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Japanese bento

Delicious and delightful

In Japan, about 40 percent of people make a bento at least once a month.
Among them, 25 percent of them are made for kids and 75 percent for adults. Of the 75 percent, 30 percent are bento made by wives for their husbands. With about 5 billion bento made annually in Japan, they are essential for lunch in Japan.

History of Bento

Bento has a long history in Japan. The first bento was made in the 5th century when preserved food and rice balls from home were taken by farmers, hunters, and warriors to their workplace.

The bento culture began in earnest in the 16th century when Japan's shogun provided meals to his many warriors in his castle.
It was named "bento" since it was a simple meal given to each person. Later, the upper classes also enjoyed bento.

During the Edo Period (1603–1868), the masses began to take bento lunches with them on outdoor excursions or to theater plays.
The bento eaten during the intermission of a theater play came to be called "Makunouchi bento."
Diverse Makunouchi bento came to be made. Many Makunouchi bento are now sold by convenience stores and local bento shops as the standard box lunch.

In the Meiji Period (1868–1912), the "ekiben" box lunch began to be sold at train stations.
Even today, original ekiben is sold at train stations. Ekiben is getting more popular now with bento contests held nationwide.

Today, many elementary and junior high schools provide school lunches while many high schools have students bring their own bento for lunch.
Also, bento is essential for elementary and junior high school excursions and sports meets.

For kindergarteners, mothers now make bento lunches featuring cute cartoon characters so their children will eat more vegetables.
These "character bento" are colorful and designed to look like cute characters. It has attracted much attention in Japan and overseas.

Choosing a bento box

It is important to choose a bento box that matches the person who will eat the bento. We must think about the bento box's material, function, size, etc.


Plastic is the most common material for bento boxes.
They come in many shapes and designs and can be heated in a microwave oven. Works well to prevent any leakage.

Stainless steel

Lightweight and highly durable for long-term use.
Resistant to odors and staining.


Wood makes the box look warm.
It keeps the moisture inside the lunch box, so the rice remains full and delicious.


Light and durable.
Also, since bacteria does not easily spread, the food spoils less easily.

Bento box functions

  • Single and
    two-layer bento boxes

    The single-layer bento box is easy to carry and put on your lap when you eat outdoors. The two-layer bento box can separate the rice, sandwiches, and side dishes.

  • Heat insulation

    Keeps the food warm longer. Convenient when you are outdoors and cannot reheat the bento in a microwave oven.

  • Boxes for sandwiches
    and rice balls

    Bento box shaped so that sandwiches and rice balls keep their shape.

  • Soup jar

    When you do not have time to make a bento in the morning, just put in the food ingredients to be cooked.

Bento box size

The bento box size should match the person's energy needs and activities for the day. It will depend on the person's physical size and physical activities (sports, physical labor, etc.).

Age 3–5: 400 ml
Age 6–11: 500-600 ml
Age 12 and older: 900 ml for boys, 600 ml to 700 ml for girls

Bento merchandise

For people who want to make cute bento food, but do not have the time or skill, there are convenient bento-making tools.

Easy to make bento

  • Rice ball tool

    We usually squeeze rice firmly with both bands to make rice ball. You also can use the tools to makes it easy to make rice balls.
    The rice ball tools / case on Alibaba.com

  • Food cutters

    Food cutters can cut out various shapes such as crabs, stars, and popular characters out of sausages, boiled eggs, carrots, etc.

  • Rolled fried egg maker

    Rolled fried egg (tamago-yaki) is a common bento food in Japan. It can be made with a dedicated frying pan or kit for use in microwave ovens.

Decorations for your bento

Fluted cups

For side dishes, fluted cups with beautiful colors or popular characters brighten up the bento. The cups also keep the side dishes separate, so they do not get mishmashed.

Plastic dividers

Plastic dividers are used to keep different foods separate so they do not mix together to affect the taste. They are usually shaped like green grass, but there are also diverse designs such as popular characters, trains, and cars popular among children.

Decorative toothpicks

Toothpicks attached with animal or popular character decorations will quickly brighten up the bento. Just insert the toothpick into a sausage or meatball and voilà!

Japanese bento overseas

Since about 10 years ago, Japanese bento has even become popular internationally.

In 2008, a French person studying in Japan started a website to sell Japanese bento boxes to French people.

In 2009, colorful photos of bento were published in The Globe and Mail newspaper in Canada and in The New York Times in the United States.

In the news articles, Japanese words were used. "Bento" was described as "lunch box" and "onigiri" as "rice ball." How did bento become so popular overseas?

  • It makes children eat things they usually don't like such as vegetables.
  • It's fun to make.
  • Safe even if you have allergies.
  • Good nutritional balance.
  • Cheaper than buying a bento.

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