Bento, essentially a boxed lunch. It’s sold at bento shops, convenient stores and other places that sell ready meals.
Since old times, when they made bento box Japanese mothers made octopus-shaped sausages, drew patterns and pictures by putting nori (dried weed) on top of white rice and make rabbit shape apple to make their children happy and to encourage a wider range of eating habits.
Now ‘Kyara-ben’ has become very popular in Japan. Kyaraben is short for ‘Character Bento’ where food is arranged in elaborate styles to look like popular anime characters or animals etc, they always look kawaii (cute).
Kyaraben has grown in such popularity that there are many kyaraben bloggers, Instagrammers and Youtubers. Recipe books are being published and even kyaraben contests are held in Japan.
These days kyaraben are made easily with the help of some super handy bento tools. For instance, rice moulds for shaping rice into the characters or animals, stencil plates that help to create features, nori hole punches designed to puncher dried seaweed into various shapes. Also used are colourful cups or picks to help with the decoration. You can find these tools at kitchen stores, supermarkets and even 100 yen stores!
(You can also find lots of these items at Daiso in Australia.)
Kyaraben is not nutritionally balanced, often mothers create such time- consuming lunchboxes for design and look. Parents have been known to be extremely competitive resulting in minor squabbles relating to whose child has the best character bento. Some kindergartens have now banned kyaraben bento for fear of bullying classmates.
However character bento boxes are all about making the children and others happy and to encourage them to enjoying eating it.
Not everybody can make such a pretty kyaraben, but majority of Japanese people can make ‘apple rabbit” and “octopus sausage” since they learnt these techniques from their mothers, back in the day.
Japanese cuisine is always well presented and so the art of bento is also from the spirit.