A few days ago, I mentioned about the bright colours I tend to use in my daughter’s bento, which I naturally inherited from my mum. I kept thinking why my mum’s bento involved so many vivid colours, especially considering her strong preference on subtle, understated hues when it comes to her clothing (which I also naturally inherited). Thinking back, I’ve never seen her wearing bright red, yellow or green that we both use in our bento’s.
Then I remembered about my conversation with my mum while back, when I was still living at my parents’ place, maybe over a cup of green tea after dinner sitting in Kotatsu*. She told me the story of her bento, reminiscing her childhood memory. She said, growing up, she was always embarrassed with her bento her mother (my grandmother) made for her. During lunch time at school, she always hid the contents of her bento, covering them with the lid of her bento box, so her friends would not see what she was eating. She said her bento was always filled with only very basic ingredients, usually just rice with an umeboshi (pickled plum), pickled veggies and nori seaweed dipped in soy sauce. Sometimes, maybe omelet if their chickens lay some eggs in the morning. Her memory of bento was colourless and somber, despite the fact it wasn’t her intention to put her mother down. It was not so long after the war, so there was limited amount of food supply. They lived in the mountains, and most of the time they depended on their own rice and vegetables they grew in the fields. Moreover, her mother had six children to take care of, on top of working in their rice and vegetable fields and silk farm. Simply put, she did not have luxury of making colourful bento.
This seem to have significantly influenced my mum on how she prepared bento for her daughters (my sister & I). She wanted to make visually cheerful bento with vibrant colour palette, so that we didn’t have to go through what she had gone through, and she could give us different experience surrounding what’s inside this tiny box . I remember being always proud of my mum’s bento. I never had a slightest thought of hiding it from my friends. It was quite opposite for me, I always wanted to boast how pretty my bento looked. All these years I never thought about what was behind my mum’s bento. And now, more than ever, I sincerely appreciate my mum for her beautiful bento and embrace all the amazing history that comes with it.
* Kotatsu is a low table with a heating device under the table top, with one or two layer/s of blanket covering the table under the table top to preserve the heat