Today, a contemporary version of the bento box exists, inspired by the rampant popularity of movies, television shows and manga. These charaben, made by parents (mostly mothers) eager to bring attention to their children's lunch boxes, comprise food crafted into visually creative, appealing and recognizable forms, and are as much about planning and preparation as nutrition.
What better way to make children eat than to turn their midday meals into cartoon characters and video games? With Face Food: The Visual Creativity of Japanese Bento Boxes, writer and designer Christopher D Salyers documents the very real phenomenon of how rice, seaweed, mushrooms, tofu, hot dogs, fish cakes and just about any other edible delight you can imagine are shaped into the likes of Pikachu, Daraemon and Cinderella, bringing health, heart and imagination to the bento box, not to mention a bit of one-upmanship. A brief how-to guide, ingredient lists and interviews with charaben enthusiasts illuminate the many dynamic reasons behind this wholly Japanese pursuit.
As Salyers writes: "There is something marvelous and enchanting in charaben, a something we should all look to find within ourselves - a convalescence of youth. For all of you who have ever eaten or prepared a slap-dash PB&J sandwich, or have been victim of school cafeterias, I offer up these pages as proof that when you show this much dedication to what you or your child eats, the end result will be nothing short of astounding."
If you have never seen or tasted charaben, Face Food will open a whole new world to you, proving once again how the visual can say so much about a culture and its practices.