The Just Bento Cookbook on Japanese TV, and how the Japanese media is looking at the spread of 'bento culture' overseas

The Just Bento Cookbook was mentioned quite prominently on a daytime news and current topics show called Wide! Scramble (ワイド!スクランブル)on TV Asahi, a Japanese televison channel, as part of a nearly 7 minute feature about the growing popularity of bentos around the world. Here’s the video clip:

I was really excited to see my book so prominently mentioned on a national network of course, but it’s also an interesting look at how the Japanese media regards the increasing popularity of bentos internationally.

Here’s an outline of what’s shown and said in the clip. (Note this is what they say - they may be a bit premature about some things, like how the book is selling so well in the U.S., since it won’t be available there for some time yet…but hey, maybe the reporter can see into the future! ^_^;) My comments are in square [] brackets.

After the opening shot, which shows a bento from my book (!), the intro segment shows the opening of a branch of the largest takeout bento chain in Japan, Hotto Motto (ほっともっと), in Beijing, China. The store name in Chinese is “Hao Mai Dao (好麦道)”. It’s their first store overseas, let alone in China, and they plan to eventually open 200 stores thoughout the country within 5 years. The Beijing store sells typical Japanese style bentos like noriben (which retails for around 210 yen) and karaage bento, using rice cooked Japanese-style. One thing that differs the Beijing store from the stores in Japan is that most customers eat their bentos in the store rather than taking it out, since there is no custom of taking packaged meals home to eat in China.

Then they switch over to America and Europe, where a book called The Just Bento Cookbook is tremendously popular! The book shows bentos like “Tamagoyaki Bento” and “Sushi Roll Bento”. Not only that, there’s even a French website (Bento&co) that sells only bento boxes to customers overseas! It’s a worldwide Bento Tornado!

The next segment talks about The Just Bento Cookbook. Written by a Japanese woman called Makiko Itoh [waves], it is entirely in English! The author has a tremendously popular website in English all about bentos, and the book was born from that site. Let’s take a look inside - it has bentos like the Mini Hamburger Bento, with flower cutouts of carrots and cheese, and gomashio on the rice - this book is being read by Americans! There’s also things like Ginger Pork Bento, and Sukiyaki Style Beef Bowl Bento. The fact that Americans are reading this is something to be very happy about. Here, the female personality/reporter sitting at the desk interjects that “Bentos are so healthy and taste so good” etc etc.

The reporter turns to one of the male personality/reporters (Mr. Suga) and asks him, “What’s the no. 1 thing you want to eat in an obento?” The man says immediately, “tamagoyaki!” The other two nod in agreement, and the female reporter says “I love it!” The reporter says that the book not only shows how tamagoyaki is made, but has a sentence saying that many (Japanese) people really want there to be at least 1 or 2 pieces of tamagoyaki in their bentos every day. The people at the desk nod strongly in agreement, and the woman says, “Yes!”. The reporter goes on to say that the book not only teaches people how to make the food, but tells them a little about Japanese culture too (point emphasized by the on-screen text).

The male commentator with the glasses (Mr. Suga) interjects that bentos are not only healthy, but are “eco” (good for the environment too) since the containers are reusable, and that’s part of the Japanese culture too. The woman nods in agreement. The reporter continues and says that the book also shows how to make onigiri, and tells the reader that beginners can use plastic wrap if they want, or their bare hands, and shows both methods. Picture on the screen: someone’s pudgy little hands making onigiri!

Then they go on to those ecological reusable container, to talk about a French man who lives in Kyoto and runs a bento box retail site that is in French and English, selling bento boxes overseas. Picture on the screen of a good looking white guy at his keyboard! (That would be Thomas Bertrand of Bento&co, or in Japanese, ベルトラン・トーマスさん.) Looking at the site, they aren’t selling anything out of the ordinary (for Japanese people), but this is what is selling. Apparently, people (overseas) are seeing bentos in anime, wondering what they are, and coming to the site to get them for themselves. The other male commentator at the end of the desk interjects that perhaps bento boxes are of better quality than “lunch boxes”. [not sure what he meant here]

The reporter mentions again that maybe bentos are popular because they are ‘eco’…but there’s another aspect! He shows a Japanese charaben book [by well known charaben bloggers Mrs. Asami and Mrs. Kaerenmama], and says that charaben are becoming very popular overseas too. [Interesting to note that the reporter takes the time to explain what a charaben was to the panel and audience. Just to show that charaben are just one type of bentos in Japan.] He shows two books, Face Food and Face Food Recipes, both by Christopher Salyers, and several elaborate charabens featured in those books ar shown on screen. The panel oohs and aahs at them, but Mr. Suga interjects somewhat grumpily that “But a bento has to taste good!”

