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An Online Bento Evolution

In April 2007, I was having an online conversation with someone in Allakhazam IRC, trying to explain what a bento was. In my mind I pictured a supermarket bento or one from 7-Eleven, with the signature slice of takuan, hot dog, beef, and spam on furikake rice. When I went to Google however, what I found had me in awe.

There was an entire online community of people into bento. They took photos of what they had to eat for lunch that day and posted them for people all over the world to oogle at. I spent a whole week just feasting my eyes on what other people were eating and couldn’t believe I found it so interesting. I had to get in on this. People like Little Yuzu were blowing me away. Little Yuzu sadly doesn’t bento anymore, but she was by far the biggest influence on my bento photography.

I made this bento in 2007 when we took the kids to the zoo.

Zoo Bento

If you haven’t a clue as to what I’m talking about, bento is the Japanese style of packing a lunch “to go” in a small box. Bento is for work, for school, for field trips, for picnics, etc. Take-out lunch on crack, if you will. I’ve come a long way in bentos. I have an impressive collection of boxes and accessories taking over my kitchen. I’m a contributor in the upcoming book 500 Bento Lunches: 500 Unique Recipes for Brilliant Bento(available for pre-sale) and am now in the process of writing my own bento book. I e-stalk people on Twitter that talk about bento. I’m completely obsessed. Any of my friends and family can attest to that.

In 2009, my readers (subscribe via feed or email) have given me increased praise for my bento lunches and as I approach the 2 year anniversary of when I officially became obsessed with bento, it got me to think about where this “hobby” has brought me and where it’s come itself. Having said that, besides presenting to you some of my most popular lunches, here are the most influential bento sites that brought me to where I am today.

For starters, I ended up losing 22 pounds in six months in 2007 by combining bento with Weight Watchers. Portion sizing becomes much easier when you have a little box to eat out of. My 100 bentos have been, by far, the most popular, with my 300th bento getting my blog the most hits so far.

My 100th bento has been my most popular bento on my Flickr account, but this is likely due to its age. Noah’s bento is quickly catching up.

Bento 100

Inspiration for this one came primarily from E-Obento, arguably the most insane site on the bentonets you’ll ever run across. It’s in Japanese, but that’s never really stopped me from drooling all over my keyboard.

E-Obento lunch

If that doesn’t make you crap your pants, I seriously don’t know what it takes to impress you, but this woman bentos about every other day. Her work is amazing.

Bento lunches is by far the strongest bento community out there right now. A Live Journal community, Bentolunch first started to get popular around March 2006 and really began to boom in 2007. In 2009, it’s got over 6,000 members and over 4,000 watchers.

Like Little Yuzu, this lady is retired, but Cooking Cute is still a great influence upon many bentoers. She went gluten-free in 2006 when her husband was diagnosed with celiac disease.

cooking-cute2

After reading Bentolunch for a while, one woman began to stand out. Biggie posted daily lunches made for herself and her toddler son, who she lovingly refers to as “Bug” online. Biggie’s lunches always looked very simply packed, yet so beautiful and delicious. She eventually opened up her own site at Lunch in a Box.

biggie1

Lunch in a Box is the most popular bento site, and it’s also the most useful. Biggie specializes in “speed” bentos and posts oodles of tips and tricks along with declicious recipes. Her tutorials are wondeful, with my personal favorite being the one for dashimaki tamago.

Kaoko over at Kitchen Cow was another big influence on my bentos. She features lots of yummy recipes and has a beautiful photography style.

kaoko

Wererabbits is a vegetarian bento blog and features amazing lunches with the most vibrant colors. I’m a big meat fan, but if anyone could convince me to give it up, it would have to be her.

wererabbits1

Another standout bentist is Mushmo, who entered a fabulous pink Nintendo DS bento in my 100k Bento Contest.

The winner of above-mentioned 100k Bento Contest was a Totoro themed lunch by Kitanya. Voting for my 200k Bento Contest is now open.

Nilmandra has her own LJ, but I’ve been a fan of hers through Bentolunch. You can count on her to have lipsmacking lunches all the time and she doesn’t even use a “real” bento box most of the time!

nilmandra

In 2008, Susan Yuen wrote Hawaii’s Bento Box Cookbook: Fun Lunches for Kids, which featured over 50 cute lunches to make for kids in Hawaii. She’s got a blog now and her recent lunches have become even better than her published ones!

susan1

Katy over at Obentolunch4kidz has a lot of great ideas for children’s bentos like this one with beef and cheese taquitos.

obentolunch4kidz

Another really insanely cute Japanese bento blog is Cute Obento, which belongs to Lucky Sundae. These walruses she made are something I could only make in my wildest dreams.

luckysundae

New to the bento scene is Anna the Red, whose Bento Factory has been a fantastic inspiration for kyaraben lovers (character bentos) and gamers. My hands-down favorite of hers is her Katamari Damacy bento.

anna1

I mean, is that not one of the most badassed things ever?

