Can You Eat This?

Japan is known to be home to many anime and manga characters. It also has something called “kyara-ben,” which are boxed meals (bento) made to resemble popular characters (kyara). The roots of kyara-ben go back to the days when mothers who prepared meals for their children to take to school tried to give them more eye appeal. One purpose of doing so was to delight their child; another was to use psychology to get the child to eat foods he or she didn’t like.

Back in 1974, a food researcher introduced such items as Vienna sausages artfully carved to resemble an octopus, or condiments and seaweed arranged atop white rice to form images of a monkey or automobile and compiled examples of these in a book.

Recently contests of kyara-ben designs are commonly broadcast on TV programs and introduced as special features in magazines. It sometimes happens for moms to decide on a common theme for bento design — like the popular “Kumamon” of Kumamoto Prefecture — and engage in a friendly competition.

Reflected by the popularity, the biggest online recipe web site in Japan, Cookpad ( features some 15,300 of such kyara-ben submissions.



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