There seems to be a common misconception that one needs to go out and purchase a purpose-made lunch box or a bento box from Japan, in order to start making bento box lunches at all. While I do like cute bento goods and boxes, they are certainly not required, or even needed. I think for most people, they would like bento making should be a daily habit, not a time consuming hobby.
Actually any container that meet the following requirements will work work fine. You may already have a suitable container in your kitchen. You could be bringing lunch to work tomorrow!
The container should be as leakproof as possible.
This is quite important since you don’t want the inside of your carrier bag, whatever it is, to get stained by leaking liquids. Many bento boxes from Japan have leak-resistant rubber seals. For any container you use, do a leak-test by filling it with water and shaking it around a bit. If any moisture leaks out easily, you probably want to try another box. (There are ways of adding leak protection to your box, such as putting it in a waterproof bag or securing it with a wide * rubber band, as well as making the food itself not so leaky.)
The container should be easy to wash and take care of.
This may sound like a no-brainer, but you should consider this especially if you want to use a bento box ordered from Japan. Most Japanese bento boxes are not dishwasher safe, so if you think you won’t remember to (or don’t want to) handwash your bento box, you will want to make sure you get a dishwasher safe container.
The container should be microwave safe if you intend to nuke it.
If you work in office and have access to a microwave oven, you may want to heat up your lunch in it. Most Japanese bento boxes are not microwave safe, since the typical Japanese bento is meant to be eaten at room temperature. So be sure your container is nuke-ready if you want to heat it up.
The container should be the right size for your dietary needs. This is especially important if you are watching your calories to any extent. Generally speaking, for a tightly packed Japanese-style bento, the number of milliliters (ml) that a box can hold corresponds roughly to the number of calories it holds. This is why so many Japanese bento boxes, in particular the cute ones with anime characters and things on them, are tiny - they’re meant to be used by kids and young girls on perpetual diets.
To determine the capacity of your intended box: Fill it to the top with water, then pour off the water into a measuring cup that can measure in milliliters.
Some people don’t like the individual items in their bento boxes to be rubbing against each other. If that sounds like you, then you will need a compartmentalized lunch box, such as the ones offered by Laptop Lunches . Personally I would rather have the compactness of a non-compartmentalized box, supplemented when needed with a separate container for something like fruit.
Insulated bento containers such as the Mr. Bento  keep your food hot (or cold). Again, this is a personal preference but I am not a big fan of these. For one thing they are bulky and a bit of a bother to take care of. For another, the fact that the food is kept hot for several hours means that it’s being held in steam table like conditions, rather like at a buffet. This means that while some foods like stews will taste great, others may not. They are nice to have for a chance of pace though. The capacity of the Mr. Bento is quite big, which can be a concern if you’re trying to watch calories.
(Note: my collection of bento boxes has grown considerably since I wrote this originally back in 2007, and I have new favorites now. One of these days I’ll get around to photographing them perhaps. In any case, the general principles written here still apply.)
I have several bento boxes in my stash, from one shaped like Hello Kitty’s head to a beautiful lacquered box which I keep for special dinners at home. But I mainly use these practical containers for everyday lunch.
The box I use most of the time is not a bento box at all - it’s a plastic lunch box I got from the supermarket. (For Swiss residents, it’s available at Migros.) It has an attached flip-top lid that is fairly leak resistant, and came with a detachable bottom section that holds a cold pack. I rarely use this bottom section but it’s nice to have. It’s dishwasher and microwave safe, though I hand wash it most of the time. The plain white plastic body is very easy to keep clean and stain-free, which is a big plus. Finally, the capacity is about 600 ml, so it’s great for my goal of keeping my lunch calories at or under 600. It’s also rather comforting to know that if it gets damaged or something, I can easily replace it.
Sometimes I use this two-section bento box from Japan, a type that is widely available from bento box sellers such as Jlist . The main advantage of this box is that you can keep ingredients totally separate, so it’s good if you have a very strong flavored item that you want to keep apart from other things. The inner rubberized lid is quite tight fitting, reducing the risk of leakage. It’s also taller rather than wider, so it fits well in a bag. The empty containers can be stored nested within each other compactly.
The main disadvantage of this type of box is that it’s not not microwave or dishwasher safe. I also find the multiple parts a bit of a bother to wash up compared to my main white plastic box. (Yes I’m a bit lazy.)
This is the main ‘man-size’ bento box that I use to make Max’s bentos. It’s a plastic storage container from the Ikea 365+ line. It has a microwave vent in the lid which makes it great for bentos that taste better warm, though the vent does have a tendency to leak a bit if the box is carried upside down or something. The capacity is about 900 ml.
The other one I use is a sleek black bento box from Japan that’s officially designated as being ‘man-size’. It comes with an integrated chopstick container in the lid, and a divider to separate rice from other ingredients inside. The capacity is around 850 ml. As you can see it’s quite understated, though it has a head-scratching Engrish phrase on it (“impressive. My heart cannot stop throbbing. My dream that has begun to move.”).
I hope this gives you some ideas as to what kind of bento box to use!
In this section, I've grouped all of my reviews and 'spotlight' features of bento boxes and related supplies. A review is a hands-on review, while a 'spotlight' is just talking about a box or piece of equipment I haven't tested out yet but has caught my eye. There are also some information pages.
(Note, this section is a work in progress.)
You’ve browsed the bento blogs and flickr bento groups, and while you know that any appropriate box can be used for bentos , you’re hankering after a ‘real’ bento box. But bento boxes aren’t that cheap, especially if you’re ordering by mail. How do you know you’re getting a box that’s the right size for you?
You may have read what bento box sizes are considered appropriate for kids, women, men and so on. But that’s advice given for traditional-style Japanese bento meals, where about half of the capacity or more is taken up by tightly packed rice. If you’ll only be toting Japanese style lunches those recommendations are fine, but if you plan to mix it up with salad bentos, sandwich bentos and more, then the box-capacity recommendations may not apply to you.
So how can you really tell, before you spend the money for a bento box, if it’s the right size for your specific needs?
Most bento supply sellers these days will list the capacity of a bento box in ml (mililiters) or the dimensions in centimeters or inches. If the capacity is listed, note that down. If only the dimensions are listed, use a handy calculator such as the one here  to figure out what those dimensions translate to, and note that number down.
If you already have a bento box, it’s easy to figure out if a potential purchase is right for you. If the box you own is just right, aim for one of a similar size. If not, then go for a larger or smaller one. If you’ve forgotten what the capacity of your existing box is, just fill it up with water, and empty out that water into a measuring cup that has milliliter marks on it (most standard measuring cups have these now, even ones in the U.S.) Some bento boxes have the capacity embossed on the bottom of the box.
If you don’t own a ‘real’ bento box yet, but you are using an alternative box for bento-ing, it’s just as easy to figure out if a new box will be right. Just measure the capacity of your existing container as detailed above, and compare that to that cute box you’re eyeing.
If you haven’t embarked on your bento adventures yet, there’s still a way to figure out if a box will be the right size. The biggest concern I see voiced amongst people who have yet to try bentos is that a box will be too small. To see if that is the case, try the following:
I hope these steps will help you to find the perfect box for your needs!
This is Tip no. 1 of Back To School Week . Stay tuned for more!
Are you confused about what material is most appropriate for bento boxes? Plastic is easy available, or maybe you want something greener - but is the extra cost worth it? Here’s a handy comparison chart to help you make the right choices.
