The cultural significance of the Bento Box

By Staff Writer
July 28, 2023
Bento boxes, originally hand-carved from wood, were intricately designed and lacquered by craftsmen. There are different types of bento boxes, with more lavish boxes being typically more expensive. Each box is unique, contributing to the distinctiveness and longevity of bento box culture.
Different shapes of Bento boxes
The popularity of bento boxes stems from their diversity, convenience, and cultural significance, reflecting Japan's values of beauty, balance, and simplicity. Japanese meals traditionally aim to incorporate five different flavors: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami (savory). Furthermore, food should engage all five senses: taste, touch, smell, sight, and sound. Many bento boxes are created with these principles in mind, following the "rules of five."
A typical bento lunch box for kids with rabbit characters
Among the various types of bento boxes, the visually striking "Kyaraben" style stands out, featuring food arranged to resemble characters from anime and pop culture. Parents often choose "Kyaraben" when preparing their children's lunches as it encourages balanced eating in a fun and creative way.
A typical bento lunch box for kids
Other types of bento boxes cater to specific occasions, such as the "Koraku" bento for family gatherings or picnics, and the "Aisai" (love) bento boxes prepared with affection by a spouse, featuring loving messages engraved in "furikake," a Japanese fried condiment sprinkled on top of the food.

The bento box culture has gained international attention, particularly with the introduction of "character bento boxes" showcasing popular anime characters and animals. Their popularity increased when Japan's bento box style made its way to Paris, France, and when a character bento box exhibit was held at the Milan Expo in Italy. Gradually, the world is becoming more acquainted with these delightful edible wonders.
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