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 el 15 Sep 2008 por Ayumi Nakai


Tupperware culture has evolved in Japan turning lunch-boxing into quite an art

Chara-ben "Jack Skellington"
Chara-ben "Jack Skellington"
Chara-ben "Jack Skellington" Chara-ben "Mickey&Minnie" Chara-ben "Bunny Worker" Obento - Kanetu-shiki
It is usual in Japan to take lunch box meals to the office or to school.

There exists a 'tupper' culture in many countries, the difference lies in the basis in Japan, they eat rice with everything.

Rice accompanies meats or fish as main dish, with vegetables as garnish and a little bit of fruit for dessert. And all that, perfectly arranged and prepared into the same container or tupperware. There’s nothing unusual about that nowadays, being nonetheless an accurate reflection of feeding habits in Japan.

A very specific type of rice

There’s a long history of obento in the world and it has experienced great development especially in Japan.

The main reason for that could lie in the specific type of rice used for obento –japonica– which is equally tasteful when eaten cold, while indica rice is better eaten hot.

Japanese obento can be classified in two types: home-made and the one sold already-made at obento-stores like Bento-ya, shops open 24 hours, supermarkets, train stations, etc.

A little bit of history

Selling obento in the streets dates back from the Meiji era (1868-1912) when you could find it at most bus/train stations and transport terminals in Japan.

After the Second World War it also became a popular consumer good at local supermarkets.

Throughout the ‘80’s and ‘90’s they started to open Bento-ya stores (a kind of 'take away shops') and obento could easily be found as well at many 'open 24 hours' stores.

Nowadays, obento producers work all day long producing each one tens of thousands every day.

Self-Heating Tupperware Meals

Due to modern life needs and Japanese inborn eagerness for perfection, they’ve developed not only the tupper-ware, but the container itself. Thus they have invented a system for the container to automatically heat itself by means of chemical reaction. This way you can eat it where and when you feel like it.

Developing real art at home

But there’s also been great development in the home-made obento. In the old days, one of the main tasks of any mum was preparing those 'tupper' meals for her husband and children.

Despite that it is more and more often for Japanese women to work outside the home and they consequently have less time for housework, preparing family’s lunch-boxes is still a common task. So, after years of practicing, obento has become quite an art.

When a newlywed man takes aisai-bento to the office (prepared with much love and caring by his wife) it often happens that some "funny" work colleague plays jokes on him and his aisai-bento until he ends up embarrassed...

Arranged as cartoons

The rage now is the chara-ben (obento featuring cartoon characters; the Japanese term combines the English word 'character' –chara– with the 'obento' term –ben–). Many Japanese mums prepare it for their kids to add some fun to lunch/dinner time.

It is a way of establishing one more communication link between mothers and children. Kids are proud to open their 'tupper' lunch-boxes at school and flash them around and show off among their school mates.

It’s true that at some point kids have confessed that obento art could some times not be that mouthwatering…

To provide a clear example on how far the artistic obento rage goes, you can check yourself that the Bandai toy company has even added to its website a chara-ben section where they show recipes on how they prepare their pets for obento. And they even organize competitions!

Unsurprisingly enough, we can also find in the market many accessories to prepare obento.

How far will this lunch-boxing evolution go?
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