Another bentist I’ve recently become a fan of is Nonochan. I don’t know if she has a blog, but the first bento of hers that caught my eye was her amazing Christmas bento.

nonochan

Shoppingmum has a blog called Mothering Corner, so check it out to see tons of cute bentos just like this one.

shoppingmum

A popular bento of mine was one that I made for my uncle, Mike Sakamoto, who passed away last month after a battle against cancer.

In October 2008, I decided to enter Square Enix’s Final Fantasy XI Fan Festival 2008 Crafting Competition. I made a bento of a mandragora and a lycopodium, eventually winning second place after a vote by Fan Festival attendees.

There are many other great bento sites out there, so if you want to give things a try here are a few more sites to inspire you.

Bento Challenge – A LiveJournal community with a challenge theme each week.
BentoTV – Watch this girl show you how to make bento.
Just Bento – Run by Maki, author of Just Hungry.
Not Exactly Bento – Written by Jen, who began bentoing as way to eat healthier.

I’ve mentioned before that bentos are not new to me. Growing up in Hawaii means that bento is a part of your life, no matter what island you live on. Ever since Barack Obama won the election, I’ve been boasting about how we now probably have the first president who, when asked, will know just what you’re talking about when you mention a bento. Yes, I’ve even managed to turn the president into a bento topic. That’s the kind of bento monster you can turn into.

Looking for places to buy bento stuff online? Try these sites:

Amazon – There’s some Mac software named Bento. Us real bento freaks tend to get annoyed by this since you end up Googling a lot of software stuff, but Amazon has some good things such as Zojirushi’s thermal lunch jars.
From Japan with Love – A couple in Japan run this Yahoo store which offers lots of cool bento boxes and accessories not found anywhere else.
Ichibankan USA – Offering tons of very affordable bento boxes and accessories, Ichinbankan only ships to the continental US.
J-List – Based in Japan, J-List is one of the most popular places to buy bento boxes.

Since I began doing bentos in 2007, the amount of bento blogs out there has boomed, especially in the United States. Hundreds of people are doing this and sharing their photos. Isn’t it time you got in on the fun?

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50 Comments

  1. avatar

    Beautiful collection of bentos! ^^ It’s really cool to know that you took the time to study about different nutrient intakes and even lost weight thanks to bentos!

    I personally love your 300th bento and the pink NDS bento from your contest

    Cheers~ keep up the good work!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  2. avatar

    Those are amazing! My favorite is your 300th bento. I started making my own bento a while back, but nothing like this! Thanks for sharing!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  3. avatar

    I had absolutely no idea these bento sites and community exsisted, wererabbits’ veggie bentos are awesome and so inspiring. Anna’s Katamari Damancy bento is my fav above.

    Someday I am either going to thank you for introducing me to this community, or blame you for getting me addicted to bento-crack :-)

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  4. avatar

    Hi Pikko, thanks for posting up my bento. I’ve never thought that my Flickr would get noticed as I only set it up recently, after about my bentos for months.
    BTW, I like your bentos too, and I’ve been reading your blog for some time.

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  5. avatar

    Pikko, I agree with all the bento blogs you’ve posted and I definitely count your site among them on my personal list of favorites.

    I’ve been bento-ing on and off for about a year and a half and truly enjoy it when I get around to it. Please feel free to check out my site when you get a chance.

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  6. avatar

    Oops, I mean “after blogging about my bentos for months”. :P

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  7. avatar

    Maybe you should start holding Bento workshops.

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  8. avatar

    thank you so much for posting all these links!! :D

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  9. avatar

    These are awesome! I feel like I should make more effort when making my lunches! But, I don’t know how you would eat them… I just want to keep looking at them.

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  10. avatar

    I love your bentos. My husband is from Hawaii and would love if I made bentos. You are an inspiration. How do you make the cutout rice molds, do you add anything to the rice or is it straight out of the rice pot?

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  11. avatar

    @Terri The rice is straight out of the pot and put into special molds, but I do salt up my hands and rub them all over the onigiri first, for taste.

    @Spiceaholic I will! :D

    @Shoppingmum I’ve included your blog link now!

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  12. avatar

    Wow, what a comprehensive round-up! There are some blogs on here that are new to me — I’ll have to check them out and add them to the Bento Blog Search engine and my links page. Those gorgeous kyaraben bentos are amazing eye candy that draw people in (I’m just too lazy to make them, thus the speed bentos). Still, I admire them as art and daydream about having an in-house bento artist who’d make something like that for all of us everyday…

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  13. avatar

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Your bentos are just the absolute bomb! They also bring a little sigh of pleasure from me when you post. And thanks for the shout-out and link to my blog. How sweet is that?

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  14. avatar

    Fabulous write up and pictures. I too really had no idea what an art form this was! I’d love to have a go at it though, it looks like a lot of fun.

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  15. avatar

    Thanks Pikko for the write up! You really should consider holding bento classes…there is a lot of interest out there.

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  16. avatar

    I LOVE your creativity and dedication. I just started making bento lunches about a month ago & following weight watchers so your site is a real pleasure for me!

