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History of "Bento"

August 21, 2019

History of

What is “Bento”?

In Japan, portable foods that are eaten on the go or at outdoors are called “bento”. Recently, it has been recognized overseas as “Bento” with Japanese-style bento boxes, and the word “Bento” even appears in the dictionary.
So when did the Bento start, and how has it been developed to be enjoyed by many people now? I would like to tell you a little history.

When did “Bento” start?

As the description of the oldest bento that can be confirmed, there is a description, in the book “Kojiki” of the Nara era 1300 years ago, that "Mikarehi" (御粮)(the bento at that time) was taken for lunch. "Mikarehi" is also called "Hoshiii" (干飯) and refers to cooked dry rice. It is thought that the bento at this time was such dry rice that did not perish.
In the Heian period 100 years later, rice balls called “Tonjiki” came to be carried.
The word “Bento” was born about 450 years ago, during the Azuchi-Momoyama era when Nobunaga Oda was the Shogun. The origin of the name of the “Bento” is derived from the Chinese word “便當” (pronounced bentou in Japanese) which means “useful” and “convenient”. This is exactly what Bento is today!

So when did “Bento-Box” appeared?

At the same time as the contents of the lunch box, the container that carries it has evolved unique to Japan. Initially, a container called “Karehike” that contains dried food or a container called "Mentsu” “(面桶) that means rice bowl have been used. And in the Heian era, there was a “Wariko” (破子) that was a prototype of the present lunch box with a partition inside.
↑"Mentsu” “(面桶) (Source:
Later, in the Azuchi-Momoyama era, it was called "Sageju" (提重) a bento box like the current “Jyu-bako”(重箱) was made. This is a box that can be used to pack meal boxes, dishes made in line with them, chopsticks, sake bottles, etc., and was used by the upper classes and wealthy people for cherry-blossom viewing.
↑"Sageju" (提重) (Source:
Enjoy the four seasons while eating lunch under the cherry blossoms or under the autumn leaves.It may be the best way to enjoy "Bento" in both the past and present. However, such "Bento" culture has not yet spread among the ordinary people at that time. It seems that bamboo skin and leaves were mainly used among them.

When did “Bento” start to spread to everyone?

The bento culture that began in the upper class also became popular in various places when the Sengoku era dawned and the peaceful Edo era began. From around this time, the “cherry-blossom viewing culture”, where you can enjoy lunch while watching beautiful cherry blossoms, has begun to take root. “Bento” has been beautifully decorated so that it can be enjoyed not only by taste but also visually, and the bento box has also changed into something that will delight people's senses.

Change of lunch box

Many of today's lunch boxes are made of plastic. There are many types of bento boxes such as slim or large types, functional ones that can keep warm or cool, and also in various colors and patterns to fit people’s preference.
Plastic lunch boxes are easy to use and have been used by many people, but recently, lunch boxes made of natural materials such as cedar and cypress, have become popular again since they can enjoy the texture and fragrance of natural wood.

Why has “Bento” became popular overseas?

Japanese manga and anime are very popular all over the world. Foreigners saw lunch scene on them started to know “Bento” and were surprised by the contents of bento, and “Bento” began to be popular. Nowadays, “Bento” has evolved in various countries and is enjoyed by many people.

Why don't you start Bento today?

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