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:
Cut out nori on a slice of cheese (I think; the description doesn’t say). Finer nori-cutting skills displayed!
Even if you lack mad nori snipping skills though, you can still enjoy a bit of Japanese folklore.
(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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