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501 Bento Box Lunches Review

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a contributor in the long awaited 501 Bento Lunches: 501 Unique Recipes for Brilliant Bento book. For those that have nosed through the author bios going, “I see no Pikko!”, I’m credited in the back as Crystal Watanabe. Everyone in the bento community saw this book on Amazon for probably around a year and it eventually came out a couple of months ago.

One of my bentos is on the cover (the sushi in the top right) and already I can tell you that while I’m thrilled to have work on the cover of a book, I’m NOT happy about the shoddy Photoshop job done at the top pieces of sushi. It’s embarrassing. Unfortunately for me, the embarrassment doesn’t end there.

One of the most misleading parts about this book cover are the bright, sharp photos. With such a colorful cover you’d of course expect the rest of the book to look exactly the same. Not so. The majority of the photos in the book itself are dark and hard to see. Even the book photo of the sushi on the cover is dark in the book. Now, I realize that the photos being dark means that I took these horribly dark photos, but that doesn’t mean that’s how they should have been published. I knew how dark they looked when I took them off my camera.

The point is, I touched all of my photos up for the blog so that made up for my crappy photography skills. When I sent these images in, I assumed that they’d brighten up the hi-resolution shots to ready them for book printing. This assumption was a mistake, as you can now see in full published glory. I’m not the only one who now has extremely poorly lit photography credited to their name. Many of the bento photos in this book suffer the same problems as mine.

As for recipes, by recipes the publisher means “instructions” for creating the bento pictured. Very few actual food recipes are found in the book and when they are included, they’re extremely difficult to find as they’re written in a format that is utterly impossible to distinguish from the other write-ups that don’t include a recipe. This is where having 501 bento in a single book has obviously affected the book quality.

There are six bento sections: Art, Cute, Colorful, Traditional, Stylish, and Holiday and Special Occasions. I’m not even really sure what the Traditional section is supposed to be. I had thought it would mean traditional Japanese bento, but when looking through the section, it seems more like if the bento included onigiri or sushi, it got put in here. The rest appear to be well balanced, if this is what is meant by traditional.

The Art Bento section is mostly for gazing at. While the Goose Bento certainly looks spectacular, I wouldn’t eat it. Apple sauce dyed blue and placed on top of couscous and rice just doesn’t sound appetizing to me at all. In another, the Guitar Bento, it’s made out of red rice, apple, cheese, and bamboo shoots. For me, this isn’t really a bento, as it doesn’t follow any sort of nutritional balance being made basically from only carbs. It’s rather odd that this is the first section that comes after a very nicely written introduction on food balance in a bento should be.

The saving grace of this book is the sheer volume of images and ideas that are presented to the readers. Those looking for ideas on how to make their lunches more attractive can certainly obtain oodles of them from the pictures in here, but people looking for traditional recipes or a coffee table book of bento will find themselves disappointed. Still, at less than $14 on Amazon, it’s not like you aren’t getting your money’s worth.

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  • Thanks for the review. I’m new to bento and have a couple of books — “bento boxes” which has more traditional Japanese recipes, and “the manga cookbook”, which seems to be more geared towards kids. I’d love to find an inspiring, yet practical, bento cookbook — any suggestions?

  • I’m glad to read your review.
    As you said, the book is on Amazon for so long that it was really awaited.
    But as I read your review, it gives me the relief to do not have pre-ordered it when I wanted to…
    It’s a pity that this project was not as you wished (and now that I see the cover in big, it’s awfully touched in Photoshop).

  • Sara

    I admit this book was also a disappointment to me. The photos were, as you said, not helped by the editing process on them and frankly the whole thing was too crowded. For inspirational pictures, I can cruise the web. Non-existent recipes and often directions that are so blaringly obvious they should have skipped them and just published the pictures with the lighting touched up and made them larger so that we could see them more clearly. I’ll just keep reading your site and others.

    While it’s not expensive, I’m going call this book a waste of the contributors’ time and talents. Which is a shame because so many are so talented (like you, Pikko!).

