“Bento boxes are expressions of a mother’s love for her child, through the commitment of time and thought to creating healthy, innovative, beautiful lunch boxes,” says Barbara Holthus, deputy director for the German Institute for Japanese Studies in Tokyo. “Mothers – and children – are socialised into this view.”
My school friend Miki Okamura, who is a mother of two, is a keen chara-ben maker who often posts her creations on social media.
“I started making them because my daughter was a fussy eater, so I thought that if I made them look pretty, it might encourage her to eat more,” she tells me.
“Once I started making them for both kids, they started looking forward to it, and her friends and teachers also started asking ‘what’s your chara-ben today?’ so I continued for two years," says Okamura. "They are now at a primary school which serves lunch, but once they go to junior high, I’ll have to start making them again every day.”
Okamura doesn’t think she will make chara-ben now the kids are older, but she describes the duty of making lunch boxes as “the most important job as a mother”.
“Not only can you make sure they eat healthy food, but you can also express your love to the children,” she says.