For many of us, lunch is just another meal of the day, but take the time to look at Japan and see how mothers put considerable effort in preparing their children’s food.
These moms are molding rice, carving vegetables, cutting nori and shaping meat into cute little characters and objects that make lunch boxes pretty intimidating.
Would you eat something this cute?
These character bentos are called kyaraben, and they’re a national obsession. The cultural trend puts a premium on aesthetic – one flower alone can take 20 precious minutes to make.
For 13 years, Tomomi Maruo has been teaching other moms how to make kyaraben. She shared via NPR, “My kid brought kyaraben to the kindergarten and his friends saw the bento and moms started asking me how to make kyaraben so that’s how I started teaching.”
Design ideas are limitless: Hello Kitty, Mona Lisa, Pokemon, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, superheroes and a slew of animals are just few to try. Moms in Maruo’s class said they consume up to 90 minutes preparing kyaraben.
Mothers who prepare these lunches often stay at home. While kyaraben is undoubtedly pleasing to look at, the motivation behind its creation has a rather competitive nature. Responding to “Who has the best lunch for today?” is not just about taste, after all.
Since then, bentos have been part of Japanese cuisine. According to Eatglobe, the first ones emerged in the 16th century, when food was placed in wooden boxes to be eaten outdoors. They became more popular in post-war Japan as people had less time to eat at home.
The obsession over kyaraben is therefore ironic, as the it makes bento preparation much more elaborate and time-consuming.
Nevertheless, Japanese moms sure know what’s best for their kids, and nothing beats lunch that is pretty and healthy altogether.