While children generally receive school lunches up to the end of junior high (with the exception of much-anticipated “bento days” and school trips), bento culture really kicks in for the three years of high school education in Japan.

During lunch, everyone takes out his or her own personalized lunch box, with some kids having minimalistic boxes or Hello Kitty designs with matching chopsticks.

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From university, the bento box gradually disappears from sight as students are now expected to either make their own lunches.

The opposite of the “freshmen 15” first-year weight gain begins as students struggle to start packing bento without their mothers.

There’s even an entire aisle for bento boxes and related goods at the grocery store.

If you’re on a budget, try the 100-yen store and sort out your bento needs there.

More students resorts to the ready made meals at the university cafeteria or one-coin (¥500) lunches provided at grocery and convenience stores.

Students will also be found buying their bento from cheap bento specialty stores with a wide range of Japanese to Western-style lunches.

What better way to make children eat than to turn their midday meals into cartoon characters and video games?

With Face Food: The Visual Creativity of Japanese Bento Boxes, writer and designer Christopher D Salyers documents the very real phenomenon of how rice, seaweed, mushrooms, tofu, hot dogs, fish cakes and just about any other edible delight you can imagine are shaped into the likes of Pikachu, Daraemon and Cinderella, bringing health, heart and imagination to the bento box, not to mention a bit of one-upmanship.

There are communities for bentomaking springing up on the internet, one of which ( has drawn me in since last summer as well. One of the main points about bento boxes is that "the eye also eats" - meaning that apart from nourishing, the food should also be attractive on a visual basis.

I can relate to that very well myself - after all, I too have frustrated my mother all the way through ground school by refusing to eat the sandwiches she packed for me.

These charaben, made by parents (mostly mothers) eager to bring attention to their children’s […]Dating back several hundred years, the Japanese bento box is as integral a part of the country’s culinary identity as sushi.