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Book Review: Sweet Bean Paste

This year marked my 20th cherry blossom season in Japan, and it was a true stunner.

The blossoms burst forth in all their usual places, and yet somehow still managed to surprise and delight. Despite all my years here, I remain unprepared for the experience of suddenly turning a corner to find the most glorious shock of pink-blossomed beauty. Even in their predictability, the blossoms never fail to stun and humble those of us lucky enough to be around them.

In the novel Sweet Bean Paste, by Durian Sukegawa, the cherry blossoms also mark the arrival of a life-altering change for Sentaro, a former convict who runs a small dorayaki shop on a street lined by trees in bloom.

Day by day, Sentaro stands behind the griddle churning out dorayaki, which are essentially two small pancakes sandwiching a center of sweet azuki bean paste. The store-bought paste he uses is lackluster and unremarkable, drawing only a few steady customers to the shop.

Until, with the cherry blossoms, comes Tokue. With her frank and open way of expressing herself, this elderly woman with gnarled hands asks to work in the shop. Sentaro resists until he tastes the sweet bean paste she's made herself, which startles him with its complexity and quality.

As their story unfolds, we witness a blossoming that's both creative and deeply human, and which asks us to consider what it means to fully express who we are.

Tokue and Sentaro's story helps us see that even when our means of self-expression seem mundane, their reach can be boundless.

Much like the experience of suddenly coming upon a shock of blossoms, this novel opened me to new ways of thinking about how self-expression brings itself forth in our lives, and how its impact is almost never what we imagine it will be.

To spend time with Sentaro and Tokue as you read this novel is to remember that it's never too late to claim our own creative expression, even if we've long neglected it.

For some tools to encourage your own creative blossoming, check out this blog post, where you'll find practical ideas to help you. Or if you prefer to write, try these journal prompts, which will help you dive deeper into your own creative experience.

And you're always welcome to join us for our free weekly Co-Creation Time sessions, which help you get started (or keep going!) on whatever creative project you're interested in at the moment.

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