This table lists all the materials that are commonly used to make bento boxes, lunch boxes and other containers that are repurposed for carrying bentos. As you can see, there are pros and cons to each type. Take a look and see which criteria matter to you the most. Keep in mind that, whatever type of box you choose, the fact that it’s reusable is a plus for the environment, not to mention your wallet.
|Material||Pros||Cons||Examples and notes|
|Aluminum||Very lightweight, plastic-free (if no seal), lasts a long time. Usually dishwasher safe (check instructions).||Not microwave safe. Can dent easily, though that doesn’t affect functionality. Uncoated aluminum boxes may get corroded by acidic foods. Questions about possibly harmful effects of aluminum. Not leakproof unless they have silicone/plastic seals around the lids.||SIGG Midi box  - coated aluminum|
|Bamboo||Lightweight, durable. Sustainable material.||Not microwave or dishwasher safe. Needs handling with some care. May stain. Well made bamboo boxes and baskets are expensive to very expensive.||Bamboo is most often used for basket-type boxes (used to carry onigiri rice balls and sandwiches, though they can be used with inner containers for other foods); solid bamboo boxes are available too (and very expensive). Dried and fresh bamboo leaves (called sasa no ha) are used as disposable food wrappers and dividers. More here .|
|Glass and ceramic||Not plastic (though usually a plastic lid is included), microwave-safe, dishwasher safe, fairly inexpensive||Heavy, breakable||Pyrex glass containers with plastic lids.|
|Melamine||A type of resin that is used for kitchenware. Colorful, attractive, feels solid.||Heavy. Can be expensive. Not microwave or oven safe.||Vivo Kids Bento Box |
|Paper (coated)||Not used for bento boxes, but used for bento cups and dividers. Lightweight, disposable, fairly waterproof. Comes in many cute designs.||Not microwave, oven or dishwasher safe. Not reusable (you may get 1-2 more uses out of a paper cup). Expensive when you consider the per-use cost.||Paper bento cup |
|Plastic and styrene - disposable||Very cheap to free, lightweight.||Disposable plastic and styrene boxes (such as takeout bento boxes) are okay for a single use, but it’s not recommended to re-use them. They may leech or corrode. Clear plastics may contain BPA. See What are Japanese (and other) plastic bento boxes made of .||Don’t reuse disposable bento boxes and takeout boxes unless you are really desperate.|
|Plastic - reusable||Practical, economical, lightweight. Prices range from cheap to expensive, depending on design, quality, etc. A huge range of designs and sizes to choose from.||Some people are concerned about the safety of certain plastics. May stain. Not all plastic bento boxes are microwave or dishwasher safe.||Reputatuble bento makers always include information on what plastics are used, and whether the box is microwave safe or not. See What are Japanese (and other) plastic bento boxes made of .|
|Silicone||Not used for bento boxes but frequently used for bento cups and dividers. Lightweight, durable. Microwave, dishwasher and oven safe. Comes in many colors and shapes.||If you are against using plastic, you may also object to silicone. Can get a bit sticky and oily after several uses in the oven or microwave (try washing in very hot soapy water).||Silicone cupcake/muffin tin liners|
|Stainless steel with seal||Durable, usually well made, usually dishwashwer safe (check instructions). Thick stainless steel boxes can be heated up on a hot plate (handle with care!)||Not microwave safe. Heavier than plastic. Retains fingerprints on the surface (use soft cloth to buff off). Not totally plastic/silicone free because of sealing elements. More expensive than most plastic boxes.||Zen 01 stainless steel bento box , tiffin boxes. Also see stainless steel bento boxes .|
|Stainless steel with no seal||Durable, plastic free, usually dishwasher safe (check instructions)||Not microwave safe. Rather heavy. Retains fingerprints on the surface (use soft cloth to buff off). May not be suitable for food that might leak because of the lack of sealing elements on/around lid. More expensive than most plastic boxes.||LunchBots , Planetbox , New Wave Enviro |
|Stainless steel and other metals used for bento accessories||Durable, plastic free, usually dishwasher safe (check instructions)||Cheap metal cutters may discolor or get bent over time.||Bento and cookie cutters used to cut out decorative shapes are usually made of stainless steel; some cheap ones may be made of tin. Nori cutters are often made of plastic with zinc cutting parts.|
|Thermal bento boxes||Usually consists of a stainless steel cylinder into which plastic containers fit. The plastic containers are usually microwave and dishwasher safe. Keeps some of the food warm to hot for several hours.||Expensive. Can be rather bulky and heavy. Not plastic free. Not all parts may be dishwasher safe.||To get the most out of a thermal lunch box, be sure to read the instructions carefully! Mr. Bento line from Zojirushi, similar range from Thermos, Aladdin box . See in-depth look at thermal bentos/lunch jars .|
|Wood, coated or lacquered||Beautiful traditional craftmanship. Less susceptible to staining than uncoated wood. May make rice taste better. A pleasure to handle. May become a treasured heirloom.||Not microwave or dishwasher safe. Needs some handling with care. May stain. Well made boxes are expensive to very expensive (a cheap wooden box is not worth buying).||Kyo bento box. Besides boxes, chopsticks can also be made of coated wood. See also: the care and watering of wooden and lacquerware bento boxes |
|Wood, uncoated||Beautiful traditional craftmanship. Makes plain rice taste better since it absorbs any excess moisture. A pleasure to handle. May become a treasured heirloom.||Not microwave or dishwasher safe. Needs some handling with care. May stain. Well made boxes are very expensive (a cheap wooden box is not worth buying).||See Magewappa bento boxes . See also: the care and watering of wooden and lacquerware bento boxes , and see how traditional magewappa boxes are made .|
This is Tip no. 2 of Back To School Week . Stay tuned for more!
As the popularity of bento boxes spreads around the world, bento box and accessory manufacturers are also becoming more international. One of the most interesting bento box makers is monbento. Their headquarters are in Clermont-Ferrand, France, and their site proudly proclaims that their products are designed in France.
monbento boxes come in a variety of chic, modern and bright colors, and you can even specify your own color combinations (more on that later).
Everything about a monbento box is classy, even the box it comes packaged in. This is a red 2-tier model; each layer has a 500ml capacity, for a total of 1000ml for both layers. (They also have single-layer 500ml boxes.)
This is an orange model, that was sent to me by monbento for review. (I actually bought the red one for myself.) I’m not an orange kind of person but the orange that monbento uses is really nice. What makes the bentos look and feel even nicer is that they have a gorgeous matte finish. (Note: the standard bento band color is now grey instead of the black shown here.)
Here’s the bento un-stacked. There’s an outer lid, plus an inner lid for both of the layers. (Note: the inner lids are now grey in the standard configurations instead of the black shown here.)
The inner lids have small capped lids so that they can be vented when you want to microwave your bento. The lid is color coordinated with the bento, which is nice. The entire box, including the lids, is microwave and dishwasher safe.
This is the inside. It comes with one moveable divider in one of the compartments.
The monbento sauce cups are also very well made. They come in sets of two in a variety of color combinations that match the bento boxes. Each pot holds 20ml.
What makes these pots special, besides their cuteness, is that the lids screw on securely and have 2 little silicone gaskets, which make them pretty leakproof. They will leak if you carry them sideways or upside down for a length of time, but if you carry the bento box right way up (as you should really, to avoid a mess) they are about as secure as any sauce pots I’ve seen.
monbento makes two kinds of utensils: color coordinated chopsticks, and a metal cutlery set. I was sent the cutlery set for review. There’s a fork, spoon and knife, all packaged neatly in a plastic case with a snap-on lid.
The cutlery is small, but not too small as to be unusable. It kind of reminds me of the nice cutlery you used to find with airline meals. They are also very sturdy metal, so you don’t have a feeling they’re going to bend or anything while you’re using them.
So here I filled up a monbento with a fairly standard bento for me. The two tiers are quite easy to pack. I put things I might want to heat up in the bottom compartment, and salad and fruit type things in the top compartment. (The sauce lids are off just to show the insides.) One thing to keep in mind is that if you pack both layers very tightly with calorie-dense foods like rice and you are trying to watch your intake (i.e. you’re on a diet), 1000ml is quite a lot. So you’ll want to pack those dense foods in maybe just one layer, and fill up with vegetables or something.
Cleanup was very easy too since I could just throw everything in the dishwasher. I put everythning in the top rack, with the little bits in a basket.
This last accessory is brand new and very interesting: the monbento mold set. The set comes with 3 pieces: 2 small cups and a larger one, all made of silicone that is heat-safe up to 240°C/464°F. It comes in this classy grey, blue and fuschia combination.
The smaller cups fit perfectly into one of the monbento box layers, so they can be used as dividers.
The bigger mold however does not work as a box liner, since it has a big lip all around.
This mold is meant for cooking things in, that fit perfectly into a monbento box. It has a slightly smaller capacity than the box itself at around 450ml. You could use the small molds/cups for cooking too, since they’re made of the same heatproof silicone material.
Now, monbento used to make a double-mold, which I have in my collection, but they no longer manufacture it. It’s the fuschia one here. I’ve been experimenting with cooking things in the molds - here I’m trying out cake salé, a savory “cake” (like a quickbread in the U.S.) of the type you see sold quite often at markets in France.
As you can see, the mold produces a flat little cake that fits perfectly in the boxes. (I’ll have the recipe for the cake up on the site soon.) I can see the mold being used for many other things…what about a baked omelette for example? I’m going to continue experimenting and post the good results.
