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it's me Mario! | © MIKI Yoshihito / Flickr

Bento Art: How Japan Turns Food into Masterpieces

Picture of Dave Afshar
Updated: 20 April 2017

The Japanese are known for their attention to detail as well as their particular affinity for all things kawaii (cute), and lunch is no exception. Deco-ben, short for “decorative bento,” is the art of creating unique and colorful lunch boxes that are just as pleasing to the eye as to the tongue. If the idea of having your meal crafted into cute animals or famous anime characters sounds a bit silly to you, take a look at just how much effort and creativity go into each lunch box. We take a look at how the deco-ben phenomenon started and check out some of the most impressive bento art in Japan.

How it started

Bento in Japanese is a fully cooked, complete meal in one box. An ideal bento should contain rice, meat or fish, vegetables, and a small dessert. In a traditional Japanese family, the mother prepares lunch for her children and her husband to bring to school or work the following day. Convincing young children (and perhaps stubborn husbands) to eat all of their vegetables is not always an easy task, and thus the art of deco-ben was born. Deco-ben has enjoyed increasing popularity overseas as well, resulting in the creation of numerous blogs and Instagram accounts dedicated to the art of bento.

Japan’s best bento art

Thin slices of fish cake are cut into the shape of roses to put the finishing touch on this nature-inspired bento.

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A bear and a chicken can get along just fine as long as they wear matching top hats.

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The characters in this colorful lunch are made from dyed mashed potatoes and vegetables.

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This bento is inspired by My Neighbor Totoro, one of the most famous Japanese anime films of all time.

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So cute, you almost feel bad about eating it. Almost.

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Mom managed to sneak an English vocabulary lesson into this one.

A little food dye goes a long way.

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The famous character Anpanman comes to life in this lunch box.