Portable Lunch Packed with Love
In Japan, come lunchtime it is common to see people enjoying bento box lunches in parks and other pleasant settings. Bento are portable and similar to packed lunches that might contain a sandwich or fruit. However, Japanese bento are about more than simply being able to carry a meal with you; they also involve aesthetic considerations and fun elements. Bento users like to have cute lunch boxes while people preparing bento lunches like to come up with creative ways to incorporate side dishes, making bento fun for everyone.
Japanese people often talk of bento being packed with love, referring to the sentiment the person brings to making the bento. Now, let’s take a look at the bento of Japan.
A bento full of both colorful ingredients and love. © INTERIOR COMPANY
Pretty Design of “Character Bento”
A “character bento” made to resemble an animated character.
Bento are generally packed with rice and side dishes in a so-called bento-bako, or lunch box. Lunch boxes come in all sizes and shapes, including square and oval, and, apart from rice, are packed with everything from fried eggs and hamburger to sausages and vegetables. However, packing a bento is not simply about filling it. Nutrition must also be taken into account, and some people even go so far as to consider the colors and layout of side dishes. When making a bento, many people also take the time to make unique designs using and arranging ingredients such as sausages to give the recipient a greater taste of fun when eating the bento.
Frozen gratin that comes in a cup with a fortune. These can easily be placed in a bento so that there is a fun fortune to be read after finishing eating. © AQLI Foods Corporation
A “character bento” that is so cute it almost seems a shame to eat it.
Recently, particularly popular among children in Japan are kyaraben (character bento), featuring designs based on anime characters, animals or cars, etc. This trend is said to have started with parents devising ways to get finicky children, such as those who do not like vegetables, to eat even a little more of foods that are good for them. They seek to inject some playfulness into the bento space to make eating a little more fun for their children, such as by including frozen foods that come in small cups with a fortune printed on the bottom to be read when they finish eating.
Where do Japanese people eat bento? Elementary and junior high schools in Japan offer school lunch services known as kyushoku, so bento are not eaten in schools on a daily basis. However, when there are sporting events, such as track and field competitions for all students or field trips, then each student brings his or her own bento to be enjoyed with classmates at lunch — a time for having fun. Not during the cold of winter, but in the warmer seasons of the year, it is common to see office workers taking their lunch breaks, bento in hand, in urban parks and elsewhere around cities. This and scenery like it attests to how firmly the bento has taken root in the everyday lives of Japanese.