I guess the one quibble I have with the mold is that it’s small, so baking something in it in a big oven feels very wasteful somehow. If you have a toaster oven with baking functions that might work out better. I may try using it in a frying pan too, as well as the smaller cups. In any case it’s a really good idea in principle.
All in all monbento makes great stuff. Besides the items reviewed here they also have bento bands in many colors, bento carrying bags, chopsticks and a few other things.
There are several options for buying monbento products:
1. Directly from monbento 
Shipping costs vary depending on where you are. If you’re in France you get free shipping if your order exceeds 60 euros. Note: If you live outside of the EU, e.g. in the U.S., you can subtract 20% of the listed price, which is the VAT. You may have to pay customs in your home country but do keep that in mind.
2. From Bento&co
Bento&co  carries a good selection of monbento items, starting with their bento boxes  of course, as well as sauce pots, chopsticks, the cutlery set and more. If you’re on a shopping spree there anyway, or if you’re in Japan, it’s a good option.
3. From Amazon
The Amazon stores carry a limited selection of monbento items:
(Disclaimer: Some of the items reviewed were sent to us by monbento for review purposes. (The other items were purchased.) We did not receive any compensation for the review and the opinions expressed are my own. The links to the sellers are affiliate links. By making your purchases via these links you help to support the site at no additional cost to you. ^_^)
As I have said often on these pages, bentos are usually filled with food that is supposed to taste good at room temperature. But there’s no denying that sometimes we want our lunch to be hot, or at least warm. There are various ways to make sure this happens of course, from using a microwave (if you have access to one) or carrying your lunch in a thermal lunch jar  and/or an insulated bag. The Atsuben Kun bento box  takes the warm bento lunch a step further: it actually heats up your bento within the box itself.
From the outside, the Atsuben Kun looks like a regular bento box. It’s very sleek, and the white plastic feels very nice.
The logo is very cute - the “u” of At(s)uben is a litle steamy pot. (The “atsu” or “atu” part of the name means hot,”ben” is short for bento, and “kun” is just an informal, affectionate suffix for a name, usually used when addressing a young man or boy.)
The Atsuben Kun reveals its secret when you look at the base. It has power input…
…for the bottom section, which contains a ceramic heater, similar to the ones you see in space heaters. (The warning label in Japanese says to not touch it when it’s plugged in or while it’s still hot.)
Here’s what’s in the the Atsuben Kun package. It looks like a three-tier box from the outside but it’s actually two-tier box with the bottom tier being the heater. The top compartment has a leak-resistant flexible plastic lid. There’s also a power supply for Japanese electric outlets.
The power supply has 100/110V-220/240V / 50-60Hz input and 3Amp / 8V output, so you should be able to use it just about anywhere in the world. You can use Japanese plugs as-in most U.S. outlets, though if you are not sure you can get an adapter plug. In Europe and many other places you will need an adapter plug, which is not included (the one shown in the pic is for France) - they are cheap and easy to get at any electronics store. You can also order the Atsuben Kun with a cigarette lighter car power plug instead.
I tested how well this thing worked with a real bento! I filled it up with fairly standard (for me) bento foods: rice in the bottom section with a little furikake  on top, and the other foods in the top compartment (Miso marinated pork , Easy sugarfree carrot kinpira , some steamed broccoli to fill the gaps, and tamagoyaki ). I put the rice in the bottom compartment because I wanted it to get the warmest. Then, I put the 2 sections filled with food in the refrigerator for about 8 hours. This was to simulate a typical scenario where I can see this bento box being used - you make the bento and fill it up the night before, pack it with an ice pack in the morning (in an insulated bag to really keep things cool) and heat it up before lunch.
I re-assembled the Atsuben Kun and plugged him in, and set my timer for 70 minutes as per the Japanese instructions.
So did it heat up from refrigerator-cold to hot in 70 minutes? Not quite. It was warm enough to be pleasant, but not hot. Probably if you heated it up from room temperature 70 minutes would be enough. Anyway, no big deal - I gave it another 20 minutes.
After the additional 20 minutes, the rice in the bottom compartment was actually hot! It almost tasted like freshly cooked rice. The top compartment doesn’t really get hot since it is not in direct contact with the heating element, just warmed up a bit from the little steam rising from the food in the bottom compartment. But that’s enough really to have a warm-bento experience. I really enjoyed it!
I think this bento box is great for people who don’t have access to a microwave at lunchtime, but still want a warm lunch experience. With the cigarette lighter power plug, you could even heat up your bento on the go! (Personally I think I’d order the box with the cigarette lighter plug and get the house-current one separately, if I needed to use this in my car.) It doesn’t draw much power (the instructions say it consumes about .6 yen per use - and electricity in Japan is expensive), and is quite unobstrusive.
To sum up: I think this is a very cool box that is sure to draw comments at the office. If you yearn after a hot bento at lunchtime, especially if you like making your bento the night before and sticking it in the fridge, this may be just the box for you.
(Disclosure: This product was supplied to JustBento by the vendor for review. I was not compensated in any way for the review, and the opinions expressed are my own.)
(I have a whole bunch of other cool bento product reviews coming up. Stay tuned ^_^!)
Unless you were living as a hermit away from any internet connection last year, you have probably heard of Gangnam Style, the phenomenal video sensation by South Korean entertainer PSY, aka Park Jae-sang, that took over the world. But Gangnam is not just the name of a rap song featuring a geeky looking dude dancing like a madman.. It’s also the name of a district in Seoul, South Korea, and that’s where this interesting line of bento boxes  come from.
You’ll notice right away that unlike most reusable bento boxes, these boxes have slanted sides, rather like some disposable bento boxes. This means that they hold a bit less than they seem to - which is not a bad thing, especially if you’re using bentos to try to keep your calories down. The Small size holds 500ml, and the Large holds 900ml, although they feel a lot more bulkier than that somehow. On the plus size, the slanted sides make them a lot easier to wash by hand. You don’t have to wash them by hand though since they are totally dishwasher-safe, unlike many other boxes where the lids must be washed by hand.
Here’s a view from the top. The boxes have clear plastic lids and colorful contrasting color gaskets, which make the lids pretty waterproof. The color combinations may or may not work for you - besides the white and orange and the chocolate and pink combos shown here, there’s also a green/green variety. I was a bit taken aback at first at the brightness of that pink, but now I kind of like it.
The clips are really large and fit securely to the box. They are a bit hard to snap into place the first few times you use the box, but they do loosen up a bit over time.
The lid is also equipped with a covered steam vent, so you can put the box into the microwave lid and all - although I might be inclined to remove the lid to preserve the longevity of the gasket.
Inside, each box has two equally sized inner containers that fit snugly into the box. The inner containers are about the same thickness as the outer boxes, which makes them quite solid - but does make the box overall a bit heavy compared to boxes with thinner and ligher iner compartments. But the inner compartments stand up on their own, which is nice.
The bigger box also has two equal-size compartments.
Here I’ve used the larger (900ml capicity) box for a salad bento. I’ve filled one side with a pasta and chicken salad, and the other with a green salad with corn salad or mâche and boiled egg, with dressing in the small container (not included with this box). It’s really great for bentos of this type, since it’s nice and deep. Plus, you could put something you want to heat up in one compartment and something you want to keep cool in the other, and just pop the first compartment in a microwave to heat up.
Here I tried using the smaller box (500ml) for a more Japanese-style bento, with an onigiri on one side. It kind of works, although you need to work with the slanted nature of the box. (Note, I did tuck in the leaves when I closed the lid.)
All in all, there’s a lot to like about the Gangnam bento box. I think I’m going to add them to my regular rotation.
The Gangnam bento box costs US $32 for the large (900ml) size, and $25 for the small (500ml) size, and is available from Bento&co .
(Disclaimer: The boxes were provided to JustBento for review purposes. We did not receive any compensation for the review, and the opinions expressed are solely my own.)
More reviews of interesting bento products coming soon!
As I have written here before , I am a big fan of the LunchBots  line of all-stainless steel bento boxes. (They actually call them ‘food containers’, but they are a great size for bentos.) Here’s an in-depth look at one of the latest offerings, the LunchBots Quad , as well as some of the pros and cons of the LunchBots boxes in general.
Here’s how the LunchBots Quad looks when it comes to you. The lid is available in three tasteful colors: lime green as shown here, sky blue and all-stainless (a shinier stainless than the box itself), all sporting the LunchBots logo. The box feels very solid and durable. I’ve owned another LunchBots box for about 4 years now, and after many uses it looks as good as new.
