The Mark of Beauty:Bento

NHK Educational

A bento is a portable meal of rice and side dishes packed into a small container. A variety of bento are made for different settings, be they school or work lunches, leisurely outings, or trips to the theater.
Point 1: The Attention to Detail in Edo-style Bento
Makunouchi (literally, “between acts”) is a type of bento developed in Edo (now Tokyo), which is typically eaten at the theater during intermissions. Because the intermissions are short, the rice is divided into small portions to be easily picked up with chopsticks. The other side dishes are also bite-sized.
Origin of the Makunouchi Bento
The Makunouchi (“between acts”) bento was developed in the Edo period (1603–1868). The name derives from the fact that it was eaten between the acts of kabuki performances.
Point 2: An Extravagantly Packed Little Space
Shidashi is a term used for bento delivered by professional caterers. These box meals are traditionally ordered for important guests or special occasions. Shidashi bento are filled with a wide variety of colorful, artistically arranged side dishes.
The Shokado Bento
An innovative new type of boxed meal known as the Shokado bento was developed in Osaka at the beginning of the Showa period (1926–1989). It was conceived of by the chef Yuki Teiichi. A Shokado bento has four different types of dishes arranged in a lacquered bento box divided into four sections. This type of bento condenses the traditional multi-course Japanese dinner known as kaiseki ryori into one box.
Point 3: Ekiben, a Boxed Meal Filled with Local Flavors
Ekiben (“station bento”) are boxed meals sold in railroad stations for the purpose of eating on the train. These are sold across Japan, from north to south, but the flavors of ekiben vary wide depending on the locality. Enjoying ekiben meals that are available only in specific places is one of the special pleasures of train travel in Japan.
Kakinoha Zushi (Sushi) from Nara
Kakinoha zushi (“persimmon leaf sushi”) is a specialty of Nara. To make each individual piece, a thin slice of vinegar-pickled salted mackerel is placed on top of vinegared sushi rice and wrapped in a persimmon leaf. This local delicacy is prized for the glossy appearance of the mackerel and the pleasant fragrance of the persimmon leaf.
Kamameshi from Gunma
Kamameshi (“potted rice”) is a kind of ekiben made in Gunma. This warm, home-style bento is traditionally cooked and served in an earthenware pot produced in the kilns of Mashiko. When it was first introduced in 1958, Kamameshi was considered a revolutionary bento and became wildly popular.
Ikameshi from Hokkaido
Ikameshi is an ekiben sold in Mori Station in Hokkaido. This bento emerged during the rice shortages of World War II. Squid, which were being caught in great numbers at the time, were used to add volume to the meal.
Masuzushi from Toyama
Masuzushi is a kind of “Oshi-sushi” (pressed sushi) made of vinegared trout salmon and vinegared rice, and wrapped in bamboo leaves. It is a local delicacy of Toyama prefecture.
Hipparidako Meshi from Hyogo
This bento consists of rice, octopus (tako), conger eel (anago) and vegetables arranged in an earthenware container that resembles an octopus trap used by fishermen. Consumers enjoy both the flavor and the intriguing container.
Kanimeshi from Tottori
For this bento, rice is cooked with crab and then arranged with crab meat and claws. It comes in a fun container shaped like a crab.
Yonezawa Beef Bento from Yamagata
This is an ekiben made using the famous Yonezawa beef raised in the region of Yonezawa, Yamagata prefecture.
Taizushi from Fukui
For this bento, sea bream (tai) caught in the sea near Wakasa Bay is lightly sprinkled with salt and then combined with vinegared sushi rice.
The Mark of Beauty : NHK Educational
Credits: Story

Kandamyojinshita Miyabi
National Diet Library Digital Collections
Koraibashi Kitcho
Ekibenya Matsuri
Ikameshi Abe Shoten
Abe Tottori Do
Matsukawa bento ten
Sanriku Rias tei

Photography by Tadayuki Minamoto

Music by Kazuki Sugawara

Supervised by
Maezaki Shinya, Associate Professor, Kyoto Women's University
M. Rinne, Kyoto National Museum

Produced by NHK Educational Corporation


Credits: All media
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