Andrew’s World in Japan 2019/October

Artist & researcher based in KL since 2009, passionately exploring the creative process & connecting with other creative people.

Beauty Has A Beast?
Ode To Lunchboxes

A bento at its most basic serves as a container to carry food and a masterpiece at its most ostentatious. Beauty, at its core, is a flash of pure vision embraced for a second. These moments are as frequent as the human eye blinks. So much so that apparently, we can never quite experience enough to satisfy. Like our need to feed, another meal is demanded. But we are not animals that ravage our prey, at least not today. No, we must spend precious time reveling, documenting and sharing moments of calculated beauty on all sorts of Internet-based mobile device accessed mediums. Bento dives deep into these murky yet magnificent waters.

While it is common that we find ways to wrap objects, edible or not, in layers meant to protect or enhance them, Japanese set the bar. What possibly began in China with the southern slang term of ‘biandāng,’ meaning ‘convenient’ has examples around the world. In Asia, Taiwan has the pián tong, Korea the dosirak, India the tiffin and Philippines the baon. Each country has developed unique methods to pack their meals in ways that reverberate with to them.

In Japan, the practice of packing meals was first influenced early on by the ideals of the samurai class. As Japan became dominated by the needs of the working class, so to did the way of eating. The Edo period under the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate saw the privileged elite experiencing meals as more game or competition than simply gathering nutrients. Has this carried on into today?

Well, in the world of bento it seems so. Within a confined space of the single portion packed meal people continue to raise the making of bento to an impressive craft. Mothers may spend precious early morning hours preparing that days lunch for their kindergartener. Then even more time researching ideas, shopping for ingredients and documenting their work to share just how big is their love. At least that’s how it may seem.

There are specialized books and magazines on bento like Kihon no Obento, The Just Bento Cookbook, and Bento Power. Youtube video channels and websites dedicated to the subject. But how can a bento be considered the best unless it is subjected to competitive analysis, that is, contests to acknowledge the most aesthetically pleasing arrangements? So yes, there are definitely competitions.

Everywhere around us from sunflowers and snail shells to a city layout or classical painting reveals the power of Fibonacci’s sequence. That is something I love to find myself noticing. Who could really expect any less, when it seems the quality of a student’s state of mind and the level of a mother’s love is reflected in the bento they create. Wow, easily a social more packing the weight of a Mike Tyson punch. How did a meal become so potent a mark? These topics could really be and probably are serious studies. An article in National Geographics by Elizabeth Unger titled “Is There a Dark Side to Those Adorable Bento Boxes?” does suggest that a perfect meal comes at a cost. Regardless of the societal judgments that do arise in this sort of thing, a lovingly prepared healthy meal is a magic of its own.