A Feast On Bento

How different Japanese Bento box design incorporates its own meaning

Photo by qi bin on Unsplash

こんにちは! (Konnichiwa!)

Do you know what is a Bento Box? To those who aren’t familiar with this term, allow me to pour the tea into your cup. A bento box is basically a lunchbox made in Japan. They come in different shapes, sizes, colours, and designs. They’re definitely a feast for the eyes and make your mouth water. Let’s dig in, shall we?

Are Bento Boxes a tradition in Japan?

In Japan, yes they are. Bento boxes were invented over a hundred years ago during the Kamakura period where they store cooked, hot, and steamy rice into a bento container and brought it out for lunch.

What are the bento containers made out of? They’re made out of lacquer to preserve the freshness and quality of your lunch. The word ‘bento’ in Japanese is directly translated to “useful thing” or “convenient”.

These lunch boxes in Japan have been around for many centuries and the Japanese are still preserving this tradition, keeping it alive.

What are the benefits of a Bento Box?

1. They’re fun

Let your creative side flow through you when you’re crafting one. There aren’t any limitations that are gonna hold you back. Use as many ingredients, colours, and patterns as you’d like. Make your bento boxes visually creative and let it speak for itself!

2. They’re cost-effective

Think about it though, packing your lunch means there isn’t a need to spend money outside! And plus, you don’t have to be a part of those crazy queues during the lunch hour! (You’re able to save those extra notes and pennies ;))

3. They’re healthy

How are bento boxes healthy? If you take a look at the interior of your lunchbox, they’re probably divided. These could help you control your meal portions according to your daily intake. But of course, don’t forget to make them fun as I’ve mentioned in the first point!

4. They help the environment

Bento boxes help reduce environmental impact. These lunch boxes are reusable — you’re not using any plastic and paper products that affect the environment when you’ve brought your lunch, right? Your lunchbox could get a unique touch as they’re yours! Design it however you’d like.

Bento Boxes = Communication?

It has been reported that the designs of food in bento boxes are a form of communication between mothers and their children. Busy working mothers in Japan work round the clock, leaving very limited time for their kids. Building rapport and love through various designs to entice their children with their food presentation skills.

It also promotes healthy eating for children as mothers would use everyday ingredients to turn into something spectacular.

Bento boxes are made to express love through creativity, commitment, and innovative healthy foods. To add on, kids who are fussy eaters tend to eat healthy food from bento boxes simply because of one reason: these boxes are visually captivating. It leaves kids wanting more!

The different types and designs of bento

At this point, my curiosity peaked as I was digging further on bento boxes through the internet. I was fascinated by the different types and designs of these boxes that are just so easy yet beautiful. From the Makunouchi Bento to Kyaraben, we shall all feast!

Let’s discover the seven types and designs of these Bentos!

Makunouchi Bento

The Makunouchi Bento is specially prepared by professional caterers. These boxes can be found almost everywhere in Japan such as supermarkets, department, and convenience stores.

Here’s the catch: Makunouchi Bento is usually for audiences or actors behind the scenes during interval times and these boxes come in two compartments only. One part for rice, and the other for side dishes. Perhaps when you visit the National Theatre to watch Kabuki, you’ll be in for a real treat! (p.s. can I come too?)

Makunouchi Bento

Koraku Bento

The Koraku Bento is the perfect box to take when you’re on a picnic. I mean, the word ‘koraku’ is literally translated to ‘picnic’. These boxes are made to be shared among small groups and the food is usually prepared according to the season. Interesting, isn’t it?

Bring your Koraku Bento boxes out for Hanami (flower viewing) and cherry blossom viewing and enjoy the scenery and tranquility with your loved ones.

Koraku Bento

Hinomaru and Shikaeshi Bento

The Hinomaru Bento is also known for Japan’s patriotic box, the circle of the sun. As you lift the lid off the box, you’ll see white rice and umeboshi (pickled ume fruit). This box represents the Japanese flag, symbolising patriotism for the citizens. In another case, the umeboshi is also placed to preserve the freshness of the meal in the box.

Hinomaru Bento

The Shikaeshi Bento is an act of revenge in a box. Wait… What? How? These boxes are specially made by angry wives to their husbands. The Shikaeshi Bentos come in handy when an argument arises between the couple but also an act of love from the Mrs to the Mr Buying lunch is costly in Japan and while the Mr is working hard for the family, the Bento box is a reminder that the Mrs does not hate him, it’s just a way to punish them. (Ladies… What do you say?)

Shikaeshi Bento

Aisai Bento

The Aisai Bento, made from loving wives for their husbands or their children to be taken to work or school. This particular bento is made with love and packed with a bunch of delicious and nutritious food for one to enjoy.

You can never go wrong with the Aisai Bento. It is another form of art to showcase your love for the ones that you close dearly. These boxes come in handy during the Hanami season too. Are you ready to take on the culinary challenge to surprise your significant other in your Aisai Bento?

Aisai Bento

Ekiben Bento

The Ekiben Bento is designed for travel. Eki is a word in Japanese that holds the meaning of train stations. Long-distance trains in Japan consumes a lot of time, hence, that’s where Ekiben fits in. There is a variety that’s packed into one. Ranging from rice to noodles and even sandwiches! They’re considered as a luxury simply because travelling is in fact, a luxury.

Of course, you don’t have to be a traveller just to get the Ekiben Bento. In fact, these boxes are vastly spread all across Japan. Hunt for those at major convenience stores, train stations, and sometimes sold on board too!

Ekiben Bento

Kyaraben Bento

Ready! Kyaraben! To! The Kyaraben Bento boxes are prepared with famous animated characters, portraits, plants, and animals etc. These boxes are classified as cute, otherwise known as “kawaii”.

The Kyaraben was originally designed by mothers to cultivate a wide range of eating habits in their children but as time passes by, it has now evolved into a cultural symbol in Japan and contests for Kyaraben are even held! May the best Kyaraben Bento box wins.

Kyaraben Bento

You have reached the end of your destination

Bento boxes are amazing, huh? As you’ve reached the end, what are your thoughts so far, on these Japanese Bento boxes? The significance they each hold, I mean, who would’ve thought of revenge in a box? To be frank, I absolutely wouldn’t.

If you’re given a chance to create any type of Bentos that were listed above, which one will you create and why? I’d choose the Ekiben Bento specifically because I love to travel.

Picture this: you’re in Japan, seated comfortably on the train seat, eating Ekiben Bento while enjoying the magnificent view that the country has to offer. One word, immaculate. Travelling + Japanese food, what could possibly go wrong?

Thank you for your time on my article. I write here too if ya like to give it some lovin’.

じゃあね (See ya!)

A writer for SuperCampus Asia. A content marketing strategist at Refruit. All about design. Corporate profile.

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