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I’m a little early on this one, but a momentary glance at this year’s sakura forecast just made me too excited to wait! Unlike the bay area, it looks like it will be a late bloom this year in Japan.

It might sound predictable to the point of cliché but I regularly encourage first time visitors to Japan to travel there during hanami, 花見. Hanami literally means “flower viewing,” and is associated with the season of cherry blossoms. There are a few traditions that revolve around hanami, but the real purpose of this time of year is to simply be present with the blossoms (and take about 2,000 photos—none of which will do justice to the feeling of actually being surrounded by 3,000 cherry trees all in bloom).

My favorite Hanami memory was a late April visit to Matsumoto castle in Nagano. We’d camped out in the mountains the night before and came into town early in search of some breakfast O-yaki as the sun was rising over the Alps. Feeling as if we were the only people awake in the whole world we were surprised to find a handful of early risers spread out and lying on their backs under the ethereal weight of the cherry trees. I swear I could hear the earth breathing with each petal as it floated to the ground.

It feels as though the entire world stops—or at least takes a few easy breaths during the weeks of hanami in Japan. And although I won’t be in Japan this year I intend to set aside some time to simply be present with the blossoms.

The only thing that might be required for blossom viewing is packing a little picnic! I’ve decided to use this post about hanami to share some ideas about how to craft a simple Japanese O-bento, お弁当.

I shared in an earlier post my reflections on lunch time in Japanese schools where it is the school prepared lunch and not the O-bento that reigns supreme. Today, I’d like to share my simple bento ideas because hanami is prime bento time in Japan.  The main reason to make an O-bento is because it’s fun to anticipate your food. At least, that’s what I think. How much better is it to work through the morning knowing that you’re going to eat a well crafted and beautiful meal rather than a soggy sandwich? During the Spring it’s especially nice to take your beautiful O-bento outside during lunch, find a blossoming tree to sit under, and take 20 minutes out of your day to reflect on the ephemeral beauty of blossoms. It might sound a little silly, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. Seriously, try it. please?

Principles of a well crafted O-bento

  • Don’t take too long to make it (5 to 15 minutes)
  • Include at least 3 elements: grain, vegetable, protein (you can add fruit and sweets)
  • Wrap it nicely in something beautiful (you’ll appreciate the gift-like quality later)

Here is a recent O-bento I made for Sune’s lunch (did I mention how making an o-bento for someone else is even better than making it for yourself? It really ups the surprise/gift quality). What we have here is a bottom layer of brown & black rice sprinkled with black sesame seeds and some meyer lemon citrus salt. The top layer contains a generous portion of marinated tofu mixed with sliced spring onions. The removable compartment has some crescent sliced (and de-seeded) cucumber sprinkled with yukari (the store bought yukari usually has MSG in it, which usually bothers me, but not in this case).  And next to that is a raw salad of shredded broccoli, sunflower seeds, and a quick mix of miso and aioli. Final touch is a homemade chocolate-chip/walnut/cherry cookie. Done! 5 minutes!

This is just a simple bento lunch— for a whole world of ideas and inspiration check out this great blog: JustBento