One sign that bentos are becoming trendy, if they aren’t already, may be that they are being made into iPhone apps. There is of course the database app from FileMaker, Bento  (which messes up searches for bento recipes!), which uses the divided bento box as a metaphor for organizing data. But there are a few apps that actually use the edible box of food we love as the main theme.
First up is A Bento Box: Virtual Sushi, from Escape Plan B .
This is actually not a bento app - it’s a sushi-arranging app. The object of the game is to push items of sushi around in a ‘bento box’ (the kind you encounter in restaurants) until you’re happy. Then, you can save it to a gallery and use as wallpaper. It’s sort of pointless, but pretty, and you can marvel at the drag-and-drop action for the few minutes that you will enjoy it. For further use, it definitely needs more sushi items, but I’m not sure I’d want to actually shell out more money for them. (It’s rather similar in concept to a game that’s been eh, hot lately, Barbeque .) A Bento Box: Virtual Sushi is priced at $0.99.
Obento! is a much simpler app. You get a random bento box every time you start up the game. When you tap on each item in the bento box, you get a descrption of it. And…that’s about it really. The bento box does not even rotate. You can make screen shots using the iPhone’s built-in screen shot taking facility. The items are limited, but they encourage you to make requests for new items.
One big plus: As you can see, the illustrations are just super-cute. Obento! is also $0.99.
Last but not least is Charaben  by Hands-Aid Corporation. This is the one most likely to be of interest to Just Bento readers, since it features real charaben from some talented Japanese charaben/kyaraben artists. There is a menu of categories, from which you can navigate to individual bento photos and descriptions.
The bentos themselves are beautiful and very cute, there’s no question of that. You can rotate to landscape mode to see the bentos in more detail. But I do have some problems with Charaben. First and most seriously, the translations are inadequate for a non-Japanese audience. Take a look at the following screen shots:
The leftside panel shows a nice photo of the lady who presumably supervised the selection of bentos in the app, Yuko Tokumitsu aka Muku, a well known charaben artist, teacher and blogger (her blog in Japanese ; I’ll review her book shortly on these pages). It describes her as a ‘Charisma Character Food Artist’. You’re probably thinking, “huh?” because Charisma (pronounced karisuma) something or other is wasei eigo （和製英語）- an English phrase that has been imported into Japanese and its meaning totally twisted around from the original. Basically it means she’s a well known ‘expert’ in her field. The rightside panel shows the description of the Santa Bento. I can imagine someone unfamiliar with Japanese ingredients being totally puzzled by this. What seaweed? Fishcakes? Sausage - what kind of sausage? You get the idea. This is a problem that is shared by direct translations of Japanese cookbooks too, but exacerbated here because of the limited space. Perhaps a glossary would help some. (There is a Japanese version of the Charaben app, but I can’t purchase it since it’s only available from the Japanese iTunes store.)
Some other quibbles with the app: While it acknowledges the contributors by their online nicknames, it doesn’t link to their websites. Also, on the About page there is a “book recommendation” for two bento books from a certain publisher. It seems like an ad for those books, which makes me wonder if the publisher was sponsoring this app - and if so, why are we being charged for it at all? As it is, the app is priced at $2.99, but there is a free Lite version that you can check out to see if you want to buy the full app. It does provide a lot of nice bento eye candy.
What would be in your ideal bento-themed app?