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Japanese Box Lunches

Bento Gallery

A kid's bento

This is a boy's bento. It has a picture of Thomas the Tank Engine on the lid. The rice has some spice sprinkled on the top of it. There is also a rice ball (onigiri) made to look like a soccer ball using seaweed. Soccer is very popular among Japanese kids.

Side dishes include fried shrimp, a mini-hamburger steak with ketchup, boiled asparagus, potato salad, green soybeans, fried potatoes, cherries, and other foods. There are even boiled quail eggs made to look like the face of a bird. The face of Pikachu appears in the middle of the kamaboko (fish paste loaf).

Rice balls

Rice balls (onigiri) are made by forming cooked rice into a triangular, round, or cylindrical shape with the hands. The rice ball may be enhanced with any of a variety of ingredients, which are tucked inside the ball. The most traditional addition is a pickled apricot, but other favorites include baked cod roe, grilled salted salmon, vegetables boiled down in sweetened soy sauce, dried bonito fish flakes, and in recent years even Western-style ingredients such as tuna flavored with mayonnaise. One secret to making tasty onigiri is to sprinkle a bit of salt on the hands before scooping up the rice. The onigiri is a uniquely Japanese food that can be thought of as the staple and main dish put together.

The pictures show four types of rice balls packed in a wicker bento box. Three of the rice balls are made with white rice wrapped in dried seaweed. The toppings included are salmon (top left), pickled apricot (top right), and a mixture of turnip greens and small fish (bottom right). One rice ball is made of takikomi gohan (rice with various ingredients cooked in). The side dishes include tamagoyaki (Japanese omelette), broad beans, and a variety of pickled vegetables.

Makunouchi bento

The name of this bento reflects its origins as a box lunch eaten during intermission at the theater. Traditionally, it was served in a set of tiered lacquered boxes and shared among several people. The top layers of boxes contained side dishes, and the bottom layer was packed with cylindrical rice balls. Now sold at bento shops and train stations as an individual box lunch, the makunouchi bento is one of the most popular types of bento.

The bento in the picture is a makunouchi bento sold in a department store. The rice is shaped in cylinders and is sprinkled with black sesame seeds. A pickled apricot rests on top. The side dishes include foods from both the ocean and the mountains, such as boiled shrimp, grilled fish, sweet potatoes, balls of cooked chicken, and burdock.

Ekiben (station bento) - kamameshi (rice cooked in a pot)

Kamameshi is rice cooked with fish and vegetables in a small pot. Flavored rice and a variety of ingredients are popular; the bento shown in the picture is a simple one. While this bento is not sold in a pot, the food inside has been prepared in a way that makes it appear that it has.

A female corporate employee's bento

This bento comes in two layers; a variety of colors can be seen in the food packed in this lacquer box. On top of the rice in the bottom layer are minced chicken meat, egg, and long thin strips of kidney beans. In the top layer are side dishes, including asparagus and carrots wrapped in meat and cooked, sugared sweet potato, salad (lettuce, radish, cucumber, and cauliflower), and fruit (a strawberry, an orange slice, and a piece of pineapple). This bento contains a variety of different foods. The small container at the bottom contains salad dressing.

A male corporate employee's bento

This bento is packed in a lacquer box and contains a lot of food. The bottom layer contains rice with seaweed sandwiched in the middle. There is more seaweed on the top of the right side of the rice, and there are some spices sprinkled on the left side. There is a pickled apricot on the left side. Side dishes include vegetable tempura, grilled fish, chicken boiled in soy sauce, Chinese stir-fried beef and vegetables, and boiled spinach.

Bento for commercial sale -fried food

This bento includes fried pork on a skewer, a croquette, pork cooked with ginger, and a sausage. This bento packs a lot of energy!

Bento for commercial sale - chirashizushi bento

This chirashizushi (raw fish and other ingredients on a bed of sushi rice) bento contains a number of different kinds of seafood, including tuna, squid, crab, salmon, salmon eggs, shrimp, scallops, sea urchin, and conger eel. While a number of the ingredients are boiled or grilled, many of them are raw.

Ekiben (station bento) - mackerel sushi

When the bamboo leaves are opened, half of a mackerel that has been prepared with vinegar and covered with thin strips of kelp greets the eye. Underneath the mackerel is sushi rice. Soy sauce can be added according to taste. The dish includes ginger pickled in sweet vinegar. Food wrapped in bamboo leaves is one of the original forms of bento.

Ekiben (station bento) - Fukagawa rice

Ekiben (station bento) include an area's special products. Fukagawa is a part of the older section of Tokyo that has long been famous for asari (short-necked clams), so Fukagawa rice is often called asari rice. Fukagawa rice was originally made by pouring miso soup made with asari and leeks over rice. This ekiben (station bento) contains rice cooked with asari. Fried conger eel and goby simmered in a mixture that includes soy sauce and suger are placed on top of the rice, giving this bento the taste of Tokyo.

Bento container woven from bamboo and willow strips

In the past, large wicker boxes weaved from willow or bamboo were used for storing clothes, while small ones were used as bento boxes. Large wicker boxes are used very rarely today, but the smaller ones are still enjoyed today by some who appreciate the feel of a box made from natural materials.

Container made by bending fine sheets of wood

This type of curved bento box is made by carving cedar or cypress, bending it into this shape, and then attaching a separate piece of wood for the bottom. This type of curved box has existed since the Yayoi period and has been used throughout the centuries in both everyday life and making offerings to the gods. In the picture is a curved bento box used nowadays. There is a divider in the middle; rice goes in one half of the box, while side dishes go in the other.

A hangetsu (half moon) bento box

This type of box with the shape of a half-moon is said to have been a favorite of Sen no Rikyu, who established the tea ceremony in the Momoyama period (1573-1603). Rather than a box for carrying food, this box's shape is designed to contribute to the meal, allowing the eater to experience the bento with all five senses. The bento in the picture is one that would be served in early summer. It contains tamagoyaki (Japanese omelette), boiled sardines, a marinade of shellfish and summer vegetables, octopus, and small sweet potatoes and other boiled foods. It also contains fried fish pickled in vinegar, fried horse mackerel, and grilled chicken. The rice is shaped in small cylinders.

The Shokado bento box

The Shokado bento box was inspired by paintboxes that the monk Shokado Shojo used. The four compartments help to create visually appealing presentations of rice and side dishes.

Aluminum bento box

Modern bento boxes are made from a variety of materials, but the most common is anodized aluminum. Before plastic bento boxes were made, just about everyone used an anodized aluminum one, so for many people bento carries with it the image of this aluminum box. Even today some boys take their lunch to school in this kind of box.

Cartoon-character bento box

Hello Kitty is popular not only with kids but also with young women. This bento set has Hello Kitty's picture on the bento box, the chopsticks, the chopstick case, and even the dressing case.

Bento-related character products

This carrying bag for a bento box also contains Hello Kitty's likeness, as do the towel and the carrying case for the towel.