My Obento story vol. 1 (#1-3)

#3. Noriko's case - my 20years with Obento

I’m originally from Iwate in the Tohoku region (northern part of Japan). I’ve been living in the Tokyo area since university, met my husband, got married and had two lovely children, who have already left home to live by themselves. So just the two of us, my husband and I are at home now, having a quiet life. From time to time, our children come and stay, which is really nice to have them back at home, and I’m always looking forward to their visits.

Shall I talk about my memory of obento?
Winter in Iwate, where I grew up, is harsh and gets bitterly cold. My first memory of obento is having a hot obento in an alumite treated container that had been kept in a food warmer at school until lunch time in winter.
I used to prepare obento for myself while attending high-school because I had to go to school early in the morning to do extra study. On Saturdays, it was my job to have obento ready for my family – my working parents, younger brother, younger sister and me.
What a hardworking girl I was!

I don’t know why but, I just enjoy the process of putting rice and side dishes into an obento box.
Obento as shown, I named this ‘Gogyo -Bento’ after the philosophy I’ve adopted, which is called ’Gogyo - five elements (known as Wu-Xing in Chinese) – theory’ that is originated as a natural philosophy in ancient China. According to this concept, it describes that everything in the universe comes out from Wood (blue), Fire (red), Metal (white), Earth (yellow) and Water (black) and this obento is my interpretation of these five elements in color.
The color yellow is egg and young corn, blue(green) is mange-tout, red is red pepper, white is sesame seeds and black, which is vaguely visible, is Nori (sea weed).
It looks very pretty, but easy to make and has been a family favorite for a long time. Well, it may just be an everyday bento, but with extra presentation, it looks so special and even tastier, doesn’t it?

I made obento for my children for four years in total when they were at kindergarten and seven years in total at high school and university. So that makes nine years of dedicated obento making throughout high school and university, as there is two years age difference between them.

My son is a computer programmer and lives by himself in Tokyo. He makes obento to bring to his office every day. Whenever I visit where he lives, although he is generally good at keeping things tidy, I can tell that he has made an extra effort to clean his room immaculately to welcome me. My daughter has also started living on her own.

After being a full-time home maker for a while after I got married, I decided to go back to work when I was in my early thirties and have been working since then. I normally get breakfast, obento for lunch and dinner ready before I set off for work. Well, I can be very productive with plenty of energy in the morning, but I must admit that my brain starts refusing to respond to my commands towards the end of day…..

Oh, I’m supposed to talk about my obento story, ain’t I?
Here is my obento story that I’ve put into a mini diary style.
March 22, 2010
This obento is for my son. He got a lot of free shiitake-mushrooms from his part-time job and brought them back. I cooked them with stuffed minced meat and put some of them into his obento.

Although the wind outside was still chilly, I saw some peach and plum blossoms here and there, which is a sign that spring is just around the corner. The combination of the colors, yellow Tamagoyaki (egg omelets) and green gives a fresh springy look.

July 4, 2010
This is a fried brown rice obento. I fried brown rice with Shirasu (whitebait), Umeboshi (Japanese pickled plum) and chopped mixed vegetables using Konbucha (*1) as seasoning. Curry flavored Atsuage (deep fried tofu block) and Nitamago (soft boiled egg seasoned with soy sauce) accompanied as side dishes. With wholesome ingredients, it looks super healthy and makes me feel good!

*1: Konbucha (kobucha) is a fermented kelp drink which often comes in powder. It contains a pinch of Yaki-shio (salt that has been roasted at very high temperature) and can be used not only as a drink, but also for seasoning.

July 8, 2010
Today was my day off. As a busy working mother, I couldn’t afford to sleep in late because I had to start tackling a mountain of washing and also had a lot of other things to do, in order to make the most of my day off. While I was making two boxes of obento, my daughter was still sound asleep comfortably in an air-conditioned room, which really annoyed me.

Today’s menu for obento was Sushi-salad. I mixed chopped cucumbers, red peppers, Myoga (Japanese ginger) and sesame seeds with sushi rice, then put a few slices of lightly boiled snapper, sliced lemon and some basil leaves on top. I hoped that my son, who loses his appetite during the hot season, would enjoy his obento. This was kept in a fridge with a bag of cooling agent until ready to go. I always take extra care preparing obento during the summer in order to avoid food poisoning. Are my children aware of how much effort and love I, as a caring mother, put into their obento? I hope they are.

January 13, 2013
It was a public holiday (bank holiday) today. Working in the service industry, I had to go to work as usual. However, there was a big surprise this morning that really made my day! My daughter, who was on her day off, prepared obento for me and gave me a lift to the station. How sweet she is! I really appreciated her kindness and enjoyed a relaxing morning before setting off for work.

There were simmered assorted vegetables and Tamagoyaki (egg omelet) in my obento, which all tasted well flavored and hearty. As Tamagoyaki is my daughter’s absolute favorite obento side dish, I guess she thought I love Tamagoyaki as much as she does and decided to add it to my obento.

