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
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。
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。