Tag Archives: lunch boxes

Lunch Box: Ikawa Mempa Bento Boxes by Artist Craftsman Yoshiaki Mochizuki!

Three-tiered oval-shaped/小判型/lunch box

Although the concept of bento boxes has presently become known all over the World, few, especially abroad/away from Japan, have had the occasion to savor food out of traditional boxes made of highly quality lacquer wood.
There is a simple reason to that: very few artists are still alive plying their trade and craft in an age where almost everything is made of cheap plastic or metal.

Whereas fancy modern bento boxes might possess the appeal of novelty, they will never enhance the sensation, design and taste of the food they contain as much as traditional ones.
There is also a widespread misconception that bento boxes are conceived for children’s lunches. When you discover the looks of sheer envy from work colleagues when they espy one of theirs opening such a box to start a beautiful meal prepared by a loving one you will be convinced that you are indeed missing a true gastronomic experience whatever the cuisine you enjoy every day!

This is the beauty of bento boxes: there is no limit to what food or gastronomy they might contain!

6th Generation Ikawa Mempa Lunch Box Craftsman: Mr. Yoshiaki Mochizuki/望月義秋さん!

Here in Shizuoka Prefecture, Shizuoka City to be more precise, we are blessed with one of the very few true artists surviving, namely Mr. Yoshiaki Mochizuki/望月良秋, the Sixth Generation of the famed Ikawa Mempa Lunch Boxes craftsmen.
Ikawa/井川 is a village located high in the Mountains of the Japan Southern Alps at the northern tip of Shizuoka City.
Mempa/メンパ is the name of the traditional lunch boxes created from hinoki/檜/Japanese Cypresses and Yamazakura/山桜/Mountain Cherry Trees found there in their natural environment.
Although it looks simple enough, the craft is a very precise one and only years of dedication and painstaking work may result in true masterpieces.

Ikawa Mempa Lunch Boxes come in two basic shapes:
Kobangata/小判型/oval-shaped which accounts for 80% of the production.
Marugata/丸型/round-shaped.
The process is basically the same for all, be they round or oval, single, double, triple-tiered or even more.

MANUFACTURE PROCESS

1- KITORI/木取り

Hinoki/檜/Japanese cypresses are measured and cut out into slats according to the size of the bento boxes.

2-KEZURI/削り

The wood is then thinned in three steps with a plane:
Ara kezuri/荒削り= rough plane cutting
Naka kezuri/中削り= intermediate plane cutting
Shiage kezuri/仕上げ削り= finish plane cutting

3- MENTORI/面取り

Rounding the edges with a curved plane.

4- KI HANA/木鼻

Thinning areas where the wood parts come into direct contact to avoid disformation.

5- KIGOROSHI/木殺し

“Koro/ころ”

“Koro” unfurled

The hinoki/檜/Japanese cypress slats are softened by boiling them into water for a full hour, after which they will be curved with the help of a tool called “koro/ころ”.

6- KANSOU/乾燥

Step 1

Step 2

Step 3

Step 4

Step 5

The curved wood slats being secured wooden pegs are left to dry in sunlight for 2~3 days.

7- KABANUI/カバ縫い

Yamazakura/山桜/mountain cherry tree bark strips

After square holes have been have been cut out, the slat is secured with strips of mountain cherry tree strips.

8- SOKOIRE/底入れ

Models for oval-shaped bottoms

Models for round-shaped bottoms

The bottom of the lunch box is cut out of a plank of the same tree in the desired shape.

9- SHIBUSHITAJI/渋下地

The wood is painted twice with a mixture of unripe persimmon powder (kakishibu/柿渋) and red iron oxide powder (bengara/弁柄) to harden it.

10- KOKUSO/こくそ

The space between the bottom and the sides is filled with two layers of lacquer instead of glue.

11- SABITSUKE/錆付け

A mixture of fresh lacquer and whetstone powder is applied on the bottom and the cherry tree strips with a bamboo spatula.

12- SABITOGI/錆砥偽

The dried lacquer is smoothed over with a wetted piece of(No 360) sandpaper.

13- SHIBUSHITAJI/渋下地
The whole box is painted again with a mixture of kakishibu/柿渋/unripe persimmon powder and bengara/弁柄/red iron dioxide powder. Once dried, any dust is carefully wiped out.

