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(Takahashi Ruriko)
Lunchboxes that depict a cartoon character
Kyaraben is short for character bento, which are lunchboxes (bento) that depict the face or image of a cartoon character or superhero using various ingredients. Kyaraben are generally made by mothers who want to give their young children a lunch that is not just tasty but fun to look at. This type of lunchbox is now enjoying a surge of popularity, with moms giving it high marks as a way to get their children interested in food. The lunches are a common topic of conversation among kids and moms alike. Kyaraben are also known as o-ekaki bento (picture lunchboxes).

Creative lunchbox making is not a new phenomenon. In the past, mothers would decorate the white rice in their children's lunches with such seasonings as seaweed and sesame seeds to create special designs. But today it is not unusual for women to spend hours creating a lunchbox masterpiece and then post pictures of their best works on their blogs. Books featuring lunchbox designs and recipes have also been published.

When one woman with a high-school-aged son grew tired of making regular lunchboxes and never getting a "Thank you" in return, she reportedly began sending him to school with kyaraben that he was too embarrassed to eat in front of his friends. She posted her story on the Internet, and the response was enormous, with some visitors accusing her of being mean and others praising her lunches as "Mom's sweet revenge." The incident even inspired the publication of a book on playful and prankish lunchboxes. (May 29, 2006)