"Bento" (written 弁当) or "Obento" (お弁当) = A Japanese meal that is packed into a box; in other words, a Japanese lunchbox.
However, the focus of a 'thorough and balanced' meal is the main purpose of a bento lunch. Bentos are also sometimes slightly different in terms of visual aesthetics - these highly decorated, 'art' bentos (which is what this post is mainly about) are called: 'kyaraben' (キャラ弁) or 'entaatein-bento ' (えんたあていん弁当) <- (p.s. I am not sure how correct this is - I used hiragana for the 'entaatein' part, so basically it's just how you pronounce it, I do not know of the kanji itself yet)
The traditional Japanese is very health-conscious and their meals always consist of balance and variety. In addition, the variety of 'bento art' that are created (The Japanese believe that we 'eat with our eyes' too, aside from touch, taste and smell) - could explain why the bento box is an increasing favourite of home-cooked lunchboxes.
Personally, the fun that comes into designing the bento box into something visually brilliant, is the main part of the whole home-cooking and eating process. Using a piece of lettuce to create a wheel for a bus made of rice; slicing sausages so that it looks like an octopus, rabbit, or whatever animal you would like; and cutting sandwiches into random shapes - makes eating so much more enjoyable!
Not convinced yet? Here are some examples (which I wish I made, but didn't):
Still not convinced?! How about this:
That's some rice dedication right there.
One of the top websites that talks about everything bento is Just Bento. They even have a book published (which I bought and am en route to becoming Bento artisan), 'The Just Bento' Cookbook - I recommend to anyone who is interested in bentos, and even if it's Japanese cooking you are interested in and not particularly making bentos.
Most importantly, the book and website teach the foundations of
Japanese cooking - what the basic ingredients are and the common cooking methods used. There is also a long list of recipes at your perusal.
Here's my attempt at "bento art" - it was some sort of self-motivator for my exam that day. I called it the 'Blooming of the Flowers':
Whether the magic worked, we shall see when the exam results are out!