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


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.

Incidentally, if you do get one of these books and have a question about something specific, like “What the heck is that thing in the bento on page 94 of XYZ?”, ask away in the comments. I won’t have time to do full translations (or the rights to post them here) but I’ll try my best to help out.

You may also be interested in the Ordering Japanese books and media online post on Just Hungry.

1. Everyday inspiration

Watashitachi no Obento (Our Obento) is published by a great lifestyle magazine called ku:nel (I think the name is derived from kuu (eat) neru (sleep)). It shows the everyday bento lunches of regular Japanese people, mostly in their 20s and 30s, mostly who work outside the home. I love this book because it shows how real people make and use bento. There is not a single octopus wiener in sight…not that I am dead set against pink meat cephalopods, but they are extra frills for special occasions or to coax a young child to eat, not really for busy adult people to be making in the morning for their own lunches. The ‘regular people’ bentos in this book are still attractive and colorful, and look delicious. This is one book I look at regularly when I want a boost of inspiration for my own bentos.

Besides from Amazon Japan, this book is also available from Jlist/JBox and YesAsia.

2. Large, colorful photos in an oversized mook

Mooks are magazine-format books; they are bound like magazines, so are not as durable as book-bound books, but are still usually printed on high quality paper with topnotch pictures. The Kihon no… (Basic…) series from Orange Page, another magazine publisher, are really terrific large-format mooks that show the basics of various types of cuisine and cooking. Kihon no Obento (Basic Obento) is the bento entry in the series. The photos of bentos are life-size in many cases, and the recipes have step-by-step illustrations, so you can get a lot out of it even if you don’t read the text. If you want to see how everyday, basic bento ingredients are prepared, this mook is one to get. Available from Amazon Japan. It’s not carried by JList or YesAsia unfortunately.

3. A colorful intro to macrobiotic bento

I tend to be a bit skeptical about macrobiotics, but there’s no denying that macrobiotic cookbooks in Japan have some great vegan and vegetarian recipes.

Makurobiochikku no Obento (Macrobiotic Obento) is another mook from Orange Page. It has big, beautiful photos of bentos close up, step by step instructions for many items, and more. If you’re interested in vegan/vegetarian bentos this is a very good one to get. Some of the ingredients may be puzzling, so come here and ask what it is! Available from Amazon Japan.

4. Beautiful girly bento, for crafty people too

Onnanoko no Daisuki na Obento (Obento that Girls Love) is a beautiful book. Aimed mainly at mothers with daughters who are in school (I think probably girls of mid-elementary school age and higher), the style is quite different from many other bento books aimed at the moms-with-kids market. The bento contents are simple yet beautifully arranged and easy to prepare, and quite inspirational.

A bonus is that this book also has some crafty ideas for cute or elegant bento wrapper cloths and bags and so on, to make lunchtime that much nicer. This one is available from YesAsia as well as Amazon Japan.

5. Inspiration from the pros: Ekiben, train station bento

Ekiben_ are bento boxes sold at train stations (there’s also an equivalent that’s sold at airports, kuuben). The best ekiben are the pinnacle of portable bento, culinarically and artistically. Regional ekiben makers take great pride in their seasonal bento featuring local products. Shun no Ekiben Meikan 800 (800 Seasonal Station Bentos) is one of many books that lovingly catalog the variety of ekiben sold around Japan. The pictures are inspirational, and will whet yor appetite for travelling to Japan and doing an ekiben trip for sure. If you read Japanese the book also has detail travel information so you can really use it to plan a trip. (I intend to do an ekiben trip as soon as I can afford it myself.) This book is available at Jlist/JBox, YesAsia and Amazon Japan.

Manga fans may want to check out a whole manga series dedicated to ekiben love. Ekiben Hitoritabi (Ekiben Lone Travel) is about the owner of a bento shop (!) who receives a 10th wedding anniversary gift from his wife - a rail pass and ‘orders’ to fulfill his lifelong dream of exploring the ekiben of Japan. The detailed drawings of both ekiben and trains make this series nirvana for any bento or train nut. There are four so far in the series, which are listed on this Amazon astore page. YesAsia also carries volumes 1, 2 and 3.

(Disclaimer: JustBento is affiliated with Amazon Japan, Jlist/JBox and YesAsia, and links are affiliate links that help to support the site.)

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I have that book too!

I also have a copy of Onnanoko no Daisuki na Obento. For someone like me who can read very, very little Japanese, I’d say that it is a pretty simple book compared to other bento books that I have.

And… the “Kihon-no…” series is great. I love their books on other types of food.

Hi Maki this is Jza, a fan

Hi Maki this is Jza, a fan of your “just hungry” :) First, i love your idea (as well as i love making bentos for my boyfriend to eat at work) so I’m really looking forward to see even more and more bentos and pics of your lunches ^^

Now let’s go back to the point ;)

I’d also suggest “Recipes of Japanese Cooking”. It’s not a book about bento, but it’s great as it’s both in english and japanese, so people can learn how some of the ingredients are named in japanese; that way the may understand recipes in japanese a little bit :) It worked for me! <- that’s the book

looks good

I haven’t read that book myself Jza but looks good! Thanks for sharing!


I just wanted to say how much I love your website and to thank you for your recommendations. I live in San Francisco, CA, and I love Japanese cooking. I can’t read a lot of kanji, only 1,000 plus hiragana and katakana, but the cookbooks in English leave a lot to be desired. Some may be good, but they list the same recipes over and over and too much nikujaga can’t be too good. I have just ordered your recommendations from and I can’t wait to try them! Also, I just wanted to tell you, we do have haigamai here on the West Coast, for those who want a cross between brown and white rice, with more health benefits. If they live far from a Japanese market, they can order Japanese foods from

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

LoL. This is what I get for not looking more carefully. I'd just posted a question about this very thing (bento books which are helpful for those who don't read Japanese) on another entry. I can't say how grateful I am for your site and all the wonderful information found here.

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

your affiliate links are broken...

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

This post was written in 2007 so it's rather out of date. At some time in the future I may do an update.

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

i bought basic bento, but i got it in japanese now what do i do. oh noes! anyone know where i can trade it for an english copy or get it translated?

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