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The Importance of Lunch Time Break – Bento Box

2019.02.19

At what time do you start thinking about lunch? At 11:30, or as soon as you walk through the office, or the classroom doors? Bento, the Japanese packed lunch, is a little phenomenon around the world and some enthusiasts start thinking the night before about what goes in and how it is put in.

A Network that Connects Japan, Past and Present

Bento has always been a community tool. In Japanese agrarian society, workers spent the entire day on their rice paddys. Lunch breaks were precious times to exchange information about crops, and exchange gossip about village life. Their packed lunches were simple rice balls, “Onigiri/Omusubi” with pickled or cooked vegetables. 

In the 17th centuries, Bento became part of the attractions for various occasions. For Hanami, people brought out colourful bento boxes, spread them under the glorious cherry blossoms and partied all afternoon until late evening.  For Kabuki theatre or Sumo wrestling viewing, it was and still is essential to have a bento box, because the shows run from mid-morning to late afternoon. For these requirements, restaurants and theatres developed specific recipes and arrangements to efficiently and pleasingly put as many items as possible in small boxes.

It is also an integral part of train journeys, and throughout Japan major railway stations offer local speciality bento, called Ekiben.

Lunch Break which Fill Generation Gaps

Bento packed lunches remain something that teenagers take from their parents. They may not pay much attention to the parents’ messages on their phones, but it is nearly impossible for these hungry boys and girls not to open their lunchbox.

It presents an opportunity to send messages to children subtly or directly.

Traditionally, the Japanese say that homemade lunchboxes were filled with the love of the wife or mother. Japanese housekeepers contribute to the household budget, reducing the food bill by rearranging the same ingredients from the previous dinner, while giving consideration to the nutritional balance, and bringing a touch of home to the stressful day at work or school.    

It is a gift to your family members, not only of food but also of the thought and time that goes into the preparation. It affords precious moments for family members to say thanks to the home keeper, mother, father, or anyone who looks after your wellbeing. 

Letter Box / Messenger in Disguise

Some lunch box makers at home are so busy that they do not have time to ask essential questions of their loved ones or to make complaints. On Instagram, there are pages of photographs of bento box that are shockingly direct.

Many of them show actual message skilfully written on a box of rice with Nori sheets, from asking to text the mother if they have an after-school club, wishing them to do their best in the exam, telling them not to leave the food and clean the box after eating.  Some people express their anger without any words, by just filling two bento boxes, usually one for rice and another for comforting side dishes, with nothing but plain rice. 

The makers of the lunch box are expecting much more than a little thank-you, in these cases.

Technology Powered Bento Box

Bento can be useful as a one to one communication. But it has also historically been an occasion for food to enhance community bonding, by sharing mealtimes and exchanging side dishes. 

In the busy modern office, people spend lunchtime alone, without conversation, just looking at their smartphones or their computer screens at their desks. In some cases, they keep on working while eating.

Feeling that they need help, one entrepreneur developed a lunchbox that connects the owners of this Bento box in the vicinity, within the office or school, via an App to have lunch together.  The product has not been commercially successful as the electronic parts were bulkier than the food content, but the intention of the “social bento box” was appreciated by visitors during their exhibition at SXSW 2014, the interactive business fair in Texas USA.

Instagram has been a great help for bento makers around the world to be able to share their ideas, designs, and skills.  You never get bored scrolling through numerous images.

Bento Box Design on Instagram

Simply Make It and Eat It

Everybody needs to eat to live.  Making mealtimes more enjoyable is becoming ever more important, and many people are making conscious decisions to make it a regular social occasion, just as in agrarian times.

The Bento Box can be regarded as an analogue communication tool based on fundamental human necessity. The makers think about receivers’ needs and desires. The process of making and packing the food make people ponder what makes you (especially if you are making it for yourself) and the people around you happy, satisfied or, in some cases, annoyed and provoked. 

The Bento box, then, is an effective and simple connector of people in the modern world.   

 

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