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About This Site

My name is Makiko Itoh (伊藤牧子; more about me on my personal site). I have been writing about Japanese food and cooking since 2003, when I started my first food site Just Hungry. At the time, Just Hungry was one of the very few food blogs dedicated to Japanese food. In 2007 I started another site, Just Bento, which is dedicated to bento box meals. That too, was one of the first sites about bentos; the word 'bento' had barely entered the English lexicon, and the best known usage for it was probably a database program for Mac OS X (back then we called them programs, not apps) called Bento. Photogenic charaben or kyaraben, cute and highly decorative bentos, were already getting attention online, but I think I helped to spread the understanding of what regular everyday bento lunches in Japan were like, and how people all over the world could make them part of their lives too.

In the more than 15 years since I started Just Hungry, the popularity of Japanese culture, including but not limited to its food, has exploded. There was a setback in March 2011, when the Great East Japan Earthquake caused a terrible accident at a nuclear power plant in Fukushima prefecture. Despite that, there are now more overseas tourists than ever making the trip to the country that is my place of birth, and aspects of Japanese culture such as anime, manga, games, the food of course, and much more are very popular.

However, Japan remains a remote, exotic place for many English speakers - a place that gets either romanticized to unrealistic levels, or looked down on,, made fun of, or even villified. There are many English language sites out there these days dedicated to Japan-related topics, but they tend to rest in either of these extremes. Morever, even though some have Japanese writers on staff, they tend to reflect non-Japanese points of view. There is a lot of value to that of course, and I am certainly not discounting them. But I feel that there is a distinct lack of Japanese voices in the fray. This is also reflected in the English language news media.

Why me?

I believe that my background puts me in a unique position to talk about Japan. I was born in central Tokyo, to a fairly ordinary "salaryman" family. Both my parents are run of the mill Japanese people, with all-Japanese ancestry stretching back, as far as I know, for generations. However, since the age of 5 I have lived in several countries, as we moved around with my father, who was sent to first England and then the United States by his company. i returned to Japan when I was 10, but at age 16 we were off again back to the U.S. when my father took a new job there. Even after I left home, I've been moving around restlessly - from the U.S. to Switzerland, back to the U.S., back to Switzerland, then on to France - and back again to Japan. I just can't get that nomadic habit out of my system.

All that wandering around has given me some advantages though. First, I am completely comfortable in either Japanese or English, and have a working knowledge of French (my German and Swiss-German are sadly rusty). But I also have an understanding of how Japanese society works, how a typical Japanese person thinks and acts, and what about those things may be strange, unique or just 'inscrutable' to someone else, especially from a western country.

I've been writing off and on about non-food related Japanese things in varicous places for the past few years. But I feel now is the time to put all of my writings on the big subject of my home country in one place.

Welcome to Just My Japan.