The feature ends with the reporter suggesting to the commentator at the end of the desk about the possibility of using bentos as tools to better international relations. The man jokes back to him that perhaps he can put together a proposal for a Bento Summit.

Here’s the Japanese page about the feature.

In any case, I’m really happy that the reporter picked up on some of the things that I thought were important in the book, like the little tidbits of Japanese culture that I snuck in. And although they were just joking about it, I like the idea of an International Bento Summit! How would it go now…

Here’s the link to the original video page. Many thanks to Thomas of Bento&co for making the clip available - and congratulations to him for becoming a TV star ^_^!

For more bento recipes, ideas and tips, subscribe to Just Bento via your newsreader or by email (more about subscriptions).

And visit our sister site, Just Hungry for great Japanese home recipes and more.

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Re: The Just Bento Cookbook on Japanese TV, and how the ...

Well, congrats maki on making to (national?) TV. I found it interesting the presenters were quite proud of Japanese (bento) culture becoming popular world wide. I do wonder how things would turn out if it was a reversal; some part of common, western culture becoming popular in another country, how would we respond?

Re: The Just Bento Cookbook on Japanese TV, and how the ...

*wince* Americans usually take it as par for the course...

But, on a much happier note, congratulations, Maki!

Re: The Just Bento Cookbook on Japanese TV, and how the ...

KayDat wrote:

I do wonder how things would turn out if it was a reversal; some part of common, western culture becoming popular in another country, how would we respond?

That's an interesting point. I get the feeling that in general, Westerners - or at least, many Americans - either just take it for granted as Noel said, or they have this "oh no! it's going to spoil the pure innocent natives (and ruin the atmosphere for us)!" kind of thing. You see that a lot when, say, people run into a Starbuck's or McDonald's in Paris or Bali or wherever it might be. Perhaps this type of reaction is common because it is becoming so ubiquitous, though I find it just a bit condescending.

Re: The Just Bento Cookbook on Japanese TV, and how the ...

I'd agree with Noel, that Americans would take it as par for the course, but I think that has a lot to do with our culture. We're really a melting pot, and we're used to seeing food and customs from all over (even here in flyover country). We make tacos for dinner, and everyone knows what "fiesta" means, but we don't think of it as cooking "foreign" food. You can buy fresh sushi in grocery stores everywhere. When I lived in North Dakota, there were several kinds of lefsa as well as saurkraut in the grocery stores.
So, long story short, because people have brought bits of their culture here and they've become common, I don't think anything of bits of our culture spreading to other places.

Re: The Just Bento Cookbook on Japanese TV, and how the ...

Awesome! Congratulations, Maki!

I can't wait for the book.

Re: The Just Bento Cookbook on Japanese TV, and how the ...

Fast food to me is a very Western way of eating, and obviously has left it's mark in Eastern countries. Westerner's use the bento template, many filling it with their own foods, in the same way Japan and China use the McDonald's template and offer local foods to assimilate it into their culture.

I'm so happy to see Just Bento and Bento&Co (both of which I've been enjoying for 2 years and a year, respectively) getting such attention!!

I'm also glad that Bento&Co now offers an English version of their website so I don't have to restrict my browsing to times when my husband is home to translate for me!

Re: The Just Bento Cookbook on Japanese TV, and how the ...

that is exciting! way to go!

Re: The Just Bento Cookbook on Japanese TV, and how the ...

This is great news considering the the stress you went through this summer. Zombie-bites and parents in different hospitals across the globe! So happy for you. Now if only you can get your packages delivered to your new home....you'll be set!

Re: The Just Bento Cookbook on Japanese TV, and how the ...

The fact that Americans are reading this is something to be very happy about.

It's interesting that Americans often feel very guilty about "appropriating" other cultures... but I always tell myself "Maki is Japanese herself and she obviously WANTS to help everyone make bentos, so why be ashamed" and here's a Japanese news organization saying they're pleased we're so interested... it's nice.

