My sister does bentos: charaben (kyaraben) for a girl and boy

As I wait for The Guy to sort through his bento photos so I can post about them (cough) or try to get my cooking mojo back after all my annoying health problems (sigh), I thought I’d post some photos my sister Mayumi sent me recently. Mayumi is the mother of two rambunctious kids, Lyoh and Lena. Since they are in elementary school, she usually doesn’t have to make bentos for them since they get school lunch. (This is the usual thing in Japan by the way - for some reason, most elementary schools have lunch programs, but many kindergarten and higher level schools (midde and high school) don’t. So Japanese moms get a six year break of sorts from bento making.) However, she’s had to make some bentos recently for various reasons; Lena has been on some school outings, and Lyoh’s school’s kitchen had a problem so the kids had to bring their own lunch for a while. Mayumi says that most of the bentos she made for them were plain and practical, but she did manage to put together a couple of charaben. (Apologies for the quality of the photos - they were taken with a basic cellphone.)

Here is one she made for Lena. Lena-chan is a girly girl who loves her cute characters, so her mom made her four of her favorites. Clockwise from top left they are Snoopy, Mamecchi, Mameshiba and Rilakkuma. Mamecchi is a slice of tamagoyaki, and the other characters are onigiri (rice balls) decorated with cut nori seaweed and other things. They all use white rice, but the Rikakkuma one is colored with a littie soy sauce. She didn’t use any molds, just did them freehand. Pretty good I’d say for someone who is not a dedicated charabentoist! I especially love the edamame used as Mameshiba’s ears. The other part of the bento has some chicken, meat rolls (nikumaki), asparagus tips, a quail egg, and so on.


I think it’s rather easier to make charaben for a little girl than a boy, so i really love this charaben that Mayumi made for Lyoh. Lyoh’s hobby is public transportation - he loves buses and trains and anything that runs on schedule. He can recite bus routes for hours, and knows the timetables for local trains and such by heart. His mom made a representation of the local Kanachu bus (Kanagawa Central Bus System) using tamago (egg) soboro, carrot slices, cut nori seaweed and imitation crabsticks on a bed of rice.


Here’s the real Kanachu bus to compare with the portrait-in-food version. (Lyoh’s cellphone is filled with photos of buses.)


The rest of the bento has mini burgers, simmered sweet potato, edamame and carrot and burdock kinpira. (Note that this bento has quite a lot of rice, because Lyoh has a prodigious appetite.)

Mayumi, like other Japanese moms, manages to put together two bentos like this in about 20 to 30 minutes in the morning as the kids have their breakfast. She uses leftovers and freezer-stashed items when she can to save time. She says she manages by doing only one charaben per day at most, so if one of the kids gets one one day the other may get one another day.

If you’re a fan of Japanese bento blogs, you may find some of them rather intimidating. They are so neat and gorgeous with nary a grain of rice out of place. (Not to mention some of the absolute tour de force bentos featured in a recent BBC report which has been making the rounds.) I tend to think that bentos made by most Japanese moms look a bit more like Mayumi’s - very pretty but a wee bit messy (sorry Mayu! ^_^;) but still made with care and love.

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Re: My sister does bentos: charaben (kyaraben) for a girl ...

Maki, I have been following Just Bento for a while now, albeit somewhat sporadically, and have enjoyed it enormously, but I think these bentos from your sister are the best yet! This may sound odd, but I love them because they look like something I could actually accomplish. I haven't tried charaben yet, as I'm doing bento for my 40 yr old boyfriend, but I think he won't mind if I do one occasionally. I don't have access to or funding for much in the way of bento equipment, but I adapt what I can, and I'm having fun with it. And the boyfriend is deeply in love with tamagoyaki!! So I just want to say thank you--for this post, for your recipes, the site, and your excellent writing. I'm sorry for your recent loss, and your health issues, and I send you best wishes for continued improvement and recovery. Many, many thanks!!
from the deep, dark recesses of semi-rural South Carolina, USA (not exactly the bento capital of the world, lol)

Re: My sister does bentos: charaben (kyaraben) for a girl ...

auntiejen, one of my goals here on JustBento is to make bentos as non-intimidating as possible, to make people think "hey I could do that!" - so, I'm really glad you caught onto that! Made my day ^_^

Re: My sister does bentos: charaben (kyaraben) for a girl ...

During my most recent stint of living in Japan I had the privilege of visiting a few elementary schools (as well as a kindergarten and middle school). While the kindergarteners proudly showed me their favorite foods in their miniature bento boxes, the elementary schools all featured the school provided lunch. One of the reasons for this (as it was explained to me) was by having all of the children eat the same food together, in addition to fostering comrade through the shared experience, it prevented "bento envy." With a school lunch, no child feels left out if their bento wasn't as fancy as another child's or came from a supermarket, because of differences in their mothers' time, resources, etc.

However, it seems that being able to bring a bento on rare occasions, like school trips, made the day even more special!

(Heh. I'm amused by the warning on the side of that bus against eating raw meat...)

Re: My sister does bentos: charaben (kyaraben) for a girl ...

Yeah, that warning is due to the spate of food poisoning incidents, including a few deaths, this year due to people eating e. coli contaminated raw beef yukke (a Korean dish) at el cheapo yakiniku restaurants this year.

Re: My sister does bentos: charaben (kyaraben) for a girl ...

What is the bottom right item in the pink container of Lena-chans bento?

Re: My sister does bentos: charaben (kyaraben) for a girl ...

They are nikumaki, literally 'meat rolls' - precooked vegetables (carrot and..asparagus I think here, but can be other veg) wrapped in thin slices of pork (can be beef or chicken too), sauteed in a frying pan and sliced.

Re: My sister does bentos: charaben (kyaraben) for a girl ...

Hi, Maki.
I have been following you for a while now and really appreciate all the things you put up on this site and your just hungry site. I got interested in bento after watching a few Studio Ghibli movies. I especially liked the bento in Totoro.
I am anxiously awaiting my copy of your book. My 11yr old is interested in taking bento to school and I am excited about making them for myself and the baby.
Sorry this is so all over the place. I just wanted to let you know I enjoy this site and wish you well!

Re: My sister does bentos: charaben (kyaraben) for a girl ...

Happy New Year 2012, Maki!

Thanks for posting this "real world" bento :D I must admit that I am one of those Moms who have been intimidated by the incredibly artistic bentos posted by blogging bento Moms.

I'm relieved to know that real bentos are a bit messy because I am a working Mom to two young kids too. I've been packing lunch boxes for my son, who is another huge transportation fan but have not tried bentos.

Maybe I'll make bento packing one of my resolutions for 2012 ;-) I'm sure my kid will like that.

Re: My sister does bentos: charaben (kyaraben) for a girl ...

i Love your site! I have just started getting into Bento...and really enjoy it. As a mother of 2 as well, like your sister, it makes lunch time fun and my daughter has actually eating things she normaly thinks is "yucky" just because I made it into a cute character or put a nuri smilely face one it :) I think this is a brilliant idea for mothers... And as a avid cake decorated this is fun for me too! I like that you can go to extremes and make amazing creations or just simple matter what you do, it's the love you put into it and your kids love it no matter how it looks! Thanks again

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