5. For reminders & celebrations ...
Whether it’s an upcoming birthday, a quick note to have fun on your school trip (as above), or a reminder to buy a box of Pocky on the way home, bento are a great way to get your message across in a fun and caring manner. Supplement the standard birthday cake with a special birthday bento message in macaroni letters for your child, a coworker or your significant other. If you’re short on time, purchase some handy happy birthday toothpicks from Amazon, or some pre-printed cards from Lunchbox Love.
4. To tickle the brain ...
As the popularity of character bentos has reached new heights both abroad and in Japan, a newcomer is beginning to rise in the bento world: pun bento or dajare-ben. What do you get when you arrange your salmon, or shake, in the shape of Edvard Munch’s The Scream? Well, when you add a bi made out of nori seaweed, you get shake-bi—a slurred version of sakebi, or scream.
Hard to follow? Well, that’s part of the point! In fact, one particular Kyoto office worker has been opening his lunchboxes to delightful brain teasers from his wife every day since May 2014, with her gags ranging from the simple to the obscure. Can you think of your own? When you do, lettuce celebrate! Just please don’t go bacon our hearts; we might ask you to beet it.
3. To exact revenge …
It happens. Couples fight, daughters and sons complain about their mothers, etc., etc. But what happens when things get too heated and carry over to the next day? Well, some wives and mothers have taken it upon themselves to give the perpetrator their just desserts. In this case, a shikaeshi bento, or revenge bento, is in order.
Look out for bentos filled with pure pickled plums with a smidgen of rice, a raw egg on top of rice, or the uneatable: a box full of hard, uncooked rice. Take heed and be extra nice to the person making your bento, or you just might end up with a bento with a curse mark on it.
We’re most partial to the one above, however. It just says baka, or idiot, in giant nori letters.
2. To talk to your teen or tween ...
Is your son or daughter not opening up? Do they shut themselves off from you? Well, one single mother attempted to deal with the problem in her own way by harassing her cheeky daughter with character bento all throughout her high school days. Some are very direct, like Tottoro holding a paintbrush telling her daughter to walk home from school, but others are downright heartwarming, like the graduation bento series where in one she simply writes, “Realize your dreams.”
The bento series struck a chord with so many readers that it prompted her to compile the bento into a book called Kyo mo Yagarase Bento, or Today is Another Pestering Bento Day.
1. To express unsaid emotions …
Japan is known to have an incredibly high context culture, where reading in between the lines is crucial and expressing your opinions directly is often a social faux pas. And just as in so many cultures, moms express their affection through their food. Whether it’s a complex character bento or a simplistic design filled with love, the most important thought is, what do you want your bento say? This tear-jerking video from Tokyo Gas pretty much sums it up in 90 seconds.
There you have it: five new and old ways to communicate through food. And we must pay a little added respect to the box below, which defies convention by writing the following not on top, but in the very bottom of the bento box:
Thanks for always eating down to the last bite!