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  17. avatar

    I love your blog pikko! Yours was the first bento blog that I ever saw and inspired me to start making bentos

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  18. avatar

    These are awesome. Although i’m one of those who would have a hard time eating such nice looking bento

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  19. avatar

    Hi Pikko,
    I have just started doing bentos, and I must say among few others like Cooking Cute and Biggie, you are an absolute inspiration to me. I think your works of art are just fantastic, and I only hope to be as good as you some day.
    Your blog is the first thing I check out in the mornings when I log on to my computer. I have read every one of your archived posts. Baby Girl and Buddy are very lucky kids.
    Thanks for the never ending inspiration, and also this list! I will have to check out some other blogs which I hadn’t discovered yet.
    Cheers, Brooke

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  20. avatar

    Thanks everyone for the great comments, I’m glad you all enjoyed the article and have found some new sites to oogle!

    @Brooke That’s amazing and I’m so touched! Thanks for making my day!

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  21. avatar

    Wow, I’m honored that you were inspired by my bento pics. I wouldn’t even notice, since your photos (and your bento creativity!) surpasses mine. Keep up the fantastic work!

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  22. avatar

    Hey there, thanks for your inspiring blog and photo’s and tutorials! Budding Bentist here, from the Netherlands. It’s very muchly NOT a tradition here and I need to get most of my bento items from Japan – but it’s worth it!

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  23. avatar

    Bento making is really a form of art! =)

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  24. avatar

    nyiaaaa

    nice post, and nice web!! :D

    Now I’m hungry :)

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  25. avatar

    太可爱了,好棒

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  26. avatar

    I love it! I’ve seen a bento site here and there, but having so many links in one place is going to lead me to spend a LOT of time looking (and drooling).

    I also like the vegan lunchbox site – I’m sorry I’m at work and don’t have the URL, but just google ‘vegan lunchbox’ – her stuff is neato!

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  27. avatar

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would

    leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed

    reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

    Miriam

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  28. avatar

    wow, this is adorable

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  29. avatar

    This is so wonderful. Would you mind introducing this post with some pictures in Korean in my blog?

    I’ll mention this site and put the direct links of this post and 200K contest.

    Sincerely …

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  30. avatar

    I’m sorry HighConcept, but I don’t speak Korean…

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  31. avatar

    I love this! Very informative on bento and it really gets me excited and wanting to try it for myself. I never realized how really cute bento is. A very nice resource you have compiled here. Thank you!

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  32. avatar

    Hi Pikko –
    I don’t know how I missed this post when it first came out, but thank you so much for mentioning my site/blog!! I’m amazed that you see enough talent there to pass on the information to others. I’ve always been inspired by your bentos and your site (it was one of the first sites I bookmarked when I started bentoing.) Thanks again.

    P.S. – I have a slightly off topic question for you since you speak/read Japanese. I use Google’s translator when I’m looking at Japanese bento sites (I know the translations are HORRID, but at least I can get a general idea of ingredients, tips, etc.) Anyway, the word valve comes up all the time. Do you know what is this word really supposed to be? Thanks.

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  33. avatar

    Hi Michelle,

    Thanks for such a nice comment.

    I actually don’t know how to speak Japanese, which is a horrible embarrassment for me! I’ll learn it one of these days… Email me the page though, I can ask my friend to solve the mystery. :)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  34. avatar

    I’m sorry – for some reason I thought you did! Oops.

    Anyway, it’s not really any specific page – it’s most of them (especially those that do kyaraben).

    Really. it’s not a huge deal. I just keep seeing it over and over, so I was curious.

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  35. avatar

    Maybe they mean straws? I’ve seen in my bento book they pinch the straw openings to form shapes to cut food shapes out of.

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  36. avatar

    more more i want more!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  37. avatar

    wow! i love food, i feel motivated to do some creations at my house, and it’s a good idea to serve it at my little cousins who dont like nutritious food.

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  38. avatar

    Hi.. I am mexican and your bentos are fantastic, that kind of luch box is very fun for the kids, my english is bad…and I don´t have any idea of the japanise…but I just wana to say how amazing is your fodd, thaks for sharing…. one more question how I cook the rice?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  39. avatar

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

    Elaina

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  40. avatar

    I would just like to say thank you for blogging about your bentos.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  41. avatar

    Wow, beautiful bento! I never thought about using bento boxes to lose weight, but it seems like a fantastic idea. I’m definitely going to use it! I have tons of bento boxes laying around the house that I never use. I use to use them a lot when I was living in Asia.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  42. avatar

    LOVE IT! so creative!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  43. avatar

    thus is one of the coolst thing ever! the lunch ladies at my school love it!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  44. avatar

    Hi, nice blog… :)
    If u are interested in seaweed cutter and sushi mould, please visit http://www.mypersonalshop.com

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  45. avatar

    Eee! These are so cute! :D
    You’ve inspired me. I’ve heard of Bento before, but I’ve never seen it in art form! I really want to try some of these!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  46. avatar

    so kawaii food presentations,
    when i had the opportunity to go to Japan. i would eat a thousand bento:>>hehe, thats an hyperbole

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  47. avatar

    I love totoro bento!! So kawaii!!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  48. avatar

    You are weird.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  49. avatar

    Hi Crystal, can I feature this on my blog? This is very interesting.. I know people would love this.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    • avatar

      Sure you can! Thank you for asking!

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

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