Shigechan Bento

The Taste of the Nembutsu cover image

A message from Rev. Shindo Nishiyama which appears in the book, “The Taste of the Nembutsu,” published in 2016 by the HHMH State Ministers’ Association. The book is a collection of dharma messages by each of the active ministers.

To extend the reach of the dharma within these messages, we will publish one per week on our website.


Shigechan Bento

Rev. Shindo Nishiyama


If you do not encounter the true compassionate Buddha in this world of suffering, you are just living a rootless life. What is the real purpose of our daily human life? Is it just to eat and live? Is it to become rich or popular person? We were born in this life to live the life of appreciation and humbleness. The Nemubutsu teaching always reminds us that we should be very grateful to encounter the true, sincere, and universal unconditional love of Amida Buddha to be awakened one, Buddha. Namo Amida Butsu.

“Bento.” The origin of bento can be traced back to the late Kamakura Period about 900 years ago when cooked and dried rice were developed. In the Azuchi Momoyama Period about 400 years ago, wooden boxes like today’s were produced and bento would be eaten during a Hanami or a tea party outdoors in the spring.

Mothers, in making the bentos as nutritious as possible for their children, follow a color-code to make the contents balanced. Each bento consists of something red, something yellow, something green, white and black. The red could be umeboshi, yellow eggs, green vegetable or edamame, white rice with black nori. By following the color code, the mothers are assured that the contents of the bento is nutritiously balanced.

I would like to share the story, “Genbaku Shigechan Bento”. Genbaku means, “Atomic Bomb”, and Shigechan Bento means, “Shigeru’s Bento”.

On August 6, 1945, when the Atomic Bomb exploded in Hiroshima, there was a boy named Shigeru Orimen who was a Hiroshima junior high school student. He and his classmates were mobilized for demolition work. His mother made a Bento with mixed rice with Genmai and only a few vegetables due to lack of food at that time. It had a very simple taste and his mother’s heart and love were put into Shigeru’s lunch. According his mother, Shigeru was very pleased with the Bento when he left at home in the early morning of August 6, 1945.

Shigeru was just 600 meters from ground zero, Hiroshima Genbaku Dorm. He was exposed when the atomic bomb was dropped there and died.

The two days later, early in the morning, his mother went to the area searching for Shigeru. She found his black charred body with the Bento held under his body. His mother confirmed that it was Shigeru’s Bento because of the engraving of his name on it.

Shigeru couldn’t eat his mother’s home-made Bento. His life of 13 years was destroyed within a very short moment when the Atomic Bomb exploded. I am sure that he was looking forward to eating his mother’s homemade Bento, but he couldn’t. Shigeru never expected to be burned so badly along with his Bento.

After learning about Shigeru and his bento, I have no words to express my strong indignation toward all wars. The unconditional mother’s love that was in Shigeru’s bento was destroyed in a split second.

“Mother’s Bento” has everything. It is mother’s unending care and love to her son, Shigeru. Because of the bombing, the bond between a mother and child was destroyed in an instant. War creates nothing and destroys everything, including human dignity.

I came to America for the first time in 1987 to attend Mesa College in Colorado. I clearly remember my mother’s home-made bento which she gave to me when I left my home for America. A day before I left, I told my mother that I don’t need anything to eat because the meals would be served in the airplane. However, she made a bento for me anyway. I really didn’t want to carry it to the airport but I had to take it with me.

I left Fukuoka for Narita International Airport and then I checked in at the International Terminal. Because I had some time before my departure to SF, I decided to eat the bento. My mother wrapped the bento with the local newspaper, not Furoshiki. When I opened the bento, I was so happy that she made my favorite Okazu, such as Tamagoyaki, fried Chicken, fried Chikuwa (Fish cake), and Nori on rice. I also found a small note. She wrote, “Please enjoy this bento and take care yourself. Don’t give up until you achieve your goal. I am always thinking about you”.

I felt I was a very ungrateful son because I told her I didn’t want to carry a bento to the airport. I was such a son who never awakened to my mother’s unending kindness and caring for her son. Shigeru was not able to eat his mother’s bento because his life was destroyed by the Atomic bomb, but we shall never forget the teenager who was very pleased to take his mother’s bento for lunch.

We sometimes enjoy our bento lunch at home or outside. We have Bento Mixed Plate in Hawaii which is easy to get. But we must also remember our mother’s homemade bento which we enjoyed when we were young. Here in Hawaii your bento may have been Onigiri, spam musubi, sandwiches. You called it “home lunch” or “brown bags”. For me, growing up in Japan with bentos, has a special meaning of not only delicious food but the loving care and love that were put into it by our mothers.

Like our mother’s bento, the Nembutsu, the Name of Amida Buddha’s Wisdom and Compassion is always thinking, caring, and embracing each of us to live a life of appreciation.

Shegeru was holding his mother’s bento and died. He was not alone because his mother’s bento with him. We were born, live and died with the Onembutsu. We are not alone because Amida Buddha’s bento is full of infinite compassion.

Namu Amida Butsu


All men are my children. I am like a father to them. As every father desires the good and the happiness of his children, I wish that all men should be happy always.
(King Ashoka, one of Shakyamuni Buddha’s disciples.)