  • yikes. I’m sorry you hate it and its credited to your name. you would think they would let you view a final product before publishing or something.

    i’d rather buy bento books in japanese and look at the pictures instead. all the japanese bento books i’ve encountered have been helpful…and colorful with lots of great pictures.

    I’m sorry ms. pikko. 🙁 but don’t worry, you’ll have your own bento book in the future that you can do whatever you want with!

  • BB

    I’m also a contributor to the book, and I think your comments are fair. I was quite surprised at how small the book actually is, and the bad quality of some of the photos. I expected more of an editing job, and at points I did question the way everything was being written up, but thought it would all get sorted out in the end. I’m an editor myself, so viewing it from the other side I knew sometimes you ask for things to be submitted in a certain way even though you know you’ll need to change them…

    Anyway, I really hope this isn’t the last bento book I’ll ever get to contribute too, so hopefully there’s room for improvement!

  • hahaha! Well at 14$, I’m guessing they wouldn’t put the time and money into digitally cleaning up the photos but you pointing out the Photoshop mess on the front is hilarious! Maybe they thought the title would hide everything. lol! Other than that, girl Congratulations! C’mon, this won’t be the first or last book that you do. I always look forward to reading your funny blogs and ideas for bentos (all of mine are horrible right now!). BUT! I did get to Sanrio store in Virginia and bought a new bento box for my kid. Just need your flare to go with it. I say to you…. Congrats! Here’s to many more books under your belt.

  • Maybe I just don’t have a good eye for things like that, but what’s wrong with the cover? Seems fine to me. And I guess the average consumer won’t notice either. *shrug*

  • Thanks for all the encouragement, folks! 🙂

    @Shelly If you look at the top row of sushi, it’s got rather choppy, blurry lines. There’s supposed to be more sushi behind those, but they cut them out and added some edamame.

  • Nicole

    Do you have any rec’s for good bento books? I’d really like a big, substansial book similar to this one, in English, that I could use. All of the bento-specific ones I have are in Japanese and are pretty thin.

    I think this means it’s rine for you to make a bento book!

  • Christine M.

    I have to say that I’d pre ordered it and everyone who got their eyes on it (that includes the bf and the male best friend) were in awe and spent a long, long time going through it. I’m with Shelly on that one, we ‘average’ customers like it quite well. *winks*

  • Wendy Bussell

    Wanted to let you know that I received the book in July as a gift. For me it really conveyed the idea that ANYONE could make a bento. I was not upset with the picture quality, lack of directions or font. It has been,most of all, an idea book for my family. Just knowing that all components didn’t have to have soy sauce or wheat is great! Thanks so much for all the work you put into this venture! And for your blog! The four of us now have all our own bentos and I just sent my husband to work with his very first bento lunch. He was very excited and very cute about it. We are also very caucasian Texans!!!

  • Wendy Bussell

    Wanted to let you know that I received the book in July as a gift. For me it really conveyed the idea that ANYONE could make a bento. I was not upset with the picture quality, lack of directions or font. It has been,most of all, an idea book for my family. Just knowing that all components didn’t have to have soy sauce or wheat is great! Thanks so much for all the work you put into this venture! And for your blog! The four of us now have all our own bentos and I just sent my husband to work with his very first bento lunch. He was very excited and very cute about it. We are also very caucasian Texans!!!

  • I’m sorry it didn’t turn out how you expected. I’m sure they will hear it from some other contributors as well.

  • Can’t wait to check out the book when I get my “winner” copy. I admit it has been in my Amazon wish list waiting, but something else always seem to bump it down out of the shopping cart again.
    I’m very interested to see such a large volume of bentos by so many contributors!

  • Oops, thanks for reminding me about that! lol

  • Okay, I see what you’re talking about on the cover but honestly I think it looks nice. The edamame kind of blends in to the background so you get that color pop from the orange sushi rolls. I think it looks nice. 🙂

  • thanks for that review!

  • Unfortunately, I agree with you…

  • Dark pictures or not, I bought that book and I love it !!
    Full of good ideas for my everyday bento, which is what I expected from it. I understand you must have felt a bit disappointed, but the book is great, sold in French libraries, don’t feel so sorry…

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