Step 3 of 4
A feast for the eyes
When we take a closer look at the small Poké Balls above Pikachu’s head, we can see that they are different from the classic red ones. Each one is made of cherry tomatoes in three different colors: orange, red and yellow.
Nowadays, bento are characterized by the colorful arrangement of foodstuffs, but this was not always the case. Before the 1950’s, the focus of bento was not on colorfulness, but rather on nutritious value and taste. The importance of the bento’s visual appeal only started when color photography came into existence in the 1950’s. In the 1970’s, the focus on color in bento became even more important. The Tricolor Movement of 1953 was the first to link color with nutrition. The goal was to encourage people to eat healthily by combining foods from the three categories which represented different types of nutrition in each meal. These categories contained “red (for protein), yellow (for carbohydrates and oils) and green (for vegetables) foods” [Rath & Assmann 2010]. In the 1970’s-1980’s, adding more color to bento was facilitated by an increase in the variety of foodstuffs, the stress of color printing photography and full-color television programs and movies [Ibid]. The 1980’s created a belief in which good balance in bento could not be achieved without a superficial color balance, which led to the beginning of bento that needed to be “eaten by the eye”.
The most important message of a “perfect” bento is its use as a communication device between the mother and her child. Because most children find it frightening to leave the familiarity of their home behind and go to school, the bento made by their mother is supposed to provide them with some comfort [Allison 1991]. It is therefore very important for the mother to “put a piece of herself” in the bento, which essentially means adding the highest possible amount of love in it. To do so, mothers must make their children’s lunch personal and visually appealing. They specially choose, cut, shape, and arrange foodstuffs in cute ways which they know will appeal to their children. Mothers are also expected to make their own bento handkerchiefs, napkins, bags etc. [Allison 2000]. When the child opens her/his bento, it must be immediately clear that the bento is especially and only made for the child [Rath & Assmann 2010]. The cuter the bento, the higher the amount of love is put in the bento, which in turn strengthens the message of love from mother to child.