Bento (弁当) or obento is a home made or takeout meal box. People in Japan can make it as a lunch box or picnic food, or buy it in bento shops, convenient stores and other places that sell ready meals. A bento box is usually shaped like a box and contains rice, vegetables and fish or meat, divided into sections. Bento boxes are very popular during hanami season (read more about how hanami is celebrated)
The word kyaraben (キャラ弁) or charaben is a shorter version of “character bento” and it’s what a lot of people think of when they hear the word bento. The word itself describes what it is very well. Its a bento box where the food is arranged to look like characters, usually in a cute manner. It can be animals, famous characters, people and objects. From the beginning, this was something mothers did for their children when they prepared their lunch boxes. They wanted to treat their children to fun and cute food and to encourage the children to eat better, such as vegetables and other things they otherwise might not enjoy. Kyaraben has now grown so big that there are contests all over Japan. One of the bigger kyaraben contest is the Sanrio contest. What the contestants have come up with there is amazing, have a look at the results page:
Tools and decorations
There are a lot of tools and decorations that people use to make their kyaraben boxes. Shapers to form the rice or the eggs, sandwich cutters, punches to punch shapes and faces out of seaweed, plastic grass for decorations, food picks to stick in the food, and more. Whenever Im in Japan I always go to the bento section of the shops to see what fun I can find, and I always find something cute to buy.
Where to buy
Where do you find these tools and decorations then? In Tokyo I found them at Tokyu Hands, Loft, 100 yen stores (like Daiso) and Hakuhinkan Toy Park. Im sure you can find them in other shops as well. Outside of Japan Ive found bento things in some asian shops, like food shops in China town and similar. Another place to look for them is online, on sites like Amazon. Search for “bento mould”, “bento punch” or “bento picks” for example, and see what shows up.
Inspiration on Pinterest
We are on Pinterest and of course we have a bento and kyaraben board. Check it out for inspiration, and maybe you want to create your own cute lunch box to brighten your day.
Our bento board on Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/whysojapan/japanese-kyaraben-bento/
BBC video report
BBC has a great video about Japan’s amazing lunchboxes. They write “…in Japan, it is not just the taste and healthiness of the meal that is important – but how it looks.” In the video the reporter visits Japanese school kids during their lunch break (the children are so adorable!) and he meets a woman who makes amazing bento boxes.