I finished my delicious lunch of Kiritanpo at the restaurant and saw it was snowing harder outside. The receptionist at the hotel called a taxi for me and it took about 15 minutes to the place where I was going to meet Mr. Sasaki.
Mr. Sasaki is a famous person, he is the President of Odate Mage-wappa Cooperative Union (Mage-Wappa means wood products made by bending wood technique) and I learnt about him for the first time when I saw a very beautiful video about Mage-Wappa on Youtube, then I started to notice his name while I was researching about Odate Magewappa. There are other places in Japan where Wappa products are produced but Odate City in Akita Prefecture is the most famous and well known for its high quality. (Bento&co's original wappa bento box comes from here too)
The union is engaged in many areas of this small but traditional industry such as marketing, cooperative procurement of the raw material, PR activities and the local craftmen's skill improvement and many more. The Union and the city of Odate established together a show room where their works are exhibited and visitors can come here and buy a kit of a wappa product and they can make it with an instructor.
I was the only one visitor that day, maybe the snow fall on Monday was not so permitting for a visit. Mr. Sasaki was very kind and explained and showed me how I should put together the parts he prepared for me to make a round bento box.
The making of a wappa bento box was really fun. I like this kind of hand craft work but the stories Mr. Sasaki told me were so fascinating and interesting. He time to time showed his concerns for young successors and providing training to them left a strong impression on me but really he was like a rich book. His experience as a wappa craft man for 35 years was obviously seen on his hands, anyone could see his hands have been the important tool to produce something for a long long time, I still can not forget Mr. Sasaki's hands.
I asked, "I am afraid of dropping a wappa box on the floor by mistake as it may crack the whole box." Mr. Sasaki said, "It won't crack so easily. You should afraid mold and humidity more."
Mr. Sasaki showed me the best way to dry a wappa bento box after it has been used and washed. It was not the same way I have been using, the wappa box should be standing like this, touching the table as little as possible makes the contact area so small and thus accumlates less humidity.
It was a new learning which I love to share with you.
Although I had such a great craftman as my instructor, the most difficult part of assembly was sanding.
I said to Mr. Sasaki "It is very difficult, this sanding process" and he agreed with me "Yes it is, sanding is by far the most difficult process but you should not fear." There are several grades for sand paper and you start with a coarse sand paper and gradually shift to a finer sand paper. I was probably scared to sand down too much and the beauty of the curved line of the lid would be dissapearing by my poor sanding. With Mr. Sasaki's help I managed to finish the difficult process but thought it was rather funny to know you need to be bold in order to protect something old and traditional.
A good wappa bento box is not so cheap, but if you experience and learn all the process it has to go through, you will understand why it is costly. The material shows a beautiful set of stripes, the white line is the growth of the tree during the summer, the black line is the growth during the winter. One white line and one black line together make one year's growth of the cedar tree.
How many years did this tree spend on this earth?
How many winters and springs did this tree see in this city of Odate?
I came so far but I was so glad I visited Odate and Mr. Sasaki, and I am going to cherish the round wappa bento box I made for the rest of my life.
Rie - Bento specialist, Oslo, Norway
Hello, I love to cook and bake and I enjoy making bento everyday. I was one of the finalists at Bento&co’s contest in 2011 and later I joined Bento&co as Bento Specialist. I am living in Norway now but I am originally from Ishikawa in Japan where many of Bento&co’s bento boxes are made. I try to make bentos that are as beautiful as they are delicious, and I like to show you how to add more sparkles in your bento life! - Rie