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Bento boxes are a traditional complete individual meal of Japanese culture, ready to eat, consisting of various cooked dishes of Japanese cuisine. It usually includes rice, fish or meat, and a vegetable-based garnish or side dish. It is handmade and usually comes in a tray or container, such as a wooden box.
The origin of bento boxes can be traced back to the end of the Kamakura period (1185 to 1333), when a cooked and dried rice called hoshi-ii, which used to be packaged in a small bag, was served. In the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1568 to 1600), lacquered wooden boxes began to emerge as a traditional container, and bento was usually consumed during a hanami or tea ceremony.
In the Edo period (1603 to 1867) bentō culture began to develop throughout the country and moved to greater sophistication in some cases. The bento came to offer greater variety in the preparation of dishes such as koshibentō (onigiri rolled with bamboo leaves) or makuno-uchi bentō.
In the Meiji period (1868 to 1912) prepared bento such as ekiben began to be marketed, and their use also became widespread among students and workers because companies and schools did not serve food and it was convenient to prepare it at home.
Aluminum box became a luxury item during the Taishō era (1912 to 1926), due to its ease of cleaning as well as its silver appearance.
It was during this time that disparities in wealth began to become evident due to the booming exports during World War I, as well as crop failures in the Tohoku region.
At this time, there was a movement to abolish the use of bento in schools. This was because the food in bentos too often showed the social background of the student.
Many people questioned the psychological and physical influence of bentos due to the lack of balance. Therefore, after the Second World War, they were gradually replaced in schools by canteens.
After a period in which the use of bento fell off among the population, it regained popularity in the 1980s with the help of the microwave and the spread of grocery stores, and was once again used by many students and workers.
These are different types of bento available and they are called:
A bento box usually includes a composite dish or a varied assortment. Traditionally it may contain: