Bento (or obeno) is a single-potion takeout or home-packed meal common in Japanese cuisine. A traditional bento holds rice, fish or meat, with pickled or cooked vegetables, usually in a box-shaped container. Containers range from disposable mass produced to hand crafted lacquerware. Bento are readily available in many places throughout Japan, including convenience stores, bento shops, railway stations, and department stores. However, Japanese homemakers often spend time and energy on a carefully prepared lunch box for their spouse, or children.
History of bento in Japan can date back to Heian period (794-1185). Onigiri (rice ball) called tonjiki at that time was eaten. Later, a lacquer lunchbox that can still be found today was introduced.
In Edo period (1603-1867), bento culture spread and became more refined. Travelers and sightseers would carry a simple koshibento (waist bento), consisting of several onigiri wrapped with bamboo leaves or in a woven bamboo box. One of the most popular styles of bento, called makuno-uchi bento (between-act bento), was first made during this period. People came to see Noh and Kabuki ate specially prepared bento between maku (acts).
In Meiji period (1868-1912), the first ekibento or also called ekiben (train station bento) was sold. There are several records that claim where ekiben was first sold, but it is believed that it was sold on 16 July 1885, at the Utsunomiya train station, and contained two onigiri and serving takuan (pickled Japanese radish) wrapped in bamboo leaves. As early schools did not provide lunch, students and teachers carried bento, as did many employees. European style bento with sandwiches also went on sale during this period.
In Taisho period (1612-1926), the aluminum bento box became a luxury item because of its ease of cleaning and its silver-kike appearance. Also, a move to abolish the practice of bento is school became a social issue. Disparities in wealth spread during this period, following an export boom during World War I and subsequent crop failures in the Tohoku region. A bento too often reflected a student’s wealth, and many wondered if this had an unfavorable influence on children both physically, from lack of adequate diet, and psychologically, from a clumsily made bento or the richness of food.
After World war II, the practice of bringing bento to school gradually declined and was replaced by uniform food provided for all students and teachers.
Bento regained popularity in the 1980s, with the help of the microwave oven and the proliferation of convenience stores. In addition, the expensive wood and metal boxes have been replaced at most bento shops with inexpensive, disposable polystyrene boxes. However, even handmade bento have made a comeback, and they are once again a common, although not universal, sight at Japanese schools. Bento are still used by workers as a packed lunch, by families on day trips, for school picnics and sports day etc. The bento, made at home, is wrapped in a furoshiki cloth, which acts as both bag and table mat.
Airports also offer an analogous version of the ekiben: a bento filled with local cuisine, to be eaten while waiting for an airplane or during the flight.
You might have heard kyaraben. Kyaraben are typical decorated to look like popular characters from Japanese anime, manga or video games which are made by mothers for their children.
Now, Numerous cookbooks were published detailing how to cook, how to pack, and what to prepare for occasions like Hanami.
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