Updated: Jun 22, 2018

We’ve seen them before, and almost everywhere to boot; most of us probably have warm, fuzzy memories of our mums packing them for us to take to school. But what you probably didn’t know is that bentos were once considered an luxury by the Japanese upper-crust. Let’s take a look at the history of the bento box.

During the Azuchi-momoyama period, the upper echelons of Japanese society would pack food and little cups for sake into wooden lacquered boxes. These lunch boxes are known as sageju and were commonly brought out for outings, gatherings and parties.

Photo: 1st Dibs

In the Meiji era when railway development flourished, the bento culture spread to the bourgeois and commoners. Bentos served as lunch boxes taken on train rides to stave off hunger during long journeys, and came to be known as ekiben.

Photo: Wikipedia

While the first thing that comes to mind with bentos is ‘convenience’, let’s not forget the affection that goes into making them in the first place. Wherever they’re meant to be taken, the ones who love us prepare lunch boxes because they care. So the next time you see a bento, however simple or extravagant, remember that the box contains more than just food.

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