The other male commentator at the end of the desk interjects that perhaps bento boxes are of better quality than “lunch boxes”.

Can't speak to what he meant, but I do own a lunch box and it's useless -- the metal catch is flimsy and won't hold. It's just decoration, it can't transport lunch. Whereas my two bento boxes are reliable as well as being super-cute.

Re: The Just Bento Cookbook on Japanese TV, and how the ...

Well you know, every culture has good and bad points.

From Japan: Bentos = good! The food (generally speaking) = good! (most) manga and anime = pretty good! Traditional aesthetics = good! Blatant male chauvinism and racism, insularity, etc = not so good!

From the US: proper bagels, apple pie, grits (love grits!) etc etc... = good! (quite a few) movies and TV series = good! That 'if you try anyone can be successful' type of spirit = good! Umm..Gl**n B*ck, trash TV = not so good! and so on.

Re: The Just Bento Cookbook on Japanese TV, and how the ...

Merci for the translation ^o^
For the point about lunch box, I think he means that "lunch box"=american bento are less solid than japanese lunch boxes=bento.
It's called chauvinisme in french.

Re: The Just Bento Cookbook on Japanese TV, and how the ...

Yeah I agree! It would be great to have a bento summit!!

Re: The Just Bento Cookbook on Japanese TV, and how the ...

Wow... That's a great accomplishment! I cant wait to be able to buy your book. I was quite surprised to see my bento box photo on your page today, then I remembered I joined your Flickr group LOL...
Congratulations Maki!! :D

Re: The Just Bento Cookbook on Japanese TV, and how the ...

Congrats! That was a lot of fun to watch!

Re: The Just Bento Cookbook on Japanese TV, and how the ...

Yay!! Maki I'm so excited for you! And now that I've seen a few teasers from inside I'm even more excited to get your book! Congratulations!

Re: The Just Bento Cookbook on Japanese TV, and how the ...

Congrats!
This is really great. I've been wondering how they feel about the rising popularity of bento.

Re: The Just Bento Cookbook on Japanese TV, and how the ...

This isn’t true for all us in the United States, but…

As an American, I get very self-aware and nervous when I'm around someone of the same culture that I've incorporated an aspect of into my life. For five years I've been taking hula and I still feel very nervous speaking Hawaiian words around my hula teacher or her family. I'm afraid my Californian accent will butcher the words and they won't understand me. And there's always the possibility that I don't really understand the purpose of the aspect of the culture, thus potentially embarrassing myself with someone who does understand.

Most of these fears are pretty baseless and/or blown out of proportion, I know, but I still have them. Good news, though: These fears haven't stopped me from exploring and finding out about other cultures. I was just really quiet about them until now. When I got my first bento this year, I went online looking for what to do with it and found this site. I've grown in confidence in leaps and bounds and now I make a bento nearly every day. It's not only helped me with making healthy lunches but saved me so much money! At least once a week, my friends and I end up in a diner, having lunch and hanging out. I eat homemade bento while they spend ten to fifteen bucks on their lunch. (Diners don’t mind so long as most of your party is buying from them. It’s also polite to ask if it’s okay beforehand but not needed.)

Thank you, Maki, for this site. ^_^ I honestly couldn’t have done bento lunches without it.

P.S. Now my sister wants me to make bento lunches for her when we go on weekend road trips. XD

Re: The Just Bento Cookbook on Japanese TV, and how the ...

Congratulations for becoming a TV star even before the book is actually out!
when will it be available in Europe?

Re: The Just Bento Cookbook on Japanese TV, and how the ...

It will be available in Europe, at least on Amazon UK, DE, FR etc in November!

Re: The Just Bento Cookbook on Japanese TV, and how the ...

When will The Just Bento Cookbook become available in the United States? Please say by November, because it's on my birthday wish list. ^_^ Congratulations on the TV spot, it seems like some great publicity in advance for you! Will you have to go on a book tour (perhaps international) when the book goes on sale?

Re: The Just Bento Cookbook on Japanese TV, and how the ...

The book won't be available in U.S. bookstores until January unfortunately, though you can get it by mailorder right now already - see here for availability. There is a book tour planned in the U.S. but I still don't know where I will be sent... I'll post my schedule as soon as I find out, of course.

Re: The Just Bento Cookbook on Japanese TV, and how the ...

