History of Traditional Bento Boxes

Everyone is familiar with a rapidly growing food trend: bento boxes. The Japanese created bento boxes to pack lunches. Recently, they have become something of culinary art as many people make designs with food. Some boxes feature decorated rice. There are even bento art contests! But where does bento come from?

How Bento Boxes Came to be

The origin of the word “bento” is a murky one. Some think it comes from commander Oda Nobunag. While their name remains a mystery, bento boxes began to be used in Japan almost a thousand years ago.

During the Kamakura Period (1185-1333), people began to pack dried meals, called hoshi-ii, when going out to work or hunt. “Bento” during this time was merely a small bag used to store dehydrated rice.

During the Edo Period (1603-1868), bento boxes become common. During this age. People have sought to use bento for entertaining and lunches, as their ancestors had. Travelers usually packed what is called a koshibento; a box hung from the waist.

In the Meiji Period (1868-1912) came the Japanese railway system. People took advantage of this transportation system. A typical ekiben meal is composed of takuan, a pickled daikon radish.


In the Taisho Period (1912-1926), bento became a symbol of wealth disparity. During World War I, many people went through financial hardship due to crop failures in the Tohoku area.

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