March 13, 2014
It’s been almost a year since my son started working after university. Today was my day off, so I decided to pop around his place since I hadn’t been there for some time. No matter how busy he is, with his work or social life, having a balanced diet is very importtant to keep him going and helps him to stay healthy. So I cooked some nutritious side dishes for him.

It was a little bit early for his birthday (he was born in March), but we had a mini birthday party at his place that night.

I made sandwiches for his obento the following morning. I happened to remember that he had preferred rice to other staple foods, but he often asked me to make sandwiches for his obento on special occasions such as school trips or sports days. Making sandwiches for him brought back memories of the old days. I enjoyed a taste of nostalgia and had a lovely morning.

“Bento Danshi” (*2), is definitely a recent phenomenon. Including my son, men making obento for themselves every day is nothing special or extraordinary nowadays.
I’m not quite sure what it is, but there is obviously something that motivates him to make obento. If my 20 years of dedicated obento making has inspired him, I’d find that hugely satisfying and rewarding. My daughter, who is in a sales job at the moment, can’t bring her own obento to work. However she says that, one day, she wants to bring her own obento if she can.

The reasons behind why people decide to start making their own obento may vary. Some people just want to eat a tasty, well-balanced meal, while others may have special dietary requirements or just want to save time and money on food. What is the motivation for people preparing obento for their loved ones and why have they been enjoying obento for so many years?
I think this is because every obento is packed with tons of love from both the person who makes it and the one who eats it.
People make obento with their loved one in mind, hoping that he or she will enjoy their obento and feel loved. Such moments are simply priceless as making obento for someone you care about is such an enjoyable experience.

At the same time, those who eat obento can feel and taste how much care was packed into it, shown by their favorite side dishes and decorations. Sometimes, it may not be easy to express how much they appreciate it, but in the bottom of their heart they do.
Even though you already know what is inside your obento, the moment you open the lid can be full of surprise. At least that’s what happens to me!

Well then, my obento story is coming to the end. I’m going to make one for myself tomorrow morning as usual just before I go to work.
*2: Men who make their own obento and bring them to work or school

ワタシのお弁当の歴史? 岩手は寒いところなので、アルマイトのお弁当箱に詰めてもらったのを、冬になると学校がお昼の時間まで保温器で温めておいてくれて、それを食べたという記憶が最初ですね。そして高校生の時は、早朝勉強していたので、自分の弁当は自分で作っていました。土曜日は、家族全員分5人分(働いていた父母、弟、妹、そして自分のお弁当も作ってましたよ。ワタシってえらい!

お弁当を詰める作業が・・・妙に好きです。 このお弁当は手間がかからないのに、人気の五行弁当です。綺麗に見えると、やっぱり美味しく感じますよね。 黄色はコーンにそぼろ卵、青(緑)は絹さや、赤はパプリカ、白は胡麻、黒色は写真ではよく見えていませんが海苔です。

二人の子供の幼稚園時代のべ4年間、そしてそれぞれの高校・大学の7年間お弁当を作ってました。 子供は二歳違いだから、高校・大学時代はのべ9年間、ほぼ毎日お弁当を作っていた計算になりますね。そう考えると、すごいですね。 息子は独立してプログラマーとして働いています。 東京で一人暮らしをしているのですが、毎日お弁当を会社に持っていき、母が遊びに行く日には部屋の掃除を欠かさない律儀な息子です。 娘も今年一人暮らしを始めました。
ワタシは結婚後の暫しの専業主婦時代ののち、30代前半に復職してそれからずっと働いています。仕事のある日は、朝食はもちろん、お弁当そして夕食も用意してから出かける毎日です。 なので、朝に一番頭が回転しています。逆に夜は頭が・・・

まだ風は冷たかったのですが、あちこちで桃や梅が咲いていました。 卵焼きの黄色や、グリンピースの緑が、こうやって眺めると春らしい色合いになっていますね。

玄米は、しらすと梅干し、それに野菜を加えてチャーハンにしました。 味付けは昆布茶のみです。副菜として厚揚げをカレー風味に味付けしたものと煮玉子を添えました。たまにはこういう健康重視のメニューも悪くないんじゃないかしらん。

この日はワタシの仕事はお休みだったんですけれど、たまった洗濯物とかいろいろやることがたくさん溜まっていて、いつものことながらゆっくり寝てはいられませんでした。冷房の効いた部屋でまだ眠っている娘にちょっとイラつきながらも、お弁当二人分作りました。サラダ寿司のお弁当です。 寿司飯には、きゅうり、胡麻、パプリカ、みょうがを混ぜ込み、鯛のお刺身を湯引きしたものを、レモン・バジルと一緒にトッピングしました。 夏に食欲が落ちる息子もこれなら食べるでしょう。 保冷剤を付けて、出かけるまで冷蔵庫で冷やしておきます。夏のお弁当は食中毒が怖いので、気を使います。子供達、この苦労がわかってるのかなぁ。

メニューは野菜の煮物に卵焼き、優しい味でした。 聞けば、娘のテンションが最も上がるお弁当のおかずは卵焼きだとか(笑)。娘の好きなもの=ワタシの好きなもの、で入れてくれたのかな?

