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Bento and kyaraben – lunch boxes in Japan

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Bento

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)

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Left photo by Janine / ninacoco
Right phot by Rodger Takeuchi

Kyaraben

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:
http://sanriobb.com/charaben/result/

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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.

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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.

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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/

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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.





Posted on by Vega @ whysojapan.com in Food & snacks 1 Comment

Kawaii! Japan’s Culture of Cute Book Review

whysojapan book kawaii! japan's culture of cuteKawaii! Japan’s Culture of Cute book review

Kawaii! Japan’s Culture of Cute is an in-depth book about the history of Kawaii in Japan. The book describes how kawaii has grown and become more and more popular in Japan and gives you a guide to all things kawaii, from the past and all the way to the present day. If its kawaii, you most probably will find it in Kawaii! Japan’s Culture of Cute. The book is written by Manami Okazaki and Geoff Johnson and was first published 2013 and the book is printed in English with tons of high quality pictures.

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Manami Okazaki

Manami Okazaki is a freelance journalist and is author of several books, one of them of course being Kawaii! Japan’s Culture of Cute. Other books that she has released are Kokeshi, From Tohoku with Love, Tattoo in Japan, Japanese Buddhism, Kicks Japan and her new book Toy Tokyo, which is to be released in May of 2014. She has freelanced for the Japan times, CNN Traveler, Time Out, and other publications across the world. Her freelanced works often focus on Japanese traditional culture, pop culture, food and style. Check out the video at the bottom of this post, where Manami talks about the book.

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Geoff Johnson

Geoff Johnson is an Australian guy who has based in Tokyo since 1989 and works as a professional photographer. Geoff Johnson photos have been published all over the world. His photos normally portray Japan in one way or another. He is the photographer for this book. Geoff has been published in travel magazines and newspapers all over the world, like Harpar’s Bazaar Japan, Esquire Japan, the Sunday Travel in the UK and New York Times. He has also worked on adverting for Adidas and Apple in the past.

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About the book

Kawaii! Japan’s Culture of Cute takes you on a detailed trip through the world of kawaii, sharing with you a lot of the kawaii history. The book starts off with talking about the roots of kawaii, showing some pictures of what was concidered kawaii then. The book then goes into what kawaii exactly is and what makes something kawaii. The book continues on to show rich pictures of different as aspects of kawaii.

The book goes in to great detail to describe and show kawaii in its very many and different forms, like the clothes that are conceded to hold a Kawaii feeling (conomi, lolita, gothic lolita, Harajuku fashion and of course cosplay too).

The book also focuses on the characters of Kawaii. Its got many pages dedicated to the characters and the companies behind them. Like San-X for example. Theyre the company behind Rilakumma, Sentimental Circus and more – and when we say more, we mean more. It is said that San-X has created over 800 different characters over its time. In the book we can also find pages on Glommy Bear, Swimmer, Hello Kitty and more.

Other aspects in the book focuses on is food. Yes, even food can have a kawaii theme to it. The book has some great photos of the typical bento boxes and it goes into the maid culture in Japan too. The book also goes into the more elegant side of kawaii with showing art work from John Hathway, Chikuwaemil and Yosuke Ueno.

The book has a great and cute map over the area of Harajuku in Tokyo, where you can find almost anything that is connected to Kawaii. One of the shops that is dedicated to to Kawaii and is featured in the book is 6% DOKIDOKI, a great little shop to visit if youre in Harajuku and you like kawaii.

The book seems to cover everything that is kawaii. There are lots of things in the book that I never would have though would have anything to do with kawaii. I found the book to be a great read. It has lots of very colourful photos from the first page to the last, and I found it to be the right mixture of text too. So even if your a person that does not like to read much you will still find this book great by just browsing all the photos in it.

I think the best way to describe this book in one word would just be it’s very “kawaii”. This 226 paged book is well worth a buy if you love all thing kawaii.

Our book was bought from Bookdepository.com for around £15. The book is also available on other sites, like Amazon.





Posted on by Paul in Characters, Fashion, Food & snacks, Shopping Leave a comment

Hyper Japan Shop London

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Hyper Japan London

Hyper Japan is a well known exhibition fair held ever year in London. The fair celebrates everything Japanese, from the traditional to ultra modern, all can found at the fair. The fair has become very popular and if you have a love or just a little interest in Japan, it’s well worth a visit. The next fair is to be held in the summer of 2014.

