Title: Face Food: The Visual Creativity of Japanese Bento Boxes and Face Food Recipes
Author: Christopher D. Salyers
Publisher: Mark Batty Publisher
Release Date: March 25, 2008 and December 15, 2009
When I was little, I would trot off to elementary school with my plastic lunchbox — Shirt Tales, MoonDreamers, Super Mario Bros. 2, or ALF, depending on the year — filled with the typical sandwich, some kind of leftover, and maybe a cookie. Sometimes, my mom would surprise me with a note tucked inside wishing me a great day or telling me she loved me.
In no way do I want to trivialize my mom’s sweet displays of affection — quite the opposite — but there’s a trend among Japanese mothers (and some fathers — one featured in the book) which goes far beyond that. Charaben are bento boxes inspired by, as the name suggests, characters from popular culture. I’ve featured charaben bento boxes here on Fandomestic before, so if you’ve been following along you know how amazing they can be, but perhaps, like me, you didn’t realize they constituted their own subset of the bento box art form.
Enter Christopher D. Salyers’s book Face Food: The Visual Creativity of Japanese Bento Boxes and its soon-to-be-released companion Face Food Recipes. Salyers hasn’t just compiled pictures of bento boxes designed to look like characters; he actually traveled to Tokyo to interview real Japanese parents about their experiences with the art of charaben and the reactions of their children and their children’s friends. After reading the interviews, it becomes clear how many parents use charaben to “trick” their kids into eating healthy foods they might not otherwise choose to eat by disguising them as their favorite cartoon and video game characters. It also becomes clear how the act of making charaben — which seems to average 30 minutes to four hours in preparation, two to three times a week — has brought the parents closer to their kids and has become a personal hobby for many of them.
The creativity these charaben bento box artists have is incredible. Not only do they recreate well-known characters in an instantly recognizable way, the results are immensely aesthetically pleasing. It’s inspiring to see what beauty can be created out of the simple desire for lunchtime to be fun (and healthy)!
Bento as an art form has already started to become increasingly popular in America and other Western countries (as evidenced by the aforementioned bentos previously featured here on Fandomestic), and I imagine it will only grow as a mainstream hobby. If you’re interested in trying to make your own bento boxes, Salyers includes a few how-tos at the end of the book. He also has a follow-up book out next month which contains recipes and instructions from Japanese charaben designers: Face Food Recipes. The instructions are not very detailed, more like a diagram of ingredients (the Spider-Man page above is a typical example), but the bentos featured are certainly inspiring, with everything from Pokémon to Care Bears to The Velvet Underground making appearances. Face Food Recipes does include valuable information about various tools needed to tackle bento making, along with a helpful glossary of Japanese food terms (in case you need to know what furikake is).
If you’re at all interested in culinary visual art, Japanese culture, or simply really cool-looking tributes to pop culture (and what Fandomestic reader isn’t interested in that?), check out Face Food and Face Food Recipes. In addition to the books, you can also follow Salyers’s charaben-themed blog at Face Food: The Blog.
Rating: 4 / 5 Stars for both