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A Farewell Bento

The bento I’ve made today is not something I’ve ever done before and not something I plan on eating. I realize this might make some people feel awkward, especially if they don’t read my blog or know what I do here every day. Bear with me though, as I’ve found that over the last year and a half or so, making pretty food has become a way for me to deal with the various things that come up in life.

This morning was an emotional one for my family. We lost someone very special, my uncle, Mike Sakamoto. People from Hawaii and around the world know him from his popular fishing show ‘Fishing Tales with Mike Sakamoto’. As a little kid, people would do double takes when they heard he was my uncle. My boyfriend in high school, who loved fishing, practically shrieked like a little girl when he found out. He was a local celebrity and a household name.

To me, he was just Uncle Mike. My mom is the baby in the family and so he was her big brother. She’d tell me and my brother the same stories about “Uncle Mikey” all the time. Like the time he told her he’d push her around on her tricycle but then proceeded to roll her into the bushes. As rascal as she portrayed him, she was just as eager to tell us how quick he was to defend her when she happened to catch the eye of bullies.

Family being the way it is sometimes, I wasn’t as close to him as I could have and should have been, but he was always supportive. In elementary school, when I had timidly decided to run for class president, he came to an assembly to try to get me votes. He’d come and do autograph sessions at my mom and aunty’s craft booth to attract customers. He graciously accepted my request to be the emcee at my wedding.

He was a jokester. Sometimes I’d go to Grandma Mu’s house and he’d be there to greet me with a stern look and a gruff, “Hey, you!” like I’d done something bad. After he saw my eyes bulge, he’d let out the signature Sakamoto Cackle, which he and my mom and aunties all have. He’d crush my fingers in a handshake, laugh when I’d whine after he punched me in the arm, and tease me about boys. He was a talented artist, his various watercolor and oil paintings lining Grandma Mu’s walls.

I remember when we’d go to a family party or stop to play firecrackers at his house there was a big, dark room filled with gigantic fishing poles, reels, and a pool table. It was a fun and intimidating room to look around in as a little kid. Their mysterious cat with no tail would walk around and give us stink eye.

As I said, I’ve now come to express myself in food. When I was driving home this morning, unsure of how to feel, the thought of making a bento in his honor came to mind. His show had very catchy music that matched his ever friendly voice. Before each commercial break a little guitar tune would come on and a fish caricature he drew of himself would swim on screen. It’s this fish that I’ve used to make a kyaraben (character bento) for him.

After leaving the hospital this morning, me and my brother went to eat breakfast with one of my aunties, uncle, and cousins. I hadn’t seen them in a while and after what we’d all been through that morning, things suddenly came into perspective. I’ve lost grandparents and grand aunts and uncles, but not someone under the age of 60. I realized that I live on the same island as that side of my family, but rarely see them. Me and my cousins email about get togethers but somehow we end up not doing it. I understand now that we need to make better efforts to spend time together because things happen suddenly and unexpectedly.

My hope is that this image will bring a smile to the faces of my family members as they remember him. I send them all my love and to my cousin Stef, offers of babysitting services too. My kids still have all their limbs connected, so this is a good offer!

Goodbye, Uncle Mike. We will all miss you.