14- URUSHI HON NURI/漆本塗り

The whole box is painted with lacquer 2 or 3 times in a room free of dust.
The boxes may be painted all in dark colors or bright red.

Bright red.

Wholly painted with dark lacquer

SPECIAL ORDERS:

Seven-tiered lunch box with a Mount Fuji scenery gold-painted with a hair brush!

Seven-tiered lunch box with a scenery of the Tokyo Tower gold-painted with a hair brush and reflecting the light!

Needless to say that there exists only one unique piece of each of these two masterpieces although Ikawa Mempa Lunch Boxes can be order-made!

RECOMMENDED RELATED WEBSITES

So Good Sushi Restaurant in Nice France
Navigating Nagoya by Paige, Shop with Intent by Debbie, BULA KANA in Fiji, Kraemer’s Culinary blog by Frank Kraemer in New York,Tokyo Food File by Robbie Swinnerton, Green Tea Club by Satoshi Nihonyanagi in Shizuoka!, Mind Some by Tina in Taiwan, Le Manger by Camille Oger (French), The Indian Tourist, Masala Herb by Helene Dsouza in Goa, India, Mummy I Can Cook! by Shu Han in London, Pie
rre.Cuisine
, Francescannotwrite, My White Kitchen, Foodhoe, Chucks Eats, Things that Fizz & Stuff, Five Euro Food by Charles,Red Shallot Kitchen by Priscilla,With a Glass, Nami | Just One Cookbook, Peach Farm Studio, Clumsyfingers by Xethia, PepperBento, Hapabento, Kitchen Cow, Lunch In A Box, Susan at Arkonlite, Vegan Lunch Box; Tokyo Tom Baker, Daily Food Porn/Osaka, Only Nature Food Porn, Happy Little Bento, J-Mama’s Kitchen, Cook, Eat, Play, Repeat, Bento Lunch Blog (German), Adventures In Bento, Anna The Red’s Bento Factory, Ohayo Bento,

Must-see tasting websites:

-Sake: Ichi For The Michi by Rebekah Wilson-Lye in Tokyo, Tokyo Through The Drinking Glass, Tokyo Foodcast, Urban Sake, Sake World
-Wine: Palate To Pen, Warren Bobrow, Cellar Tours, Ancient Fire Wines Blog
-Beer: Another Pint, Please!, Beering In Good Mind: All about Craft Beer in Kansai by Nevitt Reagan!
ABRACADABREW, Magical Craftbeer from Japan
-Whisky: Nonjatta: All about whisky in Japan by Stefan Van Eycken
-Japanese Pottery to enjoy your favourite drinks: Yellin Yakimono Gallery

Non gastronomy must-see sites by Shizuoka Residents

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Japanese Traditional Local Festivals: 5th Annual Miwa Cherry Blossoms Festival in Shizuoka City!

Recent times have seen a revival of local festivals in Japan, especially in the rural areas, probably because people wanted to forget the sluggish economy and come back to more basic social gatherings after long years spent away in dehumanizing cities.
My good friend Neil had mentioned that his neighborhood in Miwa was organizing their 5th Annual Sakura Festival yesterday so I rode my bicycle for a good 45 minutes from home till the other side of the Abe River in Shizuoka City!

I left my bicycle at Neil’s place and walked till the Miwa Primary School where I found this banner announcing the Cherry Blossoms Festival!

For once that the weather was fine I walked on the causeway along the Abe River.

It is still winter and the water was pretty dry in all senses of the word!

I finally espied the site!

The Festival has been scheduled on the 3rd Sunday of February whatever the conditions or weather.
Unfortunately the last three weeks have witnessed unseasonal cold and the early-blooming Kawazu Cherry Trees had not blossomed yet!

For a closer view!

On the other hand the Japanese plum trees were still very much in flowers!

And the kumquats were everywhere for a picking!

We are full in leek season! Great to fight colds!

Plenty of beautiful colors to be found in private gardens!

But someone had made sure we had some cherry blossoms on site!

Neil had been designated as the sound engineer of the event!

You can’t have a festival in Japan without drums!

I wonder what those fox masks are for!

Robust ladies!

Oranges and tea on sale!
Notice the “dustbins”!

The site was small but certainly crowded!

Local bonsai on sale!

Local farmers selling their produce!

What are they preparing here?

Tonjiru soup for free!
Very thoughtful of the organizers!

Ashikubo Green Tea!

Sweet dango/balls!

Boxed lunches and wagashi cakes!

Chirashizushi bento!
All bentos are really home-made before put on sale!

Okonomiyaki!

Grilled sausages!

Deep-fried sweetmeat buns!

Yakisoba!

Candy Floss!

Grilled mochi cakes!

Local Benihoppe strawberries!

Home-made umeboshi!

They even had a small flea market!

Oden!

Dorayaki!

Very traditional dance!

Another very traditional dance!

And very traditional drinking!
RECOMMENDED RELATED WEBSITES

Francescannotwrite, My White Kitchen, 47 Japanese Farms Through The Eyes of Its Rural Communities, Foodhoe, Chucks Eats, Things that Fizz & Stuff, Five Euro Food by Charles,Red Shallot Kitchen by Priscilla,With a Glass, Nami | Just One Cookbook, Peach Farm Studio, Clumsyfingers by Xethia, PepperBento,Adventures in Bento Making, American Bent, Beanbento, Bento No, Bento Wo Tsukurimashou, Cooking Cute, Eula, Hapabento , Happy Bento, Jacki’s Bento Blog, Kitchen Cow, Leggo My Obento, Le Petit Journal Bento & CO (French), Lunch In A Box,
Susan at Arkonlite, Vegan Lunch Box; Tokyo Tom Baker, Daily Food Porn/Osaka, Only Nature Food Porn, Happy Little Bento, The Herbed Kitchen, J-Mama’s Kitchen, Cook, Eat, Play, Repeat, Bento Lunch Blog (German), Adventures In Bento, Anna The Red’s Bento Factory, Cooking Cute, Timeless Gourmet, Bento Bug, Ideal Meal, Bentosaurus, Mr. Foodie (London/UK), Ohayo Bento,

Must-see tasting websites:

-Sake: Tokyo Through The Drinking Glass, Tokyo Foodcast, Urban Sake, Sake World
-Wine: Palate To Pen, Warren Bobrow, Cellar Tours, Ancient Fire Wines Blog
-Beer: Good Beer & Country Boys, Another Pint, Please!
-Japanese Pottery to enjoy your favourite drinks: Yellin Yakimono Gallery

The Homey Art Of Bento-Shizuoka Style!

All the bentoes are from the Missus’ archives!

Preparing a bento is an act of love.
Or an apprenticeship to love for single people!

As expats, although its notion has been ingrained in our gastronomic brains for more than half a century (not accounting for the Army ration packs of older generations), a lunch box simply cannot be compared to a Japanese bento!
After all, Western lunch boxes were a bit of a misnomer when you consider their very basic contents piled into an artless tin box.
On the other hand, why has bento grown so popular abroad (i.e. out of Japan)?
You just have to browse the Internet or Home Cooking Magazines to realize it has progressed far beyond a mere fad. The concept is here to stay and spread all over the World eventually.

Bento officionados usually agree on the following as the reasons for its popularity:
-Health: a real bento combining all the ingredients of a normal meal (and even more!) is bound to make up for a better-balanced repast than any lunch you would hurriedly buy at a baker’s, fast food joint or supermarket before wolfing it down at your office or workplace.
-Practicality: bento is conceived to be carried in vessels taking a minimum amount of space in your luggage. As it is usually wrapped with chopsticks (or fork and spoon) inside a tablecloth or large handkerchief one only needs to untie it, leave it atop its wrapping, open it and enjoy it at leisure on your office desk, at the company cafeteria or in a nearby park.
-Aesthetics: you just have to open a well-conceived bento box to have your friends or colleagues peer into it with envy and wonder. How many times have people witnessed others taking photographs of each other’s creation for further reference? Good friends will actually venture as far as exchanging some of their better morsels!

The idea that a bento is a woman’s or wife’s (or girlfriend’s) work has slowly but steadily become obsolete.
In Japan they even show (single) men preparing their lunch box alone in the kitchen on prime time TV shows.

