Kenichi Torikai makes a “character” breakfast for his wife, Mitsuyo, whose Alzheimer’s dementia has recently progressed, in Obu, Aichi Prefecture. He hopes the cute visuals stimulate her appetite and make her smile. (Junko Saimoto)

OBU, Aichi Prefecture--To tempt the appetite of his wife, who has difficulty swallowing because of Alzheimer’s disease, a 74-year-old man dutifully prepares a cute and tasty breakfast every morning that she can eat with her eyes, too.

And for more than a year now, it has proven to be just what the doctor ordered.

At 5:30 a.m., Kenichi Torikai flicks the lights on in the kitchen in his home in Obu, Aichi Prefecture.

It is time for him to start preparing.

“I love this moment. This is what I feel passionate about,” the septuagenarian said.

His morning routine usually takes about an hour because the breakfast he makes is far from ordinary and boring.

He makes the most important meal of the day into an elaborately crafted and decorated presentation of food, featuring cute characters such as a little girl and an animal.

The breakfast plate looks like Japanese “kyaraben” character bento boxes, often seen on social media, aimed at encouraging young children to broaden their eating habits by making the experience fun.

Torikai makes it for his wife, Mitsuyo, 73.

Torikai has risen early and stepped into the kitchen each morning over the past year and a half, hoping the day’s kawaii presentation will stimulate her weakened appetite.

More than anything, the morning meal has served as a means of communication--a pictorial letter Torikai creates for his wife of 47 years.


Breakfast preparation actually begins the day before.

Torikai mixes liquid nutritional supplements with gelatin and turns them into a jelly. Then he can draw things on the jelly, such as children and animals, using jam, fruits, vegetables and sweet bean paste.

Kenichi Torikai prepares breakfast for his wife, Mitsuyo, at their home in Obu, Aichi Prefecture. (Junko Saimoto)

One of his favorite characters is a girl, which he makes with a piece of sliced bread.

With the point of a kitchen knife, Torikai cuts it into the shape of a human face. He then scoops up a tiny portion of strawberry jam with a long chopstick and applies it to the face, brushing her cheeks and around her eyes.

Thinly sliced “konbu” (dried kelp) become her eyelashes, while pieces of cherry tomato change into her lips.

His primary choice for a character’s eyes is two black beans.

“I have tried many things, such as nori seaweed and sweet bean paste,” Torikai said. “But black beans are the best. They make the eyes gleamy and the facial expression lively.”

“I don’t know how it will turn out until I finish,” he said in amusement.

When the meal is ready, he helps Mitsuyo into her seat at the table.

“You like it?” he asks while spoon-feeding her.

He would look into her eyes, wait patiently until she opens her mouth and strike up a conversation about the weather, or anything for that matter.


Torikai left his hometown in Kumamoto Prefecture for work when he was still a teenager.

While working in Aichi Prefecture, Torikai was introduced by his older brother to Mitsuyo, who is also from Kumamoto.

He was attracted to her kindness and inner strength. They got married in 1974 and were blessed with two sons.

But nine years ago, just as they were about to start making plans for their golden years, Mitsuyo started showing signs of something unusual.

She needed to take longer to finish her shopping. She once collapsed in the kitchen. But the hospital told them, “There is nothing serious.”

Kenichi Torikai draws a little girl on nutritional-supplement jelly, using strawberry jam and sweet bean paste. (Junko Saimoto)

One day, however, Mitsuyo went out and did not return home. Torikai went around looking for her. When he finally found her, Mitsuyo said, “I wasn't able to find how to get back home.”

Torikai began to really worry. And he was right to. At the age of 64, Mitsuyo was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

That day, Torikai decided to quit his job to become her caretaker.

“In the beginning, I was worried because I didn’t know what would happen next,” he said.

To ease their minds, he and Mitsuyo would take every opportunity to learn about the disease. They attended lectures and joined a study group. They were desperate to learn how to slow the progression of Alzheimer's, even just a little.

Mitsuyo was well enough to take drawing lessons, knit, and go hiking in the mountains--always with Torikai.

They bought a used piano and enjoyed singing while playing it. Their plan for their senior years appeared to be going well--up until five years ago.

Since then, the piano lid has remained closed.

Nowadays, Mitsuyo spends more time staying in bed.


About a year and a half ago, Mitsuyo started having difficulty eating, a sign that her dementia is progressing.

She could not eat or drink for days and lost 20 kilograms.

A doctor suggested Torikai feed her canned nutritional supplements in liquid form. But she had a hard time swallowing it.

When Torikai made it into jelly, Mitsuyo tried her best and ate it.

But the jelly looked very bland. When Torikai started topping it with jam and honey, he came up with the idea of drawing on the food to decorate it.

A breakfast that Kenichi Torikai prepared for his wife, Mitsuyo (Provided by Kenichi Torikai)

When Mitsuyo saw his art, it put a smile on her face. She cleared the plate.

“When she smiles, even just a little, it makes me happy,” Torikai said.

But with each passing day, Mitsuyo smiles less and less.

The progression of her disease has robbed her of facial expressions.

Still, Torikai gets up early every morning to begin preparing breakfast for her.

“She may show no facial expression, but she might be feeling something,” he said, hoping that the meal would boost Mitsuyo’s appetite and that he could see her smile again.

The work has also given him a new purpose in life.

“Describing the season and my feelings is a pleasure I take for myself,” he said.

Some days, he feels lonely. But other days, he enjoys the mellow time with Mitsuyo.

He just wants to have more time like this with her--as long as possible.

Characters that Kenichi Torikai drew on the breakfasts he prepared for his wife, Mitsuyo (Photos provided by Kenichi Torikai)