The Bento Box History: by Bellevue Japanese Restaurant

The Bento Box: From Lunch to Luxury

The bento box is ingrained in Japanese culinary history. Over the last 15 centuries, the bento box evolved from an ordinary utility container to status symbol, prominent in Japanese popular culture. Japanese farmers, hunters and warriors in the 5th century would pack their lunches in sacks or boxes and take them to the fields. Designed from a farmer’s seed box, it contains separate compartments for rice, fish and vegetables. It spread to other countries and each culture adapted their own dishes for the box.

Actually, the word ‘bento’ was derived from the Southern Song Dynasty slang term biàndāng, which means “convenient.” Nonetheless, the general idea is to have variety and a balanced meal, and that remained constant.

Bento boxes can be made of basket material or lacquered wood, or of aluminum which became popular during the Taishō period, between 1912 to 1926. People loved their bento boxes; they brought them to cultural and social events, like religious holidays, festivals and to the theater. As Japan was recovering after World War I, the economy only permitted the rich to have shiny bento boxes; poor families could not afford it.

Then the government recommended nutritious meals for all school children in the late 19th century, which then became standard in 1954, post-World War II, that all lunches contain a cup of milk, a loaf of bread, a pat of butter, rice, and a bowl of soup.

By the 1980s, with the influx of TV dinners and convenience food, the bento resurged in popularity. Japanese-American sugar plantation workers were the first to bring the bento lunch to the US, and from hence, it caught up in other western cultures. In the 1990s, character bentos came into being and are still popular today. Children bring them to school, workers to their offices and factories. Mothers and housewives love preparing their bento boxes, in itself is art. There are bento recipes, bento blogs, and more.

Stores are all over out-selling each other with their own creative box designs and edible characters in malls, supermarkets, train stations, airports, among others. Eating spots, like lounges, bars, restaurants and hotels have their own bento offerings. Truly, the humble farmer’s lunch box has come a long, long way. But remember, a balanced meal remains constant.

Balanced and Beautiful in Bellevue

Enjoy our bento box lunch specials at FLO, your authentic Japanese restaurant in Bellevue. When you do, remember the beginnings of the lowly lunch box as you savor great Japanese cuisine now in our stylishly crafted bento boxes.