Bento is a part of Japanese culture and is growing in popularity around the world. It’s not just an everyday meal wrapped in a box, but sometimes it’s art, other times it’s a place for you to express your feelings. The bento box is filled with joy and appreciation.
What is a bento?
Bento is a lunch box prepared at home to bring to work, school or outing of the Japanese. This bento box has many compartments to store rice, vegetables, meat and more, each food is beautifully presented and shaped. Bento is loved by both children and adults to bring to school or work.
At first, the bento was only encapsulated within the lunch box that the mother prepared for the child, the wife prepared for the husband. However, nowadays bento has become more industrial and easy to buy at convenience stores, professional bento shops, train stations or department stores, Japanese supermarkets…
However, housewives often spend time and effort to prepare each bento box for their loved ones or for themselves. According to statistics, an average of 5 billion bento boxes are prepared by the Japanese every year. And in fact, more than 70% of them are for adults, because bringing bento to work is a smart, cost-effective way to spend money instead of eating out or buying unhealthy fast food.
Origin of bento
The origin of bento dates back hundreds of years. People usually bring onigiri (rice balls) or hoshi-ii (non-perishable dried rice) to eat when hunting, farming, traveling, or in battle. Bento is just a simple take-away meal.
The word “bento” is said to have first been coined during the Edo period which lasted from about 1600 to 1867. Ornate lacquered food containers were brought to theaters and outings. like a picnic. Everyone enjoys makunouchi-bento consisting of round, rectangular onigiri and side dishes during breaks between notebooks. At that time, bento became a symbol of wealth and status.
Then came the Meiji era when people started bringing bento almost daily to their workplace, and in recent years, making bento has become more and more interesting and creative work.
Traditional bento will be divided into 2 types. One is housed in a luxurious, lacquered wooden box. This type was often used for kings and nobles in the past to be used in outdoor parties such as cherry blossom viewing parties, tea parties, etc. called Shokado bento.
The other type is a simple boxed lunch, often called the national flag rice – Hinomaru Bento. Since it consists of a large portion of white rice placed on top of a red pickled apricot to create accents, it resembles the image of the Japanese flag.
Bento – Expression of love
To have a bento box, you must be patient, creative and meticulous. Above all, workers have to put affection in the lunch box. Bento is beautiful also because it is one of the expressions of love. Mothers often get up earlier than their husbands and children to make bento.
Barbara Holthus, Deputy Director of the Institute of Japanese Studies in Tokyo, said: “The bento is an expression of a mother’s love for her child, through a commitment of time and thought to create. healthy, creative and beautiful lunch boxes”. Many mothers make bento to encourage their children to eat more deliciously and with a wider variety of foods. Bento is like a way to “seduce” children to be excited about every meal every day.
Bento in modern Japanese life
But, what’s so special about Japanese bento? Bringing in a boxed lunch and eating out is not uncommon, however the term ‘bento’ seems to mean more than a simple boxed lunch. One of the characteristics of Japanese bento is that it is often something to brag about.
You can find a number of bento apps in Japan where you can share beautiful images of bento you’ve made. Especially if a lunch box is elaborately decorated, it is called deco-ben. Deco is an abbreviation for the word “decoration,” and deco-ben usually features cartoon or anime characters.
There are many accessories for sale to make it easier for you to create the deco-ben such as scissors for cutting seaweed, cute chopsticks and spoons, rice molds for making hearts, stars, animals, etc. Door areas Such bento shops are getting bigger and bigger and anyone can make pretty bento boxes without much skill.
The beautiful bento boxes shared by media around the world are “character bento” for children – called chara-ben. Lunch is made with the sophistication like a picture with funny characters such as animals, images from cartoons, comics or even real people.
Another feature of Japanese bento is that it can be enjoyed on special occasions. Eki-ben is a prime example of this. At train stations in Japan, you can often find bento with the place name on the package. It’s eki-ben (eki means station). It often includes local foods, these bento boxes will give visitors the opportunity to enjoy local cuisine along the way.
Another example of a special bento is undoukai-bento, which is a bento that students and their family members eat together during undoukai (sports festival) at school. Mothers often get up very early and spend hours making beautiful lunchboxes filled with their little ones’ favorite foods.
Would you like to make your own bento? Bento is about creating and making your daily life more joyful.