up, delighting in Fred and Barney’s antics while, upstairs, dad played cribbage with his boss, the both of them trading bizarre, unfathomable phrases throughout like “Fifteen four and the rest won’t score” or “Fifteen two and the rest won’t do” as if communicating in code. Get Smart, Batman, and Hogan’s Heroes are also on the list along with the psychedelic Spiderman animated (well, sort of) series. On the movie front, it’s the original Star Wars which I must have seen a good two dozen times in the first year of its release. Also, the entire run of Planet of the Apes movies, which explains why I have so much hate for Tim Burton’s re-imagined version. Well, that and the fact it was a piece of crap.
When it comes to flavors, one takes me back more than any other: the rich, hazelnutty taste of nutella. Hey, I’m Italian, and if you grew up Italian, chances are you ate a lot nutella sandwiches. And, if you were like me, you also slathered it on powdered doughnuts and ate it with vanilla ice cream. Or, occasionally, straight out of the jar.
Comic books! Which no doubt explains my life-long love of the medium. And even though I do appreciate new titles like Scalped and DMZ, certain titles remain near and dear to my heart: 70’s Avengers and Spiderman, and 60’s Batman.
These are just the few that come readily to mind, but I’m sure there are countless others I’ve forgotten – and that I’ll no doubt be reminded of when I least expect it.
And you? What makes you natsukashii?
Today’s entry is dedicated to birthday boy Major D. Davis.