Bento is a single-portion takeout or home-packed meal common in Japanese cuisine. A traditional bento consists of rice, fish or meat, and one or more pickled or cooked vegetables, usually in a box-shaped container. Containers range from disposable mass produced to hand crafted lacquerware. Although bento are readily available in many places throughout Japan, including convenience stores, bento shops, train stations and department stores, it is still common for Japanese homemakers to spend time and energy for their spouse, child, or themselves producing a carefully prepared lunch box.
Bento can be very elaborately arranged in a style called kyaraben or “character bento”. Kyaraben is typically decorated to look like popular Japanese anime characters, characters from comic books or manga, or video game characters. Another popular bento style is “oekakiben” or “picture bento”, which is decorated to look like people, animals, buildings and monuments, or items such as flowers and plants. Contests are often held where bento arrangers compete for the most aesthetically pleasing arrangements.
There are similar forms of boxed lunches in the Philippines (Baon), Korea (Dosirak), Taiwan (Biandang), and India (Tiffin). Also, Hawaiian culture has adopted localized versions of bento featuring local tastes after over a century of Japanese influence in the islands.