Pop Culture

An Itty-Bitty Bento Box That's (Almost, Not Quite) Too Cute to Eat

February  3, 2017

Well, here's something to delight you on a Friday afternoon.

This latest video from video collective Great Big Story profiles Tomomi Maruo, a Japanese 'charabentist', or food artist, who's spent the past few years perfecting the art of charaben (a portmanteau of the words 'character' and 'bento'). Charaben is a precise art that involves crafting bento box meals in the likeness of characters from television shows, particularly kids' shows. Mayo doubles as glue; seaweed makes for a good nose, if you're able to cut it into the right shape.

Maruo's has crafted many human faces with food, from Michael Jackson to Barack Obama to Tom Cruise. But she's in her element when making characters like Pikachu, Doraemon, and Totoro for her elementary school-aged kid.

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Some schools, Maruo explains, have started to ban charaben for fear that it'll introduce competition between mothers. But Maruo's decided to be generous about her talents, and she's started her own classes to teach other mothers the artform. Maruo insists that it's crucial for these dishes to actually taste good, though; otherwise, all these aesthetic accoutrements are meaningless.

Ever make charaben? Let us know in the comments.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Emily Love
    Emily Love
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Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.


Emily L. February 7, 2017
this is the cutest thing i've ever seen!!
Nanda D. February 4, 2017
I get why some kindergartens don't want mothers to make them, because if as a mother, you don't have time(because of work, obviously) to do this for your kids, it will make everyone feel bad. It kind of shames mothers even more for having a career instead of staying with their kids.

That being said, I do admire these mothers for putting this much effort in a lunch. it Definitely looks so cute, I guess it would help with picky eaters too!
Fredrik B. February 4, 2017
I remember a friend telling me that their local elementary had banned charabens because of the tendency of some parents to use a LOT of rice, since it was easier to shape and mould into objects than say, a tomato, or a piece of chicken.
Whiteantlers February 3, 2017
Only a monster could eat these adorable lunch box beings.