Bento is a part of Japanese culture and is gaining popularity all over the world. It is not just a daily meal packed in a box, but sometimes is art, other times is a place to express your feelings. Bento box is filled with joy and pleasure!
The origin of bento dates back to hundreds of years ago. At this time, people used to bring onigiri (rice ball) or hoshi-ii (non-perishable dried rice) to eat during hunting, farm work, travel or in battlefields. Bento had only practical values. It was just a long-lasting simple meal.
Then in Edo era, when watching plays was popular, bento became something more special. People enjoyed makunouchi-bento which includes small rectangular round shaped onigiris and side dishes during intermissions. It was in Meiji era when people began to bring bento almost everyday to their workplaces, and in recent years, making bento is becoming more and more fun and creative work.
But, what is so special about Japanese bento? Bringing box lunch and eat outside is not uncommon, but the term ’bento’ seems to contain something more than plain packed lunch. One of the features of Japanese bento is that it is often something to show off. You can find some bento apps in Japan, where you just share the nice pictures of bento you made! Especially if a bento is prettily decorated, it is called deco-ben. Deco is the abbreviation of ‘decorate’, and deco-ben often features anime or cartoon characters.
There are many items sold to make it easier to create deco-ben. Scissors to cut seaweed, cute food picks, rice molds to form shapes of a heart, star, animals and so on. Areas in shops for such bento goods are becoming larger even more, and anyone can create lovely bento without much skill.
Another feature of Japanese bento is that it can be enjoyed on special occasions. Eki-ben is a good example of this. At stations in Japan, you can often find bento with a place name on its package. That is eki-ben (eki means station). It usually contains local foods, which makes people enjoy traveling along the way, too.
Another example of special bento is undoukai-bento, which pupils and their family members eat together in undoukai (sports festival) at school. Mothers often wake up very early and spend hours to make gorgeous bento filled with children’s favorite dishes. I guess for most pupils except for those who are talented in sports, eating handmade bento is the best part of the festival.
Bento is nice also because it is one of the expressions of love. It is common for mothers to wake up earlier than husband and children to make bento. They actually make complaints about it sometimes, but without love, they cannot do this every morning. Since bento expresses love, husbands often end up having no bento or very poor one after quarrels, which may make them feel sorry. If you use it wisely, you can have a chance to get over a quarrel ;)
Bento is getting much recognition not only in Japan, but also in other countries. Its boom seems to have sparked mainly thanks to manga and anime. Have you ever seen some scenes where students eat bento together with friends at school or girls give handmade bento to boys they like? Spirited away by Ghibli has famous scene where heroine cries while eating onigiri. These obento in anime and manga look incredibly delicious for some reason.
Would you like to make bento for yourself? Bento is creative and photogenic work with much love infused and makes your daily life more joyful.