Congratulations!!! As an American living in Japan, I love the bento lunches and would love to see them widely available back in the states.

Will you release an electronic version of your book?

Re: The Just Bento Cookbook on Japanese TV, and how the ...

I know this wouldn't have lined up with what the reporter was going for, but I wish he had acknowledged the fact that non-Japanese bentos can also be made, and are in your new book, for example. Japanese bentos are becoming popular and through that, Japanese culture is spreading and becoming known to more people around the world, but it's also really cool how different cultures take a foreign concept and adapt it for themselves.

Anyway, omedetou and thanks for such an amazing site! I'm Japanese but was raised predominately, and now live, overseas. As a result, I've had very little exposure to a lot of Japanese traditions, including obento. I love trying out the recipes from your site, and am starting to make my own bentos for work! Arigatou!

Re: The Just Bento Cookbook on Japanese TV, and how the ...

Congratulations on the news, Maki!
I just bought 2 of your book yesterday (one for me and the other for my sister). So excited to find it available in Singapore!
Going to start bento-ing in earnest.

Re: The Just Bento Cookbook on Japanese TV, and how the ...

thanks for buying the book, 2 copies no less! ^_^

Re: The Just Bento Cookbook on Japanese TV, and how the ...

Congratulations Maki !!
Am an Indian living in Japan and I refer to your site (Just Hungry) very often to understand the basics of Japanese cooking. Its funny that even though carrying a lunch box is such an old & strong tradition in India, it hasn't reached the level of "こだわり" that it enjoys here in Japan. Back there, it is a simple, down to earth affair, stripped of all romanticism :) and boxes can hardly be called kawaii, though a lunch box is still an expression of love of a mother or a wife. I am simply amazed at the attention to detail and creativity that goes into making an obento. Your blogs have been a great help for me to understand more than just Japanese food, they help me get an insight into the Japanese mind ! Wish you all the very best & lots of success ahead !

Re: The Just Bento Cookbook on Japanese TV, and how the ...

Congratulation Maki!

I've ordered your book from Kinokuniya and can't wait for it to come through the mail! Was so super happy that they actually has it in their shop but there is only one Kino in M'sia which is in the capital city Kuala Lumpur. Therefore, people from other parts of M'sia will have to wait patiently for the courier guy to knock on their doors!

Re: The Just Bento Cookbook on Japanese TV, and how the ...

hey there is a review of the book on japantoday.com as well

Re: The Just Bento Cookbook on Japanese TV, and how the ...

Thanks for letting me know!

Re: The Just Bento Cookbook on Japanese TV, and how the ...

Congrats Maki! Thanks for posting the clip and providing an explanation of what they're saying.

Re: The Just Bento Cookbook on Japanese TV, and how the ...

Congrats Maki! Thanks for posting the clip and providing an explanation of what they're saying.

Re: The Just Bento Cookbook on Japanese TV, and how the ...

wow! that was awesome!
My boyfriend just bought me bento stuff from bento&co for my bday. Including your book!! yay!! cant wait to start my bento adventure!
dude...i wish the US had a bento food joint. that would be tasty...

Re: The Just Bento Cookbook on Japanese TV, and how the ...

I love Mr. Suga's comment. I'm not much of a fan of Kyaraben, it doesn't inspire me as much as regular non-kyaraben. Instead, I'd rather see a thoughtful and colorful presentation of various food put together. That's how I make my bentos.

Re: The Just Bento Cookbook on Japanese TV, and how the ...

I'm so happy for you are your success, Maki!

I can't wait for January! I'm sooo impatient! I live in Colorado, but I'm not a ski-bum, and I really love summer and dread the winter. But your book finally coming out here has made me super excited about January! So thanks for giving me some reason to enjoy the winter!

Re: The Just Bento Cookbook on Japanese TV, and how the ...

Well done, Maki. World domination via obento!!! YATTA!!!

Re: The Just Bento Cookbook on Japanese TV, and how the ...

Thank you for posting this! I work for a Japanese company that exports some traditional Japanese food products to the US and as the only bilingual/bicultural person involved in the operation, I often find myself caught in between expectations, prejudices, etc. from both sides. I've long been trying to convince my Japanese colleagues that bento is a good way to introduce our products to US consumers, but I constantly run up against a wall of "But Americans won't eat soy sauce/rice/whatever, so why bother trying?" (this conclusion having been drawn in direct contrast to the evidence that although our products are somewhat specialized, they sell more and more every year, aside from the point that if you're not going to bother trying, why bother starting a business in another country?)
I counter that 5 years ago you would have been hard-pressed to find a jar of basil pesto in Japan outside of speciality import stores, but since so many Italian restaurants started putting "Genovese" on the menu, you can even find it in our markets here on Shikoku. Or in other words, people won't buy products they don't know how to use, but if we as food manufacturers and exporters take on the role of teachers and educate consumers about the use of our products, they will be more inclined to buy them. And this is of vital importance to manufacturers in Japan today, who are faced with ever-shrinking domestic markets. I think bento is a great tool to do this, and I hope to someday convince my bosses here in Japan of the importance of working with bloggers and authors like you to introduce traditional Japanese foods to a greater audience. In the meantime, I'm going to show them this video, and pick up a copy of your book.

(I'm leaving out the issue of cultural appropriation and preserving traditional food cultures. Personally I grew up eating a mishmash of food cultures, and maybe that biases me to think of it as normal, but I'm inclined to think that there's nothing wrong with introducing others to your food culture through authentic, quality ingredients and traditional recipes, as well as "fusion" recipes that blend elements of both cultures to make something new.)

Re: The Just Bento Cookbook on Japanese TV, and how the ...

You can tell your bosses that Americans, and Europeans too for that matter, LOVE Japanese food. Many people think it's healthy and delicious. And to stop thinking so narrowly! ^_^ アメリカの人もヨーロッパの人も日本食が大好きですよ。お醤油だってお米のご飯だって何でも食べます。

Re: The Just Bento Cookbook on Japanese TV, and how the ...

おもしろい!Did I hear that guy correctly when he said Bento came about during/after the Heian jidai? Bento-ing really has been around for a long time! Congrats on the TV-spot! :)

Re: The Just Bento Cookbook on Japanese TV, and how the ...

Congratulations Maki!

I have the book at home since last friday and it's really good! I like the timeline-thing and how you explain everythig so clearly with many alternatives to japanese ingredients or tools to use. I also like that the book is split into Japanese and Non-Japanese bentos.

I was like "Oh, really?" when I read the thing about eating tamagoyaki every day. So I found it very funny to see it discussed on TV!

Re: The Just Bento Cookbook on Japanese TV, and how the ...

Thanks for buying the book ^_^

Re: The Just Bento Cookbook on Japanese TV, and how the ...

I saw your book in Kinokuniya in Singapore prior to reading your blog and I really really wanted to buy it!

Re: The Just Bento Cookbook on Japanese TV, and how the ...

Wow I'm late to the conversation, but don't forget about us Canadians! We love bento too! :D (It's just a little annoying when people always say 'Americans and Europeans' (etc.) but not Canadians, because we're not Americans, or anything else for that matter...)

And I'm really glad that they seem to be happy about how popular bento is outside of Japan! I remember one of my Japanese homestays on a school trip a few years back was surprised to hear that I often made bento for lunch at school; though, I'm still not sure if it was a pleasant surprise to them, or more of an 'omg what?' thing. xD

Anyway, this just makes me want to buy your book even more...even though I won't really be having much use for it until I get my own place that isn't directly on my university campus, as it's just too convienient right now to come back to my dorm between classes to eat. Maybe I should start making bento again, just for the fun of it...>.>;

Re: The Just Bento Cookbook on Japanese TV, and how the ...

I am also very late to this. But Congrats on the tv spot! How exciting! I was quite excited to get your book 2 months early. :D

My kids are both in high school and because of the way the school is set up they are done with classes at lunch time. However club activities are held durning lunch so they stay a couple of days a week. I make them both bento boxes on the days they stay. They really love them! Only my daughter has recived any kind of comment about her bento and it was from a Japanese friend. I guess I make my rice balls to small... O.o I really can't make them any bigger than I do or they wont fit into the the bento boxes. I have even made bentos for my husband when he has gone to school for his job (he is in the navy so is home for lunch or eats on the ship).

Re: The Just Bento Cookbook on Japanese TV, and how the ...

hey maki the video has been removed due to copyrights by daily motion. I would loved to watch this bento cookbook. I love japanese food :)
Damien
Sms

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