bento books

Book review and giveaway: 501 Bento Box Lunches

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A review of a new bento book in English, plus a giveaway! continue reading...

Print publications from two top charaben/kyaraben artists

wakuwakukyaraben1.jpgAlthough the school year starts in April in Japan, September still means back-to-school time after the summer school holidays, so there are a slew of new bento books and such coming out. Two of top Japanese charaben/kyaraben (character bento) artists and bento bloggers have published things in print this month, which you might be interested in taking a look at if you are into this genre of bentos. (Yes they are all in Japanese, but they both are guaranteed to have big beautiful full color photos!)

First up is a mook (large magazine format book) from the lady who blogs under the nickname akinoichigo, titled akinoichigo’s Fun Fun! Character Bento (akinoichigoのわくわく! キャラクターのお弁当). Her work featured prominently in the Face Food book. I’ve always admired her elaborate, very cute yet refined bentos, especially her wonderful sense of color, which really sets her apart. Being a mook, it’s not that expensive either - only 980yen base price from Amazon Japan. Ms. akinoichigo also conducts bento seminars, so I’m assuming she’s a good teacher too!

The other publication is a supplement to the October 2008 issue of Ohayo Okusan (おはよう奥さん, which translates to Good Morning Mrs. Housewife), a women’s magazine aimed at well, housewives. (It’s sort of like Good Housekeeping in the U.S.) Anyway, the supplement, titled Asa tsukuranai! obentou (Bentos not made in the morning!) is all about bento lunches that are composed of make-ahead components that are just assembled in the morning. It’s authored by the bento artist asami122 (her blog post about it is here, where she has a photo of the supplement too), and includes some quick tips for charaben/kyaraben too. Ms. asami122 is the creator of the traditional kimono-clad Hello Kitty bento mentioned here. The attention to detail in her bentos is simply mind boggling. She too teaches charaben bento skills in small classes. The October issue of Ohayo Okusan isn’t available directly from Amazon Japan at the moment, but most Japanese bookstores such as Kinokuniya should carry it. One issue of Ohayo Okusan is only 540 yen, so it’s a bargain if you can find it!

Review of Saisai Lunch, a new vegan bento and quick lunch book by Yumiko Kano

saisailunchcover.jpgI’ve mentioned quite a few times both here on Just Bento and on Just Hungry about my admiration for the work of Yumiko Kano (or Yumiko Kanoh), who has written several vegan cookbooks. When I found out that she was coming out with a new book in her “Saisai” series dedicated to bentos and one-dish lunches, I knew I had to get it. The book, titled Saisai Lunch: Quick bentos and at-home lunches made with vegetables (菜菜ランチ 野菜でつくるクィック弁当&おうちごはん) came out on Monday and I received it yesterday, and it looks very good.

Yumiko Kano specializes in “no meat, no eggs, no dairy products, no sugar” vegetarian cooking. (‘No sugar’ means no added white sugar; she does use maple syrup quite a lot, especially in her dessert recipes. She also has a disclaimer that sugar may be present in some flavoring ingredients. Otherwise, she uses the natural sweetness of vegetables, dried fruits, sweet wine and so on.) Her recipes are mostly vegan - she uses vegan konbu seaweed based dashi stock instead of the more usual bonito flake based stock. And unlike most other Japanese cooks, she doesn’t put mirin or sake in every single dish. Most of her recipes are very easy to make, since she only uses a few ingredients.

The bentos in Saisai Lunch have one or maybe two okazu (side dishes) besides the main carb (mostly rice, but she sometimes uses noodles or pasta, and there are a few sandwiches). This keeps things very simple and quick, and it’s the approach I take with my bentos too most of the time. The presentation of each bento is beautiful yet simple - no trace of kyaraben-style cuteness here! And most of all, everything looks so delicious that even the resident diehard omnivore (or as he calls himself, the “bovo-vegetarian”) around here is drooling over each page. continue reading...

Review and Book Giveway - Face Food: The Visual Creativity of Japanese Bento Boxes

book-face-food-cover.jpgAs you may know already if you’ve been following Just Bento for a while, cute, highly decorated bentos known as kyaraben (or charaben, short for character bento), or oekaki bento (picture-drawing bento) are not my style, or what this site is largely about. But I am drawn to the sheer work and creativity that goes into those bentos, most of which are made for little kids, as I’ve noted before.

Now there is a new book in English about this type of bento. Face Food: The Visual Creativity of Japanese Bento Boxes by Christopher D. Salyers is a compact hardcover book with page after page of full color photos of kyaraben, mostly made by Japanese mothers (and one Japanese father) for their little children. continue reading...

Review of Yaseru Obento Recipe, a great diet bento book

book-yaseruobento.jpgThere are several books dedicated to using bentos for weight loss. I have quite a few of them, and most have a lot of good ideas. I only got Yaseru Obento Recipe recently, but it’s already become my favorite bento-for-weight-loss book and one of my favorite bento books of any kind. It is in Japanese only, as are all good bento books unfortunately. But it’s so full of great photos and illustrations that I think you could get a lot out of it even if you don’t read Japanese.

Yaseru Obento Recipe just means “slimming bento recipes”. The subtitle is kirei de oishii baransu bento ga atto iu ma ni dekiagari! dakara nagatsuzuki shite reboundo nashi! That’s a bit long, but it means generally “beautiful and delicious balanced bentos that are made in a jiffy! So you can keep (making them) for a long time, and won’t have a relapse!” That sounds good to me, and the book does deliver on that promise. continue reading...

Review of Bento Boxes: Japanese Meals On The Go

Bento Boxes: Japanese Meals On the Go is, I believe, the only book available in English at the moment that is wholly dedicated to Japanese bento box lunches. I didn’t have much incentive to get this for myself, but someone kindly sent me a copy to take a look at recently, so I can finally review it properly.

This slim softcover book (64 pages) is published by a Japanese publishing company. It’s quite obviously a translation from a Japanese book, one I am guessing published about 10 years ago (the publication date of this English version is 2001). I’m not familiar with the author, Naomi Kijima, though that doesn’t mean much. The bentos are very attractive, if a bit old-fashioned in feeling, and the photographs are beautiful. continue reading...

The best Japanese bento books if you don't read Japanese

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There are lots of bento-related books published every year in Japan. While most of them have plenty of colorful pictures, some are too wordy to be really useful for people who don’t read Japanese. Here is a list of books that I have in my collection that I think would be very useful even if you don’t read the text. Most of these books reflect my preference for books about healthy, vegetable-centric bento, mainly aimed at adults.

I’ll be updating this page from time to time, so please check back occasionally. You can also see other, less annotated book recommendations in the Amazon Japan aStore. continue reading...

Popular types of homemade bento, with example sites and books

As I touched upon briefly in Bento Basics, there are different kinds of bento box meals, and this site is primarily concerned with bento lunch boxes. Even these come in different varieties.

There are three main types of homemade bento lunches that are popular in Japan at the moment. Here I’ll try to describe them, with example blogs and books from Japan. continue reading...