Before dating, teenage girls may attract their love interest’s attention with a homemade lunch. This trend in some ways parallels the Valentine’s season, when schoolgirls prepare a significant number of chocolates for their friends, and a treat outshining all the rest for their special someone. In Japan, Valentine’s Day is an occasion for women to give chocolates to their partners (or intended partners), after which they await a return a month later on White Day, when boys are meant to show their own affection.
But Valentine’s Day only comes once a year, and young people often struggle to find other ways to express romantic interest. Public affection is traditionally thought of as inappropriate in Japan, and while contemporary society has slightly changed these views, it’s still uncommon and awkward to be openly romantic. Preparing a bento is a perfect way to convey such emotions, and may explain why the couples’ bento remains popular today.
This is thoroughly reinforced by the media, and glancing through romantic manga or romantic comedy TV shows and movies, you are guaranteed to see bento make an appearance (c.f. Nao Kodaka's Hatsukoi Lunch Box, or First Love Lunch Box, above). And there are countless sections in young women’s magazines on how to prepare a bento. Depending on the season or theme, such as Valentine’s or Christmas (the latter of which is also celebrated as a romantic holiday in Japan), bento go above and beyond a mere lunch box.
Once couples begin to date, a young man bringing lunch packed by his girlfriend is often met with exclamations of “Lucky!” and remarks of envy. A bento from a woman is considered highly romantic, and vice-versa.
Visit a park during the spring season, and there’s sure to be at least one young couple sharing a picnic bento. It means a lot more than just a meal.