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The bento (弁当, bentō) is a common element of Japanese everyday life and cuisine. Many of those who watch anime or read manga have probably seen it portrayed many times, in situations like school lunches or picnics in the park. A bento is simply a box, often with separate compartments, that contains ready-made food to be eaten outside. What at first glance might seem like a simple takeaway meal like there are all over the world, in Japan takes on a deeper and more fascinating cultural significance. It is no coincidence that in Japanese this word is often used by prefixing the honorific prefix "o", then obento (お弁当).

All the details about bentos

The bento box can be of various types, in disposable plastic, or in ceramic, wood or metal. As for the content of the bento, this can be anything, but it is important that the meal is balanced in its nutrient intake. A typical bento is often a composition that includes rice, one or more meat or fish dishes, and some vegetables. However, there are no particular rules, other popular bento dishes are for example yakisoba or various fried tempura.
eating bento in sailor moon anime japanese bento a character eats a bento in class in the Sailor Moon anime, and a real bento
According to the common tradition, the "women of the house", that is the mother or the wife, in the early morning prepare and pack the bentos for lunch to be given to the children who go to school and to the husband who goes to work. However, with the emancipation of women this custom is increasingly questioned by the younger generations where very often women also work. Today, therefore, it is possible to buy bentos in many places in Japan. You don't need to have a Japanese mother or wife to be able to try a bento. Other typical occasions when you eat a bento are picnics in the park, excursions into nature, to the sea or to the mountains, and long journeys by train, ship or plane. Bento is surprisingly used even in an important moment like the table of the first day of the year: called osechi, it generally contains expensive ingredients in an elegant box. Also in this case, once the New Year's osechi-ryori was prepared at home, but in recent decades hardly anyone does it anymore. In the New Year period, the streets are full of shops selling this very expensive variant of bento (it might cost even more than 5000 yen).
osechi New Year's osechi
Another peculiarity of the Japanese bento is that it is generally prepared to be aesthetically pleasing. Sometimes, bento packaging becomes an art and there are many bento competitions nationwide. A lot of moms almost feel a sort of social pressure to make a good-looking bento for their child to take to school, to avoid being seen as bad mothers. There are shops or entire sections of department stores dedicated to the sale of "accessories" for bento, to take care of its aesthetics, such as special boxes or wrapping clothes (furoshiki), molds to create various shapes with various foods and other cute decorations (see the section below on where to buy them). For example, some people enjoy to make bentos with food decorated to look like animals or characters from popular media such as anime. This type of bento is called kyaraben (キャラ弁), a shortened form of "character bento".
japanese bento
japanese bento
japanese bento
spongebob japanese bento some special themed bentos

Where to buy a bento in Japan

japanese bento on sale in a supermarket obento for sale in a supermarket
japanese bento on sale in a konbini obento for sale in a konbini
japanese bento on sale obento for sale in a shop
japanese bento truck an obento truck
japanese bento truck the chain of bento shops Hotto Motto

Where to buy bento accessories in Japan

japanese bento corner at daiso bento section inside a 100 yen Daiso shop
japanese bento corner at department store bento section inside a department store

Guided tours, activities and other things to do

If you are planning a trip to Japan and you want to do something more than just visiting famous places and monuments, we suggest you to use Rakuten Travel Experiences.

How to use Rakuten Travel Experiences

Rakuten Travel is a very useful website to enrich your travel experience, especially if you are going solo or it's your first time in Japan.
Because of the language barrier (and more), in Japan it is very difficult to interact with the locals and to get off the tourist track.
Thanks to Rakuten Travel you can find a lot of interesting and sometimes unique guided tours and activities all over Japan (and not only in Japan), that you would otherwise never be able to enjoy.
But there's more: on Rakuten Travel you can also buy tickets for several famous attractions, events, transportation and other useful services for tourists. Last but not least, you can reserve a table in hundreds of restaurants.

Some examples

Take a look at Rakuten Travel Experiences

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