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Bento Box in the Heartland: My Japanese Girlhood in Whitebread America
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Bento Box in the Heartland: My Japanese Girlhood in Whitebread America

3.7  ·  Rating details ·  725 Ratings  ·  110 Reviews
While growing up in Versailles, an Indiana farm community, Linda Furiya tried to balance the outside world of Midwestern America with the Japanese traditions of her home life. As the only Asian family in a tiny township, Furiya's life revolved around Japanese food and the extraordinary lengths her parents went to in order to gather the ingredients needed to prepare it.
As i
Paperback, 320 pages
Published December 21st 2006 by Seal Press (first published November 30th 2006)
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This is a food memoir- I didn't even know that was a genre! I requested it from my library because I was doing a little research about bento after being introduced to the concept by a friend. There was actually very little about bento in the book, it is more a coming of age story of a Japanese-American girl in small town Indiana. Her writing is very honest and the descriptions are engaging. I finished this in 2 sittings, because it was a very interesting close look into another persons childhood ...more
Jan 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a story about growing up as an outsider, as a first generation American, as a child of immigrants from a land that had been an enemy. Food is how they connect, to thier Japanese culture, to each other, to the past. i can not imagine the pain the author endured or the struggle her parents faced. This story could easily have dipped into self pity but instead took an honest look her growing up and the unseen forces of culture, history, family that influenced it and wrapped it up in mouth wa ...more
I love the title of this book. It's what caught my eye. This is an enjoyable memoir of growing up as a Japanese-American in the American Midwest (Indiana). It's a classic fish out of water/coming of age memoir. Furiya is candid about her life. There really isn't a whole lot of angst or family problems. Much of the book is centered around food and its importance to the family. In that way, it's similar to Like Water For Chocolate. The author gives recipes for the delectable dishes she describes. ...more
Jan 15, 2009 rated it really liked it
Bento Box is unique and almost reads like a personal ethnography. Because I currently live in Tokyo and spend my vacations in Indiana, there was SO much I could relate to. I appreciated the simple honesty in Furiya's reflection of her upbringing. At the start of the book, I had a hard time adjusting to the style, the way Furiya would jump around a few decades, sometimes all on the same page. As I got more comfortable with the style, I was able to see the bigger picture of why she chose the order ...more
Apr 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing
A gorgeous memoir that resonated deeply with me as a (half) Japanese American who lived as a child in both Japan and the Midwest. It seems difficult to write about painful personal memories without descending into self-pity, but Furiya does this well. She also does a wonderful job of presenting a warts-and-all perspective on her parents while giving enough context about their personal histories that the reader feels compassion for them - and so many others of their wartime generation. Anyone who ...more
Linda Hagedorn
Jul 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
I LOVED this book. Living in Japan for 3 years in the seventies possibly brought on in me a deep connection to this young woman's experiences. Happily I went through reminiscing foods we ate in Japan, various festivals we experienced first-hand, temple visits we made while learning proper etiquette for going into public places and homes. I felt great joy in thinking about those years and what it must have been like to see Japan first-hand.
Dec 09, 2008 rated it liked it
This memoir takes place in Versailles--don't forget to pronounce the l's and s--Indiana. It has some bitterness, some forgiveness, and lots of mouth-watering recipes. Oh, and the ring of truth. A fresh perspective.
Jan 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
A very well-written memoir, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Even though I'm not a Japanese girl growing up in the Midwest, I felt I could relate to the author, especially her desire to fit in at school. I learned quite a bit about Japanese culture and I'm hoping to try some of the recipes in the book.
Jul 22, 2017 rated it it was ok
Interesting story but the writing's not so great The title and premise had me intrigued. The author, a first generation Japanese American, writes a memoir looking what it was like to grow up in Indiana where there were no other Japanese families in the near vicinity. A story of food, of growing up in a place where no one else looks like you except your family and navigating growing up as an "American" child and teenager.
Her story is an interesting one, from how her parents met (they had an arra
Of all the things I miss about living in Japan, the food is on the top of the list. So a memoir about Japanese food, by a Japanese-American being reared in America's heartland, was right up my alley.

