The bento or boxed lunch has been an essential part of daily life in Japan since the 16th century. Today, there are thousands of seasonal and regional varieties, but none are so wildly popular as the charaben or character bento.
The phenomenon of charaben is such that cooking up elaborate home-made designs has become something of a competitive sport amongst Japanese housewives, their creations widely judged as a reflection of their parenting abilities. In response to the enormous pressure to impress, Tokyo mum-of-two Tomomi Maruo began teaching special charaben classes. “The appeal of spending an hour or two each day making a bento is simple”, she explains. “In a society where much remains hidden or unspoken, the charaben gives us a chance to show how much we love our children.