The Quad unit has for evenly divided units. The dividers are fixed in place. The total capacity of the box is about 700ml, a great size for a lot of people. Two-part Duos and three-part Trios are also available on their site .
What makes the LunchBots containers different from other stainless steel bento boxes  is that they are totally plastic or silicon free. have leakproof liners around their edges. The Lids are quite tight-fitting.
As an experiment, I tried filling the box to the brim with water that I colored a bit by adding some soy sauce. If you turn the box upside down, the water does start to leak out immediately, showing that it is not leakproof.
And if you turn it sideways, it definitely does leak. So, you should not use the LunchBots boxes for very liquid food like stew, or food that has a lot of sauce.
Another slightly annoying problem that is shared by all metal boxes: if you have very hard water, as we do have here, water stains will show up very quickly on the shiny surface. The solution to this is to try to dry off your stainless steel containers as soon as they are washed, and to occasionally give them a wipe with vinegar.
Here’s the Quad in action. The 4 equal compartments make packing food quite easy. Clockwise from top left I’ve packed some steamed broccoli and a cherry tomato, some Pan Fried Lemon Chicken Nuggets  (or as some readers who’ve tried and loved them call them, “Maki Nuggets” ^_^); tri-color bell peppers simply sauteed in olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper, and some plain rice. That’s two vegetable compartments, one protein and one carb. A pretty good balance for someone watching their weight, like me! Note that I’ve chosen foods are not likely to leak. Ther was some moisture around the sauteed bell peppers that came out of them as they cooked, but I drained it off as I packed them into the compartment.
The green things decorating the top of the rice are thin slices of broccoli stalk, that I just steamed together with the broccoli florets. I think they look like little abstract flowers.
The LunchBots containers are very attractive and well made, and are totally plastic or silicon free. If you are concerned about the amount of plastics in our environment, and want to stay away from them for your lunch containers, LunchBots are a great solution.
LunchBots has kindly offered a 10% discount and free shipping to the U.S. and Canada to JustBento readers! This offer is valid for one week from the time of this review. Just order from the LunchBots  and use the coupon code JUSTBENTO . LunchBots containers are also available on Amazon.com  and Amazon UK  (Amazon UK doesn’t have the Quad yet, but the Duo and Trio are available).
(Disclosure: This product was supplied to JustBento by LunchBots for review. I was not compensated in any way for the review, and the opinions expressed are my own.)
[Update:] Sadly, the Idea bento box reviewed here has gone out of production. A good substitute is the Shikiri Bento , which is another single-tier multi-compartment box.
I’m often asked questions along the lines of, “What’s a good bento box to get started with?” A generic answer would be “whatever appeals to you, is the right size for your needs, and is within your budget.” (See the links at the bottom of this article for more to help you select a bento box.) But when I saw this box, I thought this might just fulfil the brief as a great first bento box.
The logo on top says “Ideal”, so I’m calling it the Ideal box. (Bento&Co calls it the Shikiri bento  - shikiri means ‘divider’ in Japanese, and that’s a very appropriate name for it too, as you’ll see.
One thing that appeals to me immediately is its design. It’s quite sleek and neutral, suitable for a wide variety of tastes. (The maker claims it is inspired by 1980s design and is therefore ‘retro’. I don’t see it, but maybe you do.) It comes in black as well as white.
When you open the lid, which has a leakproof gasket all around and snap-on fasteners - great things for a bento box for newbies to have, since it eliminates most chances of leakage - you get to a clear plastic layer, which holds the included chopsticks. I love it when bento boxes include chopsticks. Have you ever brought along a bento somewhere and realized you’d forgotten to pack any utensils? It’s not nice.
Under the clear lid, we get to the really interesting part of the box. Most bento boxes come with one divider, or at the most one divider plus a little inner cup. This one comes with two multi-compartment dividers plus a simple I-shaped divider.
You can use the dividers and compartments in all kinds of ways - or just leave them out. The great thing is, each of the inner elements fits snugly enough in the box not to shift around, even when used singly. You could even leave out the dividers altogether if you wanted. But having so many compartments to fill may just inspire you to diversify your lunchtime menu with different foods.
The Ideal bento box is not cheap, but it’s very sturdily built and should last for a long time with proper care - and it could just be the only box you’ll ever need. It’s microwave-safe with the lid removed.
(Tip: if you tend to favor foods that can stain, e.g. curry or tomato sauce, go for the black model.) (Actually it seems the dividers are white even in the black box so…that doesn’t quite work ^_^; For what it’s worth though I have the white model, and so far it hasn’t stained at all, even after packing some tomato-sauce pasta in it.) Available at Bento&Co for US $32 / €23 .
And here’s the box in action - also a sneak preview of the next Guy Does Bento !
Several people noted how the red, black and white color combination bento from monbento shown in the in-depth review  looks like a Pokeball. I just wanted to let Pokémon fans out there know that there’s a “real” Pokeball bento box out there.
It is kind of small, at just 170ml capacity. (For the metrically challenged that’s a bit less than 3/4 U.S. cups - so it’s just about big enough for a yogurt or something, not a full adult size lunch!) And it’s rather expensive too. But if you are a die-hard Pokemon fan…or as a gift for the Pokemon fanatic in you life, well, why not? It comes in its own drawstring bag and matching bento band, and is available from J-List/JBox  and Amazon.com .
There’s also a Pikachu shaped bento box. It too is rather small, at 270ml capacity. In Japan it’s clearly cost as a novelty bento box for kids. Here it is in a Pokemon bento-stuff display at a Tokyu Hands store in Japan.
I actually used this bento once, at my book signing/talk back in January 2011 at Kinokuniya bookstore in New York. The bento box was provided by the store, and I filled it with a bento and we gave it away. This is the bottom tier - there’s also a second tier. As you can see, it is rather small. But it may work for little kids or someone with a tiny appetite, or as a snack bento box. In any case it’s sure to cause a bit of a sensation!
The Pikachu bento box is available on Amazon.com .
Finally, if you want to enjoy the world of Pokémon inside your bento box instead, there’s a book dedicated to that - in Japanese only, but with plenty of photos. It even comes with a bento box (a plain one, not one of the fancy shaped ones…but hey, plain is practical!) so you can get started right away. it’s called 食育レシピでつくる! ポケモンお弁当BOOK - Make it with healthy recipes! Pokemon Obento Book and is available from Amazon Japan . (Note, Amazon Japan will send books-with-free-gifts overseas.)
So, there’s plenty out there for the Pokémon and bento fans. ゲットだぜ - Gotta catch ‘em all! (maybe ^_^)
When I saw this unusual looking lunchbox via the delicious bento tag stream , my first thought was, “Wow, that looks so cool”. The Goodbyn™ Lunchbox  is a one-piece, molded plastic container with fitted lid, that looks like an odd/cute (or in anime parlance, kimo kawaii) space alien or animal. It comes packaged with 275 stickers , so kids can customize it to their hearts’ content. Looking inside, it seems perfect for those kids (and adults, if you are brave enough to carry this to the office) who hate their food to touch. Yes, I know you are out there, you touchy-food haters!
It comes with an 8.5 oz. water container, which the website suggests can double as a cooling element if it’s filled with ice cubes and a beverage. The whole thing is dishwasher safe, made of recyclable and safe plastic, etc. The slick website emphasizes the environmental advantages of a dedicated lunchbox, but bento enthusiasts like you know that already.
The only thing that makes me pause about this colorful beast is - well, it’s huge, judging from these photos:
The site doesn’t say how much it weighs or its capacity (the dimensions are 13 x 8.5 x 3.2 inches or 33 x 21.6 x 8.1 cm - thanks Midknyt!), but judging just from how much it can hold (whole banana in the upper compartment, etc.) I am assuming the plastic is fairly sturdy. So, I am really wondering how portable it is, especially for small kids.
Other than that though, it is one cool looking lunch/bento box! It’s available for preorder on their website , and they have a list of retailers  too. The retail price is $29.95, and it comes in four colors.
What do you think about this box? If you decide to order it or have already, I’d love to hear your first hand impressions of it.
Incidentally, this is a return of the previously discontinued “Bento Item of the Week” series where I talk about various bento related goods and equipment. I won’t be holding myself to a weekly update, but hey - I like doing product reviews. Also, if there’s a particular bento box, equipment or something that you’d like to review and see it published here on Just Bento, let me know at maki at makikoitoh com.
