Bento box of the week: Henohenomoheji

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This week for a change the bento box featured is one you can buy easily online on eBay. I’ve chosen it not because the bento box itself is special, but for the design on top, which makes me smile.

The design depicts a face of sorts, which is drawn with the phonetic hiragana characters he no he no mo he ji (へのへのもへじ). (Incidentally, the description on the eBay listing says it’s a ‘kanji bento box’ but that’s not correct. It’s hiragana, one of the two phonetic alphabets used in Japanese, rather than kanji, the pictorial characters imported from China.) The henohenomoheji face (often abbreviated to just henoheno, sometimes called hehenono) has been used by Japanese children for ages. I don’t believe there is any meaning behind the selection of these particular characters, except that together they form a rather stern looking face. Here is the Wikipedia entry on henohenomoheji.

It’s such a familiar part of Japanese culture that it’s often used as a ‘generic face’, rather like the smiley face in American culture but with a longer history. It’s often used for making the face of a scarecrow for instance: there was a character in the popular Naruto anime that had a henoheno face. When I was a kid in Japan I remember we used to make giant henohenos with sticks on the dirt ground of the school playground. And, it’s a thrill for a small child who has started to learn how to read and write to be able to recognize the characters in a henoheno face. It’s one of those things that makes me nostalgic (natsukashii).

I’ve spotted some intrepid Japanese bento makers who’ve made henoheno faces in their bento (click on each image to get to the originating page; both are in Japanese).

Cut out nori on rice:

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Cut out nori on a slice of cheese (I think; the description doesn’t say). Finer nori-cutting skills displayed!

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Even if you lack mad nori snipping skills though, you can still enjoy a bit of Japanese folklore.

Bento box details

  • Price: US $17.99
  • Dimensions: 16cm x10cm x8.3cm, 440ml
  • Material: plastic
  • Link

(Disclaimer: links to individual eBay listings are not affiliate links, nor do they imply an endorsement of the seller. I have actually bought a couple of times from this vendor though, and have had no complaints.)

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5 comments

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henoheno

That’s a nice use of henoheno. But when they make a sanmakibaba bento box, I will be forced to object.

[For non-Japanerati, sanmakibaba — “three plops of poop” (plus bonus flies!) — was what I saw kids drawing everywhere (in the sand at the beach, on the chalkboard if the teacher was out, etc.).]

I tried to find a picture of sanmakibaba, with no results whatsoever. Is there another name for it?

hmm

I’ve never seen sanmakibaba. Though Japanese people do like to talk about unchi and unko (Japanese slang words for poop). And draw it. And make cute stuffed toy versions and such.

When my little sister was 5, she was hospitalized for dehydration after a bad cold. She had an IV drip and couldn’t eat solid food for a while, which meant she couldn’t poop. So, she became quite obsessive about it. She had everyone who visited her draw pictures of poop in various forms, on one big sheet. Soft coils, long bananas, hard little lumps. Everyone got into it - even my father, who drew a little necklace of lumps for her (which is all she could produce). Even a couple of the nurses contributed IIRC. She had the sheet pinned up by her bed until she was discharged. I wonder if she kept it…I’ll have to ask her. :)

(Sorry if this disgusts anyone btw…)

I have that box too in

I have that box too in silver. It’s too big for me so I only use one tier but I love the henoheno face on it!

u(n)kiyo-e

That’s a great story, Maki. Very sweet, and very Japanese.

I’m surprised that sanmakibaba isn’t a pan-Japanese thing, but maybe it’s just Kansai. I saw it everywhere. If I had a Wacom tablet, I’d draw it for you — it’s as codified as henoheno, with a particular order of strokes and everything (of course ;-).

The Japanese willingness to make a cultural icon of poop amuses me no end. I used to have a stuffed toy that was a coil of fleecy poop with a velcro fly. I think I gave it away after I came back to the US, to a friend who couldn’t get over its very existence.

face

henoheno reminded me of a face that chinese kids will make…

(one ding - character meaning nail, two ling - zeros, three days without food, four without water, five days turns you into a big monster!)

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