Furiya grew up in rural Indiana, in one of the few Asian-American families in her Versailles community. She takes us back to her early childhood and describes her unique family upbringing, of which food was central. Furiya's parents felt closer to home (Japan) when they could eat Japanese food; howev
Oct 25, 2017 rated it liked it
This book is about a Japanese American girl that group up in the state of Indiana. She had difficulty with what her identity was. She tried to fit in in America and she tried to fit in in Japan(when she went to visit). Growing up she didn't understand why her parents were the way they were, hush hush about things, ignore comments, etc. She was basically the only Asian girl in her community. So it was difficult growing up. But as an adult she has come to realize that food in her family is what he ...more
Jan 23, 2018 rated it liked it
As a fellow Hoosier I didn’t really enjoy this one. Everyone just seemed unhappy.
Dec 31, 2014 rated it liked it

Linda Furiya grew up in rural Indiana, far away from the traditional Japanese culture that her parents tried hard to emulate.  She didn't understand why her lunches were different than other kids'.  She was embarrassed to hear her parents trying to talk to people in public, especially when other people didn't make an effort to understand them.  She didn't want to invite people over to her house because it was so different than other peoples'.

Her parents had amazing life stories that she didn't
Linda Furiya grew up in Versailles, Indiana, with her two brothers and their parents. Linda and her family were, for some time, the only Asian people in their community, and Linda often felt out of place. Her parents’ marriage was arranged and they bonded over their common love of Japanese food – Linda’s mother enjoyed preparing it and her father enjoyed eating it. Many of Linda’s memories have strong associations with particular Japanese dishes, and the difficulties her parents went through in ...more
Mar 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
Enjoyed this memoir of growing up Japanese-American in the small-town Midwest (Indiana) in the 1960's. As you would expect, there's a lot of bigotry and just lack of understanding of Japanese culture there, but there are nuances... Linda does have friends, and her insight is sharp and insightful in terms of assessing her place in her family and community.

There are recipes at the end of each chapter, and one was repeated verbatim from an earlier chapter ("gyoza", aka Japanese potstickers) which I
Nov 30, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: teens/adults
In this memoir of growing up Japanese-American in rural Indiana, Furiya's memories have a way of conjuring up the Japanese food that her mother lovingly prepared even as they had to travel many hours to get the ingredients needed to make these dishes. The memoir resonated most for me in the sections where she talks about being the child of immigrants with limited English and having to play the role of translator for them. She grew up fast because she had to deal with complex adult issues, even h ...more
Apr 29, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: those who like food writing, multicultural memoir
I'm a sucker for a food memoir, so I snatched this off the library's "New" shelf on a whim. It was both better and not as good as I was hoping.

The good:
This didn't need to be a food memoir, though the food was a powerful symbol of the author's "otherness" within the community, while underscoring the unity of her family. (This look at otherness reminded me a bit of Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America, about a Lubavitcher community in Iowa.
I come from a fairly liberal community
Mar 02, 2008 rated it really liked it
Linda Furiya is second generation Japanese-American born and raised in Indiana. As the only daughter in the only Asian family in town, many of Furiya's experiences and heartaches are predictable - the kids at school make fun of her slanted eyes, the people in town mock her parents' accents. But, she finds a different lens through which to view her experiences. In becoming conscious of her own identity, and reconciling her desire to belong with her love for those things that make her different, F ...more
Erik Dewey
Mar 15, 2013 rated it liked it
I had hoped to get a feel of Japanese life from American eyes, and I got some of that, but mostly I read a handful of encounters of a Japanese-American girl growing up in Indiana. I found the stories very interesting and I felt she did a great job of presenting how outside she felt from the American society around her.

I did have a bit of difficult with how the tales jumped around so much. In one chapter she goes from being a 7 year-old girl in Indiana to a thirty year-old with a child and living
Oct 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I love food memoirs, and I particularly enjoyed this one. It's a classic coming of age story: the author is a Japanese-American girl living in Indiana and dealing with the cultural identity questions that come from growing up Japanese in "whitebread America." Intertwined with the tale are the author's thoughts on food, and how it relates to the her identity and connects her to her family's homeland.