Choosing your box or vessel:
Although traditional cedar wood boxes make for an exquisite gastronomic experience, one does not have to lavish money on extravagant bento boxes.
Such boxes may be of all shapes and material.
Many young Japanese men go as far as designing their own boxes into metal and plastic encased sets that look more than space shuttle contraptions than anything else.
A hard round plastic Tupperware can make for an appropriate bento box if you use plenty of dry curry over rice (don’t forget to decorate with crumbled boiled egg and a few sprigs of green!).

A rectangular bamboo fiber case very commonly found to pack souvenir treats will do well for sushi rolls where they can stand their cross section up.
Do not discard any reusable box that can be easily transformed into a practical vessel for your lunch.
Now, if you want to invest some money into a true Japanese bento box you basically have the choice between a compartmented box (round, square or rectangular) and a single-tiered or double-tiered bean-shaped box. The former usually comes lacquered while the latter can be made of cedar tree sheets bound with cherry tree bark.
I must confess that I have a special fondness for the latter because one can separate his/her lunch into two distinct “dishes” one can pick from in turns.
Do not forget your chopsticks, or fork or spoon. Choose the former to last long enough for the sake of ecology!

-But I have no time to prepare a bento before going to work in the morning!

True to say, a good bento requires some planning and organization.
But the more you put into it, the more contented (or proud) you, your partner or family member will feel.
Actually bento is no less than the epitome of slow food disguised into fast food if I may afford the apparent contradiction:
A bento bought at a convenience store is fast food. A lunch concocted with love and passion is slow food. But you eat it like fast food!

Organization should not be that complicated.
First of all decide on your staple the night before: rice, bread (yes!), potato (why not?). Keep in mind this will form at least a good third of your lunch.
Next check your fridge for meat or fish for the main “partner” of your staple. That is, if you are not vegetarian. Talking of vegetarianism (or veganism), this is not an obstacle at all!
Alright, you have decided on your staple and its partner. You still have to think of how you are going to accommodate your meat or fish. Fried? Sauteed? Steamed? Broiled? And their seasoning!

Next, think of dietary balance and decorative value.
This is where you have to think of the vegetables and fruit (no biscuits, or junk food, please! Keep it healthy!). Are you going to serve them raw (don’t forget you need dressing including oil for good digestion of raw vegetables!), grilled, fried, or steamed? Keep it in mind to strike a good balance between all ingredients. The key is not to prepare them all in the same fashion!
You will find out quickly that colors are a good guide when considering the nutritious value of your bento!
Right, you have struck the right balance and proportions!
Now it is up to your artistic sense!
I’m sure you will be able to emulate the picture(s) in this article and even better after some practice!
Why?
Because bento is an act of love!

RECOMMENDED RELATED WEBSITES

My White Kitchen, 47 Japanese Farms Through The Eyes of Its Rural Communities, Foodhoe, Chucks Eats, Things that Fizz & Stuff, Five Euro Food by Charles,Red Shallot Kitchen by Priscilla,With a Glass, Nami | Just One Cookbook, Peach Farm Studio, Clumsyfingers by Xethia, PepperBento,Adventures in Bento Making, American Bent, Beanbento, Bento No, Bento Wo Tsukurimashou, Cooking Cute, Eula, Hapabento , Happy Bento, Jacki’s Bento Blog, Kitchen Cow, Leggo My Obento, Le Petit Journal Bento & CO (French), Lunch In A Box,
Susan at Arkonlite, Vegan Lunch Box; Tokyo Tom Baker, Daily Food Porn/Osaka, Only Nature Food Porn, Happy Little Bento, The Herbed Kitchen, J-Mama’s Kitchen, Cook, Eat, Play, Repeat, Bento Lunch Blog (German), Adventures In Bento, Anna The Red’s Bento Factory, Cooking Cute, Timeless Gourmet, Bento Bug, Ideal Meal, Bentosaurus, Mr. Foodie (London/UK), Ohayo Bento,

Must-see tasting websites:

-Sake: Tokyo Through The Drinking Glass, Tokyo Foodcast, Urban Sake, Sake World
-Wine: Palate To Pen, Warren Bobrow, Cellar Tours, Ancient Fire Wines Blog
-Beer: Good Beer & Country Boys, Another Pint, Please!
-Japanese Pottery to enjoy your favourite drinks: Yellin Yakimono Gallery