Virtually all the folks I know in Japan are either a) art world connections, b) travelers I met while abroad and with whom I stayed in contact after we returned to our respective homes, or c) friends of Saki’s who have taken this semi-literate (in Japanese, at least) gaijin under their wings. I first met Chika (who falls into category “c”) on the street near Saki’s house several years back; she was herding a brood of kids (all hers) down the busy Suginami sidewalk. She called out to Saki, who used to be her high school chum back in the day; Saki, for her part, did a double take and let out a whoop of delight. She gave Chika a hug, after which we all stood around chatting for some time, the kids running interference all the while. Chika didn’t speak a lot of English, and my Japanese at the time was even worse, but we had a good interpreter, and all in all she seemed quite an affable soul. Chance meetings like this are rare in Tokyo, given the size of the city and the density of the population, so I suspected strongly that I would not run into Chika again, unless she and Saki made some plans in that direction. It turned out I could not have been more wrong. We ran into one another again fairly shortly, in an entirely different part of the city; our paths converged at Tokyo Dome, home of baseball’s Yomiuri Giants, in Korakuen, a twenty-some-minute trip by speedy train from Suginami. We weren’t there for a game, but rather for the annual Aomori festival, in which vendors of every stripe come south from the northern prefecture of Aomori for a weekend of fun and frolic in Tokyo. Once again we had the chance to hang out together, meandering through the food stalls and souvenir shops that filled the infield of the Tokyo Dome, this time in the company of her husband as well as the aforementioned kids.
I have gone for a couple of years now without running into Chika again, but she and Saki are mixi friends (mixi being Japan’s version of facebook), so I have kinda sorta kept up with her goings-on, at least from a third-hand vantage point. A few weeks back, she published pictures of the bento box lunches that she routinely prepares for her preschool-aged kids, and I was instantly charmed. So much so, in fact, that I wanted her photos to have a more international audience than the Japanese-only mixi site would afford them. So I asked Saki to ask Chika if she would mind if I put them in my blog, and she kindly agreed. When I think of all of the humdrum peanut butter or tuna salad sandwiches that comprised my school lunches over the years, I feel seriously deprived! Chika, please make lunch for me!!!!! Have a look: