Ichigo Ichie: These Bento Boxes Are Too Cute to Eat (Almost)

“Ichigo ichie” (一期一会): a Japanese idiom meaning “one time, one meeting”. The phrase embodies the cultural concept of treasuring meetings with people, and is often translated as “one chance in a lifetime”, reminding people to cherish any meeting or experience they are part of, as they may not be repeated. The phrase “ichigo ichie” has been adopted by a new series of videos which has launched on Great Big Story and CNN International in partnership with All Nippon Airways (ANA), Japan’s largest and only 5-star airline. The series comprises seven videos which look at unique parts of Japanese culture, and the video I would like to share with you today is: ‘These Bento Boxes Are Too Cute to Eat (Almost)’.

This video is all about ‘charaben’ (キャラ弁) (also ‘kyaraben’) or ‘character bento’ (キャラクター弁当). Bento boxes are Japanese style lunch boxes, and they come in all shapes and sizes with all kinds of contents. Rather than regular lunch boxes, the focus of this video is lunch boxes featuring cartoon characters, animals or faces of famous people. These kinds of lunch boxes are really popular with kids in Japan, and some parents (usually mothers) have to get up really early to prepare these creations.

In the video we meet ‘charabentist’ or ‘food artist’ Tomomi Maruo. Tomomi specialises in charaben and is really good at creating people’s faces. She gives classes in making charaben to mothers who want to make cute lunch boxes for their children. Parents and children are under a lot of pressure to ‘keep up with the Joneses’, and for that reason some schools in Japan have actually banned charaben to relieve the pressure.

Charaben have to look good, of course, but they also need to taste good and be nutritious. Making charaben is a real art!

I’ve had a go at making charaben once before, and thought I’d have another go using this cute cat rice shaper.

Cute cat rice shaper

Cute cat rice shaper

Here’s my simple creation:

My attempt at a charaben

My attempt at a charaben

Even making this really basic design took ages! I had to use the cutter to cut out all of the features of the cats from ‘nori’ seaweed, and then stick them on with mayonnaise. I think I have a long way to go before I can make something as amazing as Tomomi’s charaben!


ANA focus on Japanese hospitality. With ANA, the idea is that your Japanese trip starts on board so you can experience Japanese hospitality before you even set foot in the country. They aim to give all passengers a travel experience far beyond their expectations. From check-in to boarding and everything in between, ANA’s airport services have been recognised as the best in the world. So customers are able to enjoy delicious Japanese meals on all ANA flights, they train local chefs in the techniques of Japanese cuisine. In-flight meals are planned and developed one year in advance and these meals taste as good as they look. Passengers can enjoy a wide range of gourmet meals and have an exquisite dining experience while they soar above the clouds.

Watch this space for more videos from the Ichigo Ichie series coming soon and check out the ANA Ichigo Ichie Tumblr page!

5 thoughts on “Ichigo Ichie: These Bento Boxes Are Too Cute to Eat (Almost)

  1. Haha, I attempted to make cute bentos long before I moved to Japan.
    For some reason, I stopped the minute I was in Japan although the tools were all readily available at that time.

    I enjoy looking at cute bento and it’s also fun making them. ^___^


  2. Oh my word, I love these! Your cats came out really well. I’ve bought loads of bento decorations and things from 100 yen shops because I love the idea of them, but I’m always to lazy to actually make them!


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