I loved the author's descriptions of food, and the book is filled with recipes from her childhood
Sep 30, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: reality-rules
I must admit that I liked this adult memoir more than I thought I would. I won't be giving away copies of it for Christmas or anything, but I read in a few days. Linda Furiya is Japanese American and grew up in a small town in Indiana. This food memoir (tons of yummy Japanese recipes are included) describes her experiences growing up and how she had to adjust to being Asian in a small Midwestern town. Food is very important to her family, and so food is discussed in detail. But so is her mother' ...more
Patrice Sartor
This is closer to 2.5, but since I found it decent, and the recipes look good, I bumped it up.

Furiya tells the tale of her childhood growing up in Indiana and being raised by two Japanese parents. She integrates food into the story quite a bit (happily), detailing family meals, certain customs, trips to special markets to procure Japanese ingredients, along with the embarrassment of bringing a school lunch that is so different than everyone else's.

I appreciated Furiya's honesty in what she thoug
Feb 11, 2011 rated it really liked it
This is the story of a young Japanese girl growing up in rural Indiana. Being stuck between two clashing cultures seems to have caused her much trouble. It's an interesting study of historic roles and traditional values that cause problems augmented by the issues her parents had with growing up during the war. Sometimes you just want to yell at the characters to just talk to each other. Many things go unsaid and things that are said are often dismissed to save face. It's kind of infuriating at t ...more
Arindam Kar
Jul 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
A wonderful memoir about a first-generation American growing up in the rural Midwest. Writing the memoir with the food theme/thread was especially joyful, given my interest in cooking and my proclivity to associating certain food/dishes with certain memories.

I found so many similarities between the stories about Linda's life growing up and and mine that I often caught myself smiling (and wincing) as I relived some of those moments in my mind. To highlight a few: the comedy, trials and tribulati
Apr 20, 2007 rated it really liked it
The author is first generation American. As you might guess from the title, her parents were from Japan. Linda Furiya offers an intimate, interesting account of growing up in a Japanese household, but in a small town in Indiana. I found her mother's story extremely interesting. I don't want to spoil the book for anyone who hasn't yet read it so I won't reveal too much information. But it broke my heart that it took her mother fifteen years from the time she moved to Indiana into this unknown cul ...more
Miz Lizzie
A food memoir -- yum! Linda Furiya writes about growing up Japanese American, and in the only Asian family, in a small town in Indiana in the 1960s. Each chapter ends with a recipe for a favorite Japanese food that served to feed her shaky Japanese identity while growing up desperately trying to be as white as possible. A fascinating account of first generation immigrants and the importance food in family and ethnic identity. Also a rich source of information on a personal experience level of th ...more
Sarah Crawford
Jan 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Linda Furiya is a Nisei, a second-generation Japanese American. Her father served in the Japanese Military in China, and her mother was was brought over to the U.S. as part of an arranged marriage. Thus Linda, like many other Japanese Americans of the time, was trying to live in what was a two-culture world; the Japanese culture of her parents, and the American culture of those around her.

She grew up in a small Indiana town, and for most of the time they were the only Asians in the town. This m
Mar 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
It's been a while since I read this, but I do remember it as a wonderful mix of awkward "different" kid aching to be "just like everyone else" in the middle of the WHITEST of white-bread America. I loved and so identified with her, wanting to be the SAME yet undeniably different in many ways she slowly learned to celebrate. I dove in to this "food memoir" style story a few years ago, and have enjoyed this type of story, with recipes seamlessly woven into each chapter (though I've been too intimi ...more
Jan 14, 2015 rated it liked it
I found the premise of this book to be interesting when I had first starting reading it; a Japanese-American girl growing up in Indiana in a Japanese family. She went through a multitude of trials and tribulations related to her ethnicity as her family was the only Asian family in the town at that time. I did enjoy reading about Linda's childhood, and how her various experiences had molded her into the woman that she had eventually become. I did find that some of the stories were a bit long, whi ...more
Jun 07, 2009 rated it liked it
Always interesting to read about other cultures' food; here, specifically, Japanese food. Furiya relates a fairly typical first-generation immigrant tale of discomfort, embarassment, early responisbilities to help parents who don't speak English fluently, and a search for identity. She details aspects of her relationship with each parent and how food was the one common link to her Japanese cultural identity she was able to share with her parents growing up. The book is "a food memoir," but in th ...more
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