I am still catching up on things after my long illness and everything. One of the things I need to seriously do is post some bento box and accessory reviews. I have several very nice products supplied by various vendors, as well as a few new acquisitions I’d like to share. So, starting next week expect several reviews of products for your reading pleasure.
Here’s a sneak peek as one of the bento boxes - it has a rather interesting profile.
I’m also going to take the opportunity to seriously sort through all of my bento supplies. Who knows…I may be getting rid of a few things. Stay tuned. ^_^
I really, really don’t need any more bento boxes. But when I spotted these incredibly adorable little onigiri boxes, I just couldn’t resist.
Since I have adopted them, it’s a good opportunity to show how to use this type of single-onigiri box.
These are meant to hold a single onigiri plus a little something else, so unless you have a very small appetite they are supplementary boxes to use for snack bentos. This particular model, which is made by Hakoya , has a lid section that holds a single onigiri, and a bottom section with an inner plastic lid that holds whatever sides you want with your onigiri. The box snaps shut with two little plastic clips, which are the ‘ears’ on the faces.
You can use the lid part as a mold and measuring cup for making your onigiri, using the plastic wrap/cling film and cup method . Here I have lined the lid/cup with plastic wrap, moistened the surface and sprinkled some salt.
I then pack in some rice. The lid/cup holds about 3/4th of a U.S. cup of rice, about 160ml and 160 calories - or 1 Japanese bowl of rice (一膳 ichizen). The filling is salted salmon , one of my favorites.
I then form and wrap the onigiri, following the steps detailed on the plastic wrap onigiri forming page , making sure that the onigiri ends up as a triangle.
The onigiri fits perfectly in the lid. The nori seaweed strips are tucked outside the plastic wrap to prevent them from getting soggy. I wrap them around the onigiri when I eat it. The little compartment holds some forgotten vegetable kinpira . You could pack some finger-foods in there if you want a utensil-free mini bento. The total calories in this particular mini-bento: about 210.
I bought these amazingly cute beasties from Bento & Co. , a relatively new online bento gear store. Based in Kyoto, Bento & Co.  is run by a French guy, Thomas, and his Japanese wife Erico. It’s the most attractively designed bento site I’ve ever seen, with terrific pictures and great descriptions of all of the boxes they carry, including critical information for bento box collectors like capacity in mililiters, what material the box is made of, and so on. The selection of boxes and accessories is not huge, but really tasteful. I find myself coveting about 90% of their stock!
At the moment the site is in French only, but Thomas tells us that they are working on an English version of the site. In the meantime, you can email them in English (or French of course) about anything on their site at contact [at] bentoandco [dot] com. They ship worldwide from Japan. (We have no affiliation with Bento & Co. And yep, I ordered all three onigiri boxes. How could you choose between them?) Update: Bento&co. now has an English version of their site , and we’re happy to have them on board as advertisers on JustBento- since I was a repeat customer well before that!
I tend to be a traditionalist in the sense that I don’t mind having room temperature food in my bentos. Most bentos are eaten that way. But when it’s really cold outside, there’s nothing more comforting than some hot food, or even a hot beverage. If you have access to a microwave, all you have to do is find a microwave-safe bento box. But if you don’t, or you object to microwaves in general, a thermal lunch jar may be the thing for you.
There are two basic types of thermal lunch jars. Let’s take a look at them.
The first time of thermal lunch jar consists of a stainless steel, insulated cylindrical container, into which one or more plastic containers fit in neatly. To use, you heat up the stainless steel outer container by pouring some boiling hot water into it for a few minutes, emptying out the hot water, then packing in the inner plastic containers.
Mr. Bento  and its smaller sibling Ms. Bento  are the best known of this type of thermal lunch set. This is a classic Mr. Bento set. There’s the large stainless steel container with screw-on lid, a container to hold about 2.5 cups of cooked rice, a container with a screw-top lid with gasket to hold soup or other liquid, and two more containers to hold other foods. Everything fits inside the cylinder, so theoretically all the food should remain hot for some hours. (Not pictured are a non-insulated carrying bag and a pair of chopsticks in a plastic container.)
This container setup is ideally geared towards a classic Japanese meal construct, of rice, a small soup (miso or otherwise), plus sides. (See Anatomy of a Japanese meal  for how a Japanese meal is put together.) When Zojirushi brought Mr. Bento over to the U.S. market, they kept the same construct. The only change made was to replace the chopsticks with a spork (though Ms. Bento still seems to come with chopsticks for some reason). So if you like multiple items in your bento/lunch, Mr. Bento is ideal for you. People commenting on Amazon seem to agree  - it’s been selling well there for years now.
The advantage of the Mr. Bento is that you can keep your entire lunch hot for hours if you wanted to. The disadvantages are that the container set itself is quite heavy (Mr. Bento with the carrying bag and chopsticks weighs about 1.2 kg or more than 2 pounds) and bulky. Plus, if you want to carry some food that’s not hot, like fruit for example, you will need to carry yet another container separate from the unit. A not so small consideration is that thermal lunch sets of this type are not cheap, ranging from around $40 to $60.
A variation on the stainless steel thermal container with inner containers concept is this type of set is shown below. I got this set in Japan, but several international bento sellers, including Bento&co  and J-List , sell similar sets. The set consists of a smaller stainless steel thermal container, into which fit the rice container and a small miso soup container. Then there are two more containers which are meant to be carried outside of the stainless steel cylinder.
The rice container and the soup container. The soup container has a screwtop lid with gasket.
Everything fits neatly into this reasonably stylish insulated carrying case. These insulated carrying cases come in all shapes and sizes. Some even look like designer handbags.
This unit is 30% lighter than the Mr. Bento set. Usually you only want your soup, and maybe your rice, to be really hot, and the other food can be just warm or even cool. If that fits your lunch patterns, this kind of partially-hot thermal set may be for you. (Keep in mind that the insulated carrying case will keep the outer containers reasonably warm, though not as well or as long as food inside the thermal cylinder.)
To make sure that the food remains actually hot inside the thermal cylinder, make sure not to skip the heating up the cylinder with boiling water part. Also, the food you put in should be as hot as you want it to be and maybe more when you pack it inside. The container will not make cooled food hotter!
You can use the thermal cylinder without using all the inner containers. In my book I have a mini-muffin and soup bento, where I experimented with packing heated muffins in the heated container with soup in the soup container. The muffins were quite warm when I took them out, though they did get a bit moist. Try something like packing chili in the rice container, and a piece of warm cornbread in the space above it.
You can also use the thermal qualities of the steel cylinder to keep food cool. Try packing an ice pack inside the cylinder and freezing the whole cylinder overnight. In the morning, put a container of whatever you want kept really cold right on top of that frozen ice pack. I’ve tried this with ice cream, and it works - it was still pretty hard after about 3 hours!
The second type of thermal lunch container is a lot simpler. They are basically good old thermos bottles that are squat and wide mouthed, shaped for eating out of rather than sipping from. A good example is this Stainless Steel Food Container by Thermos. It comes in 10 ounce  and 16 ounce  sizes; the one pictured here is the 10 ounce, which is about 300 ml (1 1/4 cups). It’s really simple, consisting of the body and a screw-on top with gasket.
This is my current favorite thermal lunch jar, a Thermos Stainless King  which holds 16 ounces (almost 500ml or 2 US cups). It has an inner screwtop lid with gasket and an outer lid that doubles as a cup.
There’s also a well designed folding spoon that clips into the top of the inner lid.
If all you want to do is to bring one hot item, say soup or stew, these one-piece lunch jars are ideal. If you already own some bento boxes, you can use a lunch jar to supplement them on cold days. Or you could just carry one on itself filled with soup, with a piece of bread in a plastic bag. They are also cheaper than the multi-part thermal lunch sets (since they are simpler), ranging in price from around $15 to $25, depending on the size, features and so on. (Keep an eye out for thermal jars sold as baby food containers if you’re looking for a small container.)
In fact, if you’re just starting out with bentos, or have been gazing at these pages and various bento blogs wondering if bentos are for you, a lunch jar just might be the ideal starter container for your bento journeys. Heating up some leftover soup and packing it into one of these takes almost no effort. And if you decide that bentos are not for you, you can still use a lunch jar for holding some hot chocolate or something.
These lunch jars also benefit from a pre-heating before you fill them up. Just fill with boiling hot water, leave for a few minutes, empty an fill up with the piping hot food of your choice. The lunch jars can also be used to keep the contents cold.
