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The Culture of Bento: Cute and Crazy TLC

November 5, 2014 | By: Blessing       Arts and Culture
Bento Culture! 
The Japanese Make Packed
Lunches an Art of their Own

Japanese style conspires to make every mundane thing in one's life something beautiful.  The Art & Culture of Bento and Bento Boxes are a distinct culture of meticulous and colorful food preparation to showcase not only an appetizing meal but a work of art by itself.  Like a three-dimensional postcard made up of food pieces as art saying "I love you."

Bento de luxe  by Abendstrom                                                  CC BY-SA 3.0 

We like Bento because it makes preparing our lunch box not just an ordinary chore but an enjoyable task for our loved ones.  The culture of Bento lunches extends beyond just family love and the need for everything in life to be kawai and oshare.  Bento makes digging into your lunch that much more enjoyable if you open your lunchbox and find something really special. 

Like Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement, Bento meals also take a certain artistic flair, from cutting staple vegetables into certain shapes that are easy to eat but arranged in a manner that makes up a work of art—from popular anime characters like Pokemon, to imagery like a flowers, bells, and anything kawai enough to eat.  Rice is prepared as sushi rolls or sea-food flavored rice balls and other components of the meal are also carefully arranged inside the Bento Box including the placement of condiments such as wasabe or soy sauce.  Composition of the visual arrangement of food in the Bento is a matter of love and crazy ideas.

Homemade Bento by Kurochan,  Furoshiki cloths as wrap  CC BY-SA 3.0

No only is bento just for school or work lunch.  The Japanese bring Bento prepared food to picnics, at parties, and for sharing meals with visitors at home.  Bento meals help you serve many people with ease and you don't need to worry about food running out like on free-for-all  buffet offerings.  Not only do students get bento lunch lovingly prepared by their moms, but also working adults spend tremendous effort to fix their own Bento meal. 

Kamameshi bento: lunch cooked in a clay pot.       Clay pot is souvenir
Tatsuo Yamashita from Tokyo, Japan - 峠の釜めし                  CC BY 2.0

The popularity of meals-to-go via Bento sold in places such as department stores, supermarkets, and convenience stores in Japan come from the faster pace of life nowadays, not all homemakers have the time to fix lunch at home for their kids, and the quality of takeout bento in Japan is excellent!  Shops specializing in takeout bento offer everything you could do at home, from claypot bento, to Chinese-style meals in paper cartons, to Western-style box lunches, and there are also local specialties.

Shinkansen Bento sold at a Train Station                             CC BY-SA 3.0
                                       Attributed to Kraig Donald       Kunchan               

Since the Meiji period: ekiben or bento meals sold at train stations have been popular in Japan.  Today, there are around 2,000 to 3,000 different kinds or ekiben sold at railway stations throughout Japan.

Another aspect of Bento Box culture is the search for the perfect lunch box.  Bento boxes are some of the most collectible items for aficionados of Japanese culture.  There are stackable plastic boxes, stainless steel tins, compartmentalized cardboard boxes (Chinese style), and as many variations of lunch box that you can think of.

Bento culture is one influence from Style Japanese that will keep among its fans not only because it makes lunch more interesting , but because it offers a very convenient way to portion meals and still provide a visually stunning, if not delicious, lunchbox for anyone devoted to a better way of doing things.


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