息子が就職してほぼ一年たちました。今日は久々に、休みを利用して、息子の部屋に遊びに行ってきました。 忙しくてもしっかり栄養バランスのとれた食事をしてほしいので、手荷物はこんな感じです。

「弁当男子」なんて言葉があるくらいですから、息子が毎日お弁当作っていっているのも、今の時代特別なことではないのかもしれません。 でも、お弁当に何か大切なものを見出しているから続けているんだろうな、と思うと20年間にわたりお弁当を作ってきて良かったと感じます。娘も同じく、今は営業職で叶いませんが、可能なら職場にはお弁当を持っていきたいと言ってくれてます。

#2. Karimero's case - green-peppers, carrots and shiitake-mushrooms

Obento (lunch box) menu on 2014/7/7

Curry-taste fried rice with chicken
Boiled egg and pickled red turnip
Broccoli and tomato

When I was at nursery (kindergarten), I must have been bringing my obento in an aluminium bento box, but I can’t recall any of the dishes packed inside. I was one of those children, who eat their meal slowly, and was the last one to wake up following an afternoon nap.
I must admit my memories at nursery were not that great over all. For the nativity play at Christmas time, I was given the role of the donkey to escort the three wise-men to the stable. Who wants to be a donkey? I didn’t enjoy it.

During the winter, the nursery kept our obento in a food warmer until lunch time. When lunch time arrived and the teacher opened the food warmer, a cloud of steam would fill the room with the smell of food from our obento, which, for some reasons, I remember very well.

At primary (elementary) school I ate meals provided by the school, so obento was only for weekends when my mother had to go out. My mother left obento for my sister and me on the dining table and we ate lunch together. Those were packed in just regular seal-tight containers, not in the cute type of bento boxes you can buy nowadays. I guess there was not much point in using pretty bento boxes and to include fancy side dishes like an animal shaped sausages etc., after all, it was only ate at home.
What I didn’t like about those obento was that there were always stir-fried green-peppers, carrots and shiitake-mushrooms inside. I know my mother thought those vegetables were full of nutrients and good for us, but in my opinion green-peppers and carrots must be the most detested vegetables by children. Don’t you think so?

However, for every school trip, my mother woke up early and made a special dish for obento that was Nori-maki (Rolled sushi). We would eat the not-perfect-ends of the Nori-maki for breakfast, which was such a treat and I really loved it.
My best friend at that time was a big fan of my mother’s Chinese style sweet-sour meatballs. My mother always made extra meatballs and let me take those in a seal-tight container, so I could share with my friend. I was so proud of my mother being so generous and thoughtful.
My friend’s parents ran a watch shop and were well off enough to buy pretty dresses for her all the time. I sometimes wished my parents had been like them. However, in terms of the quality of the obento for school trips, there was no doubt about it mine were a million times better than hers!

When I was at high-school, my father was transferred to Hokkaido. As the rest of my family followed him, I went to live at the boarding house for students.
For school fair or sports day, my girlfriends and teachers made obento for me in turns. Eating those obento made by different families made me realize that obento really varied from each household. The volume of some of the obento was huge, so I didn’t finish on purpose and saved some for my dinner.
On the way to Tokyo for a university exam with my friend, her mother made a snack for me as well, which was my friend’s favourite, grated-carrots sandwich. It became my favourite snack too and I still make that sandwich sometimes.

After university, I don’t have a lot memories about obento because I started eating out.
When I was working in Hong Kong, I used to go out to buy a lunch box that had been freshly cooked. You could choose ingredients (beef and tomatoes etc.) and seasonings (oyster sauce etc.) and they cooked those in front of you, put it over rice in a box to takeaway and I would eat it in my office. Off course, Japanese style obento is very nice, but I found that freshly prepared Hong Kong style lunch box was really tasty and I just loved it.

So, as a result of eating such lovely lunch boxes, I ended up putting on weight and people started calling me ‘Japanese chubby girl’ by the time when I was about to go back to Japan.

These days I’m the one who makes obento for someone else such as my father who goes hiking in the mountains and my husband who is on a diet. My husband often has to go out for social meals where he eats protein more than he needs from meat and seafood. So his obento is full of vegetables. I sometimes wonder how he enjoys eating such a health-conscious obento at lunch time.

I make obento for myself whenever preparing one for my husband. I cherish the moment when I eat it, checking the taste of side dishes in the obento and thinking about my husband.


高校の時に、父親の転勤で家族は北海道に行ってしまい、私は一人、朝晩賄付の下宿に残りました。文化祭とか体育祭になると、クラスの女子の親や先生が交代で私の分もお弁当を作ってくれました、家族によって随分お弁当が違うんだなぁってその時知りました。大きなお弁当を作ってくれたから、わざと残して晩御飯に食べたりしていました。 受験で上京する時も、一緒に行く友人の母親が私の分も軽食を用意してくれて、彼女の好物の人参のすりおろしのサンドイッチが私の好物になりました。今も時々作って食べています。