I find it a bit harder to wash these compared to the inner containers that come with the steel-cylinder type. Try to wash them out as soon as possible. Handwash the gasketed inner screwtop lid to keep the seal tight - the other things are top rack dishwasher safe.
There is one issue to keep in mind with all thermal lunch containers. Yes, these containers can keep your food really nice and hot for hours. However, keep in mind that that means the food continues to cook in that heat. So for maximum flavor and tastiness, stick to food that benefits from slow, gentle cooking. Soups, stews, curries and chilis work great. Steamed rice and other grains hold up well too. But other foods may suffer. Pre-cooked chicken may get dried out, and steamed vegetables may end up looking like the steamed vegetables you encounter on a sad buffet table. Hot pasta may sound like a great idea, but not if it turns out soggy and gooey. If you like a mix of foods, the partial-thermal type of set or just having a lunch jar plus regular, non-insulated containers may work better.
Reader Sandy sent in this question recently. She’s having trouble with certain bento boxes, which are making her food taste like plastic!
Hi. I’ve recently begun collecting and using bento boxes (which I adore), but I’ve had some troubles when eating out of them. Everytime I eat something, it tastes like plastic. I’ve purchased almost all of my boxes through reputable sellers via ebay and have posted about this problem previously in another forum. One of the members there mentioned that maybe I was packing food that was too hot. Well, I tried cooling it down since then (not ice cold but lukewarm to the touch and easily held in the palm of one’s hand) but it still has a plastic taste to it. This is especially noticeable in foods without lots of spices to mask the flavor: rice, plain steamed veggies, etc… And while most of the boxes display this trait, not all of them do. My Lock and Lock bento and a Totoro single tier bento box I own do not have this characteristic, but both boxes have a noticeable different heft and feel to them than my regular Lube Sheep, Hakoya, or the other typical plastic wood grain usagi boxes. Is there a breaking in period? Have you experienced the same issues? Is there any kind of treatment I can use to keep my boxes from becoming bric-a-brac?
I’ve since purchased the small totoro aluminum bento box, but it’s soooo small. I’ve thought of wooden boxes but am afraid they might stain (I love Kimchee). And I can’t bear the thought of being limited to a Lock & Lock and single tier. Can you offer some advice so that I may continue to indulge my passion for this most adorable Asian hobby?
I haven’t had a problem myself with any Lube Sheep or Hakoya bento boxes, but I’ve had issues with other plastic containers. I think the formulation of the plastic used in various bento boxes varies, so you could be more sensitive to one kind than another.
Here are some things to try:
Actually, some people do have a problem with that ‘plastic taste’ of plastic bento boxes. They use wood, bamboo, aluminum and stainless steel boxes instead. But as you say, most of those boxes are not in the ‘cute’ category. :) Anyway, try the steps above and see how it goes!
Do you have any suggestions as to how to solve Sandy’s ‘plastic taste’ problem?
[I’ve substantially updated this article recently to answer some emailed questions about bento accessories and so on, so here it is again for your reading pleasure. Originally posted in August 2008.]
I recently got an email from a Just Bento reader concerning the plastic used to make bento boxes. She was concerned, since she couldn’t read the Japanese writing on the packaging. I’m sure a lot of other readers have similar concerns, especially given recent scares reported in the media about plastic containers leaching chemicals into food and beverages. Keeping in mind that I am not a scientist or expert, just a concerned consumer just like you, here’s what I’ve been able to find out by doing some research on various Japanese as well as English-language web sites.
The parts of plastic bento boxes that touch food from known Japanese manufacturers are generally manufactured using three types of plastic: polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polypropylene (PP), or a compound of PET and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) called PET-A. A common practice is to use PP or PET-A for the bento box body and outer lid, and polyethelene for the flexible inner lids, or the main lids on small side boxes.
For example, the cheaper bento boxes made by Nakano Co.  (manufactured in China), which includes popular brands like Puti Fresh, Lube Sheep and Clickety-Clack that are sold at Daiso and similar ‘100-yen’ stores (previously ), are made of PP. According to The Green Guide  ( a site that is owned and operated by National Geographic), PP is a safe plastic, though it’s not very recyclable.
Higher end plastic bento boxes such as the very popular ones models made by Hakoya aka Tatsumiya Shikki  or Yellow Studio  (mostly manufactured in Japan, some accessories manufactured in China), use mostly PET or PET-A. (Hakoya also uses other plastics on parts of their boxes that aren’t in direct contact with food.) According to The Green Guide list, the main objection against PET seems to be the porous nature of the plastic, so it’s not recommended to re-use thin PET water bottles. However, from reading some Japanese reports, PET-A in particular seems to be regarded favorably as a recyclable yet food-safe plastic. In practice, I do find that my Hakoya and Yellow Studio bento boxes are easier to keep clean and of a better finish than my Lube Sheep boxes. (Update: As of late 2009-early 2010 I’ve stopped using any of my Lube Sheep boxes…not because of safety concerns, but just because they do tend to get a bit beat-up looking with continuous use. Well what can you expect from boxes that retail for 100-200 yen ($1-2 or so) in Japan?)
The substance that has generated the most controversy and concern in recent years when it comes to plastic food containers is bisphenol-A, or BPA. This exists in polycarbonate, a clear plastic that is used for some water bottles, as liners in metal cans, and so on. None of the major Japanese bento box manufacturers use polycarbonate in parts of their plastic bento boxes, water bottles and so on that touch food. (I have seen a few thermal mugs that use polycarbonate on the exterior parts that do not come into contact with the liquid.) It may be interesting to note that the Japanese canning industry began to voluntarily cut down on the use of BPA as can liners as early as 1998 (a decade before BPA even began to be talked about the the United States for example), and have been using other plastics since. (see .)
So in a nutshell, any bento box from a reputable Japanese maker should be perfectly safe. Generally speaking, food safety regulations in Japan are just as strict as they are in North America or Europe.
However, you should always heed the directions about whether or not a box is microwave-safe/dishwasher-safe or not. If you are not sure and are concerned, ask the seller of your bento box, or just don’t put it in the microwave. Needless to say, plastic is not oven or stovetop safe!
(Studies on the safety or not of BPA, especially for adults, still seem to be inconclusive. As with any other health related news, try to read as many reputable studies as you can and keep an open mind.)
Most rigid plastic bento accessories made by companies like Torune  such as picks, are made of ABS and/or polystyrene. Many reusable inner cups are made of silicone. Flexible plastic items such as baran (dividers, like ‘sushi grass’) made by Torune are made of PET.
Note that most of these accessories (except for silicone cups) are not microwave safe, so use your cute little picks and such for bentos that you don’t intend to nuke, or else take them out before doing so.
Nori cutters made by Arnest  (the Niko Niko Punch line) and Kaijirushi  (the Chuboos line), are made of ABS (the body) and zinc or a zinc alloy (the cutting parts). I do not have information on repurposed cutters that are meant for use on paper and other non-food products. If you’re really concerned about safety you may want to avoid using these on food.
Food cutters by Arnest (e.g. the Kyarappa line) are made of polystyrene.
It might be tempting to re-use takeout containers, but again according to The Green Guide, that may not be such a good idea  (this link is now broken, and their internal search leads back to their home page. grr). In essence you should not be re-using plastic containers that are not meant for multiple use, like takeout boxes and such, if you’re concerned about plastic safety.
The most practical alternative to plastic for bento boxes is probably stainless steel. See Stainless steel bento boxes . My favorite model of stainless steel bento box has a silicone sealing element around the inner rim of the lid; this is quite acceptable to me as a ‘green’ bento box, and makes it very practical. There are also 100% stainless steel bento boxes or lunch boxes, such as those from Lunchbots  (their orange-lid model is a good size for a bento box). Beware of packing any moist food in them since the lids are not leak-resistant.
Stainless steel bento boxes are generally more expensive than plastic, but should last a lot longer with proper care.
A very stylish though rather high maintenance alternative to plastic is wood. Traditionally bento boxes were made of wood, either untreated or coated with lacquer. Wooden bento boxes are wonderful, but need to be handwashed carefully and dried with a soft cloth immediately after washing. A famous type of wooden box is the Magewappa , made of uncoated bent Japanese cedar.
This is my personal opinion, but when it comes to wooden bento boxes, you really get what you pay for. Avoid cheap wooden boxes - these usually have a rough finish, inferior workmanship, and are generally rather nasty. Expect to pay at least $40-50 or more for a good wooden bento box. A genuine Magewappa bento box will cost you at least 6,500 yen (around $70) and on up from reputable stores in Japan. On the other hand, a high quality wooden bento box will last for years with proper care.
