The best Japanese bento books if you don't read Japanese
There are lots of bento-related books published every year in Japan. While most of them have plenty of colorful pictures, some are too wordy to be really useful for people who don't read Japanese. Here is a list of books that I have in my collection that I think would be very useful even if you don't read the text. Most of these books reflect my preference for books about healthy, vegetable-centric bento, mainly aimed at adults.
I'll be updating this page from time to time, so please check back occasionally. You can also see other, less annotated book recommendations in the Amazon Japan aStore.
Incidentally, if you do get one of these books and have a question about something specific, like "What the heck is that thing in the bento on page 94 of XYZ?", ask away in the comments. I won't have time to do full translations (or the rights to post them here) but I'll try my best to help out.
You may also be interested in the Ordering Japanese books and media online post on Just Hungry.
1. Everyday inspiration
Watashitachi no Obento (Our Obento) is published by a great lifestyle magazine called ku:nel (I think the name is derived from kuu (eat) neru (sleep)). It shows the everyday bento lunches of regular Japanese people, mostly in their 20s and 30s, mostly who work outside the home. I love this book because it shows how real people make and use bento. There is not a single octopus wiener in sight...not that I am dead set against pink meat cephalopods, but they are extra frills for special occasions or to coax a young child to eat, not really for busy adult people to be making in the morning for their own lunches. The 'regular people' bentos in this book are still attractive and colorful, and look delicious. This is one book I look at regularly when I want a boost of inspiration for my own bentos.
2. Large, colorful photos in an oversized mook
Mooks are magazine-format books; they are bound like magazines, so are not as durable as book-bound books, but are still usually printed on high quality paper with topnotch pictures. The Kihon no... (Basic...) series from Orange Page, another magazine publisher, are really terrific large-format mooks that show the basics of various types of cuisine and cooking. Kihon no Obento (Basic Obento) is the bento entry in the series. The photos of bentos are life-size in many cases, and the recipes have step-by-step illustrations, so you can get a lot out of it even if you don't read the text. If you want to see how everyday, basic bento ingredients are prepared, this mook is one to get. Available from Amazon