In an American elementary school, at least for me, lunch time was when kids compared their versions of a peanut butter jelly sandwich, tried to trade their apple for a cookie, and hoped that today was the day Mom packed them a “Lunchable”. In Japan, showing off one’s lunch is a bit more competitive, due to the art of Bento.
Bento Boxes are lunch boxes filled with visually appealing meals. And in Japan visually appealing is a synonym for cute! There a variety of categories when talking about Bentos, each with a specific purpose.
Young children are prepared charaben ( キャラ弁 ). These are the exceptionally cute lunches we see with an egg molded into a “Pikachu” sitting next to a “Hello Kitty” rice ball/ onigiri/ お握り. Parents prepare these cute meals to encourage kids to eat their food.
Loving Wife/ Aisai Bento あいさいべんとう is a Bento made by a wife for her newlywed husband. In the early stages of marriage, women often make cute Bentos for their men to take to work with loving notes or messages on them.
Down the road, then the honeymoon is over and the newlywed wife is now a busy mother, aisai bento changes to hokaben/ホカ弁 this is the standard , “manly” Bento. It is a simply decorated nutritious meal, packed in a thermos.
I’m pretty sure my mom has not packed my dad a lunch for work, well, ever. and the thought of her spending time to make a cutesy lunch is pretty funny to me.
How do you feel about Packed Lunches in Japan versus America?