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Hyper Japan shop

Hyper Japan has now opened it’s first shop as of the end of oktober 2013. Its located in the Camden stables market area in London. The shop, being its first, is a small shop. But content is growing. Since its a very new shop, I’m sure the stock will grow and try the market to see what sells. On our visit the shop had a lot of kawaii goods. A lot of stuff we had only seen in Japan or on the internet before, and rarely found in local shops around London. Some of the stuff we found was a collection of the J-pop princess Kyary Pamyu Pamyu – a mixture of her CDs, DVDs, t-shirts and more. We also found stuff from Tofu Cute, a selection of Japanse sweets, a selection plush alpacas (the ones you see all over Tokyo), t-shirts and bags too.

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As you see, the shop has a good selection of products which I’m sure will improve even more as time goes by. Walking into the shop gives the feeling of walking in to a little Japanse shop in Tokyo, seeing all the goods available for ourchase. Nowadays when we are in London we jot from shop to shop, like Japan Centre, Art Box, China Town and now recently we have added the Hyper Japan shop to our list of some of the shops we will keep visiting in the future. If you are in London and love things from Japan, then this store is well worth visiting.

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Shop Info

Finding the shop took us a little time at first, since we always seem to get lost around all the small shops in Camden. But after looking on a map we ended up finding it. Please check out the map and shop information below, and also check with their site for the up to date information on opining times and more.

******* From the 24th jan 2014 the shop has closed down *****************

Adress: Stall 713, Stables Market, Chalk Farm Road, London NW1 8AH
Opening times: 10:00am – 6:00pm, Wednesdays to Sundays (times are on trail)
Websitehttp://www.hyperjapan.co.uk (for shop info klick tab righthand side of page)
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/hyperjapan

whysojapan hyper japan shop london





Posted on by Paul in Shopping, Visiting Leave a comment

Maru – the famous cat from Japan

World famous Japanese cat Maru

The cats have taken over the internet with their cuteness and one of the most popular cats is, of course, from the land of kawaii – Japan. Meet Maru, a male Scottish Fold, who has charmed the world with his cute looks and adorabe personality.

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Photo from Maru’s blog: http://sisinmaru.blog17.fc2.com

Maru on YouTube

Maru’s owner has a blog and a YouTube account where she posts photos and videos regularly.

Maru likes to lazy around, jump into boxes, and be generally mischievous. The videos are with sound, but you never hear any humans speak and you never see the owner. The feeling of the videos are very Japanese, clean and simple, and the title cards are in both Japanese and English.

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Photo from Maru’s blog: http://sisinmaru.blog17.fc2.com

Book: “I am Maru”

The YouTube videos are very popular. Every time a new video is being uploaded millions of people watch it. Maru is so popular that he’s even got his own book out, titled “I am Maru”.

Get the book here: I am Maru at Amazon

Maru facts

The name Maru means “round shape” and it fits him very well. His charming features are described as “round face and white socks”. His favourite hobby is “trouble making” and his special skill is “sliding into any open box”.

Official YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/mugumogu

Official blog: http://sisinmaru.blog17.fc2.com





Posted on by Vega @ whysojapan.com in Other Leave a comment

Japanese Characters: Mameshiba

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Mameshiba is a merchandise franchise that you can find in Japan and also to the lesser amount in the rest of the world. I would say that Mameshiba is one the more well known characters in Japan. A mameshiba is a kind of bean dog character. The little bean has a face similar to a dog. Mame means bean in Japanese and shiba is a well known breed of dog in Japan. And the phrase mame shiba refers to a toy or puppy Shiba Inu.

Mameshiba 2 why so japanWhat is even more special with Mameshiba is that he or she always has a little fact to tell you, something that you probably didnt know.

Mameshiba first became popular via interstitial program that where broadcast on TV over Japan instead of adverts. Each advert would run for about 30 seconds or so and would be animated and would always have an interesting fact to share with its audience.

That advert also become very popular on YouTube with most of them being subtitled into English. After Mameshiba became so popular more and more products were being produced in Japan and being sold as small plush toys in the US via the store Hot Topic. I think that’s where I bought my first one.

In Japan there are lots of products that have been made in connection with the Mameshiba franchise. Lots of plushies in every size possible. I’ve also seen key rings, chopsticks, books, stationary and more. To date four books have been made by Viz Media that are produced in English. In a later post I will show you them and give a brief review about each one.

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There have also been what I guess you could say are spin offs of Mameshiba. You have Baby-Shiba which is a series of the baby shiba, Babyshiba Fruits and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu also has her own Mameshiba characters, the main one is being called Mameshipamyupamyus and both have appeared in TV adverts together.

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One of the most popular Mameshiba is called Edamame. He is the green bean dog and his interesting fact is that “the inside of a kangaroo pouch is supposedly really stinky”.  That I bet you didnt know, but you know now.

I would say that Mameshiba is definitely one of my most favourite Japanese character that I always return home with.

Whats yours?





Posted on by Paul in Characters 2 Comments