Kids Web Japan

Bento in the Lives of Japanese People

Bento is a Form of Communication Between the Maker and the Eater

People eat bento in many different scenarios: at school, at work, during flower-viewings or picnics, as simple meals at home, or even at large group gatherings.

Two-layer bento

While some schools in Japan provide their students with lunches, others have their students bring their own bento from home. Many adults also take their own bento to work with them. Although some people will make their own bento, others have their parents or partners make their bento for them. Eating bento made by a loved one surly fills the eater with strong feelings about that person. Bento can even be a form of communication between the person making it, and the person eating it.

A kyara-ben, including an onigiri with a face made of seaweed

Ever-Climbing Bento Sales

Bento can now be found for sale at many different places, such as department stores, supermarkets, and convenience stores, and there are even stores that specialize in bento. In addition to staples like makunouchi bento and seaweed bento, people can find a rich variety of other types of bento, such as Chinese-style or western-style bento. Restaurants, and not just those serving Japanese cuisine, now offer to put their dishes in bento boxes for people to take with them, making it much easier for people to enjoy the flavors prepared by restaurant chefs in the comfort of their own homes.

Bento for sale — fried bento
Bento for sale — Chirashizushi bento

Ekiben were first sold at train stations during the Meiji era (1868–1912), and there are now two to three thousand varieties of ekiben on sale throughout Japan, with makunouchi bento, sushi bento, and bento abundant with local flavor made using local products competing with each other to offer the best taste. In the past, bento sellers would carry their bento in a box they would hang around their neck to wait for passengers at platforms, and sell their bento to passengers on the trains through the windows as they stopped at the station. As railroads have grown faster, the number of trains with windows that do not open, such as bullet trains and limited express trains, has increased. Although this means that passengers can no longer enjoy purchasing ekiben through the window while their trains are stopped, train passengers in Japan still routinely enjoy purchasing ekiben from stores in stations, or from food carts patrolling inside trains.

Ekiben (station bento) — mackerel sushi
Ekiben (station bento) — Fukagawa rice