(Update added 1/09: All of the links in this article to The Green Guide site  are broken because they have changed them all apparently without proper redirects. What’s worse, their internal search results lead right back to the home page too. As a web developer myself I have to say this is so very lame. Anyway, once you get to their site (all links just go to their new front page) you can look around for the appropriate information. This page regarding Bisphenol-A (BPA)  is current, as of now, unless they change things around yet again.)
(Update added 2/10: Added link to Rubbermaid BPA page; added bento accessory information and plastic alternatives section.)
(Originally published in April 2008, and updated continuously since. Last updated March 2011.)
A very frequently asked question is where and how to buy the bento items and boxes mentioned here, especially in the Bento Item Spotlight  (formerly Bento Item of the Week) feature, as well as on other bento blogs and sites. I’ve listed you several options, which I hope will be useful.
As much as I love online shopping, I believe in shopping at your local stores first. You’re supporting your area’s businesses, and you don’t have to pay shipping costs. Besides, it’s arguably a bit better for the environment (especially if you take public transportation!) since the goods have already travelled to your area.
Even if you local stores don’t carry ‘genuine’ Japanese bento boxes, it’s always possible to find alternatives for lunch boxes, dividers, picks and other accessories. As I wrote in one of the earliest articles on this site, it’s not necessary to buy a box that is labeled as a Bento Box  in order to bring bento lunches. You can use cupcake cups, paper or silicon, as bento dividers, picnic utensils, and so on. Check out the JustBento Bento Gear Flickr pool  for a lot of creative ideas from fellow bento enthusiasts. Any general housewares/kitchenwares store or megastore with such a department is a good place to prowl for bento-friendly goods.
If you live in an area with Asian dollar stores, aka 100-yen stores, they are usually a good source for cheap and cheerful bento boxes and equipment. In the U.S. these for now are mostly in California and the west coast, though New York also has a few. Japanese or Asian housewares stores may also carry some things. To locate Japanese grocery (and related) stores near you, consult the reader-contributed and commented Japanese grocery store listings  (go to your geographical area page from there) on Just Hungry. Also check out the Bento Store Locator  on Lunch In A Box, another user-contributed listings page (Note: this hasn’t been updated in quite a while, along with the rest of the site, unfortunately).
General Japanese grocery stores used to not carry a lot of bento gear. Their non-food sections tend to concentrate on things like proper ceramic tableware and traditional gift items. However, this is changing as bento lunches continue to grow in popularity. Even if your local Japanese grocery is tiny, you may still be able to find some accessories like plastic baran (dividers) meant for sushi or decorative picks. You will, of course, find all kinds of food items. In addition, while bento lunches are not part of other East Asian cultures such as China and Korea, many such stores are also stocking bento boxes these days to meet customer demand. (Example: H-Mart or Super 88 in the U.S., Paristore in France, etc.)
Japanese bookstores and giftstores can also be worthwhile looking around in. Kinokuniya  for example carries a decent selection of bento boxes. I was at the Kinokuniya US flagship store in New York in January 2011, and the gift department manager told me that bento boxes are becoming so popular, she has increased the shelf space for them by 5 times in the last couple of years. That’s great news for bento fans!
Of course Japan is the best place to buy bento stuff. Be sure to check out Where to buy bento boxes and accessories in Japan.  if you’re planning a trip there.
Besides Japan, where are good places to shop for bento gear? You might not necessarily plan a whole trip around buying bento stuff, but it might be handy to know if you are in the midst of a bento mecca, just in case!
If your heart is set on getting a ‘real’ Japanese style bento box, for most people mail order is the only option. The good news is that the number of international shipping-friendly online bento supply stores is increasing, and getting in better stock, all the time!
Some people have a mental hangup about buying from suppliers that are not located in their country of residence. While international shipping costs are expensive, you should always compare the price of an item sold by one supplier vs. another, including shipping costs and sales tax or VAT, and see which ends up to be a better deal for you in the end. Personally I order from merchants based in Japan all the time. Shipping from Japan is usually very fast and efficient. I usually select SAL as my shipping option, which takes a little longer than EMS or FedEx (about 2-3 weeks), but is cheaper. SAL shipments usually (though this is a crapshoot really) don’t incur customs fees. FedEx or DHL are usually the most expensive shipping options, though they are reliable. FedEx shipments seem to always incur customs fees. EMS is the best choice if you want to receive mail via the postal system fast; EMS shipments incur customs fees about 50% of the time for me. I don’t have the patience for sea mail usually (and most vendors do not offer it since it’s rather unreliable).
You may or may not be charged customs fees when your shipment enters your country. I’ve found that generally speaking, smaller orders tend not to be charged customs, though there doesn’t seem to be a hard and fast rule that applies all the time.
I have tried most of these stores myself (ordering as a regular customer, no special treatment!) and have been very happy with their services. I think you will be too.
The main source of the widest variety of bento gear for non-Japanese speakers and residents is eBay. There are now dozens of merchants selling bento related supplies. Whenever you are buying something, make sure to comparison shop (some merchants are way overpriced). Most merchants are based in Japan or Hong Kong, and ship worldwide, but expect to pay quite a lot for shipping. I like to stick to the merchants who have clear descriptions of the dimensions and capacity of the bento boxes they sell.
Did you know that eBay offers RSS feeds of their listings, based on search terms? You can set up one and subscribe to it in your favorite news reader. For bento things, go to Advanced Search and enter bento in the terms to search for, and enter amy, cd, music, mac, osx, software in the terms not to search for. This filters out all, or most, mentions of Amy Bento (an aerobics instructor), CDs and music related items from Brazil or Portugal (Bento is a popular nickname in Portuguese it seems), and listings of Bento the software program. You can also select House and Garden as the category. Once the search results page is generated, scroll down until you see the RSS button, and click on it to subscribe. You will get a nice listing with prices and thumbnail pics. This is how I generate the eBay Bento listings page  (which you can just bookmark if you don’t want to bother with the searching).
The items listed on eBay, J-List and such are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to bento gear - a lot, lot more is available only in Japan. Unfortunately, most of the online stores that sell them are in Japanese only, and do not ship overseas.
But you don’t have to give up there. If you don’t have a handy friend or relative that lives there, there are an increasing number of shipping service web sites that will get the stuff you want and then ship it to you, for a fee. The fee varies but is usually around 10-15% of the purchase price, plus the actual cost of the goods and shipping. Some sites also charge a membership fee. This route may only be for serious collectors, but considering that they are offer a combination of translation, buying, shipping and payment services, it’s a fairly good deal.
An updated list of shipping (or shopping) services is maintained on this page . One that has gotten several positive comments is i-tm4u . For instance commenter Anna from Russia used them to buy a handcarved wooden bento box , and ODG from Hong Kong also had a positive experience .
Tenso  is another popular service. I have now tried them several times, mainly for shipments of Rakuten purchases, and they have been really reliable and prompt. (They have an official relationship with Rakuten.)
A new service that looks interesting is Flutterscape  if you want a ‘friend who shops for you in Japan’ kind of experience, albeit with strangers of course.
Update: Rakuten now has an International section - see this forum discussion . A Rakuten shopping guide is in the works.
There are two huge online sources in Japan for bento stuff: Yahoo! Japan Auctions  (which is so popular that eBay had to give up in Japan), and Rakuten Ichiba (marketplace) . Both sites are in Japanese only (Rakuten now offers machine translation of some of its pages, and their information pages are in real English). Here are some direct links to bento-related search results (let me know if you’d like to see some others):
Yahoo! Japan auctions:
So you are planning a trip to Japan. You want to stock up on bento boxes and accessories. Where should you go? There are stores to cater to many needs and budgets. Note that this guide is biased towards the Tokyo metropolitan area, but the general principles apply to other areas of the country.
The school year in Japan starts in April, so mid-February to early April or so is the big period for school supply shopping. Many young people who graduate from high school or university in March move away from home and start their new lives in April too. Mid-March to April is also the time when people go out in droves to appreciate the cherry blossoms (o-hanami), with picnic bentos in tow. So this is the big time for bento goods. You’ll see a big selection and lots of discount deals around. However, you can buy bento goods at any time of the year, especially at the specialist stores.
If you are looking for the most inexpensive bento boxes and supplies available, then head towards a 100 yen shop. This is the Japanese equivalent of the ‘dollar store’ concept in the U.S. (See how much 100 yen is in US dollars at current exchange rates ). Not everything sold at a 100 yen shop is 100 yen (some bento boxes for example are 200 or even 300 yen), but the vast majority of things are. At a 100 yen shop, you will find everything from bento boxes to utensils, picks to wrapping cloths (furoshiki), water bottles and more.
Tip: Bento boxes are typically located in both the kitchen supplies area and the ‘character goods’ area, so remember to look in both places.
100 yen shops are located all throughout Tokyo and many other metropolitan areas. Major chains include:
Most 100 yen shops are located within shopping malls or department stores. (You can also find other one-price-for all shops such as 300 yen shops, 500 yen shops, and so on.) Most of them sell the same products from the same manufacturers, especially Nakano Co.  (see more about their bento boxes such as Lube Sheep and puti fresh ). Savvy bento supply shoppers will already be familiar with these from various online sellers.
I’ve visited at least one branch of the stores listed above. My favorite is Seria - they have a nice selection of bento related products, as well as a lot of other cute or interesting kitchen, craft and bathroom supplies tht might appeal to the typical bento-ing fan. I’ve seen lots of cute picks, utensils, wrapping cloths and drawstring bags, and more there. The stores all have a bright, open feel and good selection of products. The one negative thing about Seria is that their bigger stores are out in the suburbs, more often than not in shopping malls that are not that easily reached by train. Their Tsutsuchigaoka store  and their Yokohama Center Minami store  are located close by a train station however (the latter one is the one I go to the most; I’ve also been to stores in the Machida area, where my sister lives).
My second favorite store is probably Natural Kitchen. Their bento supply selection is not that big, but they do have quite a lot of cute things for the kitchen and elsewhere to gawk at.
Daiso and Can Do are rather similar. I get the feeling that I’ve seen all their stuff already - if you live in an area with a Daiso store, or have visited one, I don’t really see any reason for you to make a trip to a Japanese Daiso unless you really want to. Prices are a little cheaper in Japan than they are elsewhere, which is a plus of course. I’ve visited both small and large Daiso stores, including the biggest one in the Kanto (Tokyo metropolitan) region, which is near Machida station.
Note that a 5% consumption tax (equivalent to VAT or sales tax) is added on to your purchase, so a 100 yen item will actually be 105 yen.
Any midsize or larger supermarket has a section dedicted to bento supplies. For instance my local Aeon/Jusco store has an aisle for character-oriented kid bentos, as well as one for more grown-up, restrained bento supplies. Prices are higher than at 100 yen shops - a typical character-adorned bento box, suitable for a child or someone with a small appetite, costs around 1000 to 1500 yen. Adult-sized bento boxes are around the same price.
For regular bento boxes and goods, look in the kitchen goods area of a department store. The selection of goods they carry varies from store to store. If a department store has a LOFT store or a 100 yen shop in the building, their own kitchen supply department may not have that much to offer in the way of bento supplies.
Many department stores also have a traditional Japanese crafts department, and they also periodically hold regional fairs on their ‘special events’ floor. These are the places to look for high end, traditional bento boxes such as magewappa, lacquerware, and so on. Kyoto, Nishi Nihon (western Japan) and Tohoku (northern Honshu) themed regional fairs are most likely to have some really nice bento boxes around. (Takashimaya, Isetan and Matsuya tend to have really nice regional fairs, but other department stores have them too.) The bamboo picks below were on sale at a regional Kyoto fair held at Sogo department store.
The two stores that have big, dedicated bento supply sections are LOFT and Tokyu Hands. Both chains maintain stores within department stores or shopping malls, as well as standalone stores. If you only have time to go to one or two stores for your bento needs, you should seek out a LOFT or Tokyu Hands.
If I had to choose one or the other just based on their bento supply selection, I would lean towards LOFT. However, Tokyu Hands is such a fun store to browse through anyway, I would really recommend you try to get to both.
Bento boxes sold at these stores range from around the 1000 yen range to 5000 yen and more for wooden boxes. The average is around 1500 to 2000 yen. All kinds of bento boxes for all ages and genders are available. Most of the boxes are plastic, but are more durable than the 100 yen shop type. Brands that you may recognize include Hakoya, Yellow Studio, Gel-Cool, Prime Nakamura and Aizawa Kobo. You’ll also see a wide variety of accessories, utensils and bento making goods that you won’t see sold by international online stores (especially eating utensils). The kitchen supply areas are worth browsing through too, for an abundance of cute and unusual gadgets.
Muji (Mujirushi Ryohin) carries 2 basic bento box models, a flat, large one and a narrow, stackable one, in black or white. I like these a lot and use the white one in particular far more often than the rest of my bento boxes put together. They have matching black or white chopsticks with cases too. Muji products are a lot cheaper in Japan than at their overseas stores. Most Muji stores are located within or right next to department stores.
You will often find unique bento boxes at stores dedicated to zakka (雑貨 - a catchall term for ‘things’ or ‘stuff’ - acccessories for the home, fashion stuff, kitchen supplies, etc…), boutiques, kitchen supply stores, and the traditional kanamono-ya (金物屋）or hardware and home supply store. Be on the lookout!
If you chance upon a crafts fair, you may find stalls selling wooden or bamboo chopsticks, accessories and bento boxes. Again, if you are into traditional crafts, be on the lookout for the regional fairs at the major department stores.
If your objective is bento boxes bearing the image of a specific character such as Hello Kitty, go to a ‘character goods’ store. Sanrio has stores in most of the major department stores as well as standalone stores (list of main stores in Japan in English ). I don’t know if the Sanrio amusement park Puroland  has bento boxes, but I’m sure they have plenty of other character goods for sale. Character-bento boxes can also be found at LoFt and Tokyu Hands; a few are also found at the 100 yen shops. I found some bento boxes and cute chopsticks at Tokyo Disney Resort, both at Disneyland and DisneySea - such as these Mickey Mouse hands chopsticks:
You may have heard about Kappabashi, the famous kitchen supply wholesale area in Tokyo. Is this a good place to go for bento supplies? If you are looking for the type of bento box used in restaurants (shokado bento), with the compartments and the flat lids, or perhaps a special wooden lacquerware box, then yes. But if you’re looking for that cute little Mameshiba box you saw online, then no - you should head to LOFT instead. However, Kappabashi is a fantastic place to go if you’re just into kitchen stuff, not to mention those famous plastic/wax restaurant food display models (warning: these can be expensive). You can find things of interest to bento-crafters such as interesting cookie/food cutters and so on. Note that prices for retail customers at Kappabashi stores are not cheap.
Konbini stores are all about things that people need urgently - and most people do not urgently need a bento box. So, konbini do sell ready-to-eat bentos, but in terms of bento making supplies the only things I’ve seen stocked are disposable inner cups and basic picks. (My local 7-11 did have a Winnie The Pooh bento box set for sale for a while but I think that was just a limited-time special.)
Personally, I don’t like the quality of the bento boxes sold at 100 yen stores. You do get what you pay for, I believe. However, 100 yen stores are great for picking up accessories like picks (which tend to break after a while anyway), as well as disposable items like paper or aluminum cups. You can also find some character-goods for cheap - for instance, I saw an Elmo bento box for only 100 yen at Seria. I do notice that often, the same item would be sold at a 100 yen shop and a LoFt or Tokyu Hands - except that at the 100 yen shop, there would be fewer items in a pack (for instance, fewer picks or cups) than at the regular-price shop. If you have time, try to comparison shop!
If you are concerned about buying things that carry the Made In Japan label - since, after all, you are visiting Japan - then you won’t find much to buy at a 100 yen shop. Most of the bento boxes sold at LOFT, Tokyu Hands, and better department stores are actually made in Japan, whether they are made of plastic, metal or wood. The accessories such as picks and cups are usually made elsewhere, usually in China.
Finally, if it’s in your budget, you may want to take a look at a real wooden magewappa and lacquereware bento boxes, as well as ones made of woven or solid bamboo, that you will encounter at the regional and craft fairs as well as some specialist shops. These traditional handcrafted boxes are a work of art as well as being practical boxes. The box below is a handcrafted bamboo box from a specialist store in Kyoto. It’s expensive and needs to be taken care of, but it’s such a pleasure to hold and behold.
I have put together a Google Map  of some of my favorite bento and other shopping destinations in the Tokyo-Yokohama area. (Note that I like crafts and stationery stores more than fashion-clothing stores or anime figurines and such.). It’s a work in progress, so please be patient :).