Andrew’s World in Japan 2019/September

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

To Bag It Or Box It
Ode To Lunchboxes

For too many people a meal represents more pain than pleasure. We find our societies are stratified into power struggles. There are those with power to make decisions and the rest of us are bound to follow them. As children, we may find our awareness narrow and tend to live isolated in bubbles. But we are all sponges that absorb more than we realize. Meals are meant to nourish. A bentō can nourish the maker as much as the consumer, like the writer of a poem can be as energized as the listener. So many of our actions, become lost and distracted in destructive practices. Something as basic as a meal can get caught in this trap too. Fortunately, we can always find our way back.

Japan’s bentō has experienced its ups and downs. The 1920s even saw the rise of a movement to abolish it. And for several decades it lulled into sleep. It became a negative distraction that ignited social conflict in school as it inevitably reflected a students wealth. For a few reasons, like disposable containers and convenience stores, the 80s saw bento return with a vengeance. Today administrators claim it damn near mandatory as a necessary cultural practice. Magazines, blogs and youtube channels feature the infinite evolving craft of bentō.

I grew up in Portland, Oregon, and my school lunch container was the classic brown paper bag. Nothing wrong with that, just not identifiable from any of the others. As some would note, there are great social benefits to this. Balance and equality seem to be big issues, regardless of the country we are in. At that stage of adolescence, I desired to express my uniqueness. Somehow a change in lunchbox seemed like one way to do that.

When the opportunity for an upgrade from the brown paper bag arrived, I selected the design of a short-lived cartoon series about a janitor dog that was a bumbling kung-fu action hero. Usually, his pet cat sidekick would help him save the day. This would be my first and only actual lunchbox, the Hong Kong Phooey metal case and thermos. I don’t remember the cartoon or much about life in those years. It did not take long for this perfectly good tool to become an embarrassment returning me to the simple straight forward classic brown paper bag. How quickly our accessories can become sources of distress when their purpose is overtly social. Had I grown up in Japan, a similar but different story could have emerged. My first visit to Japan introduced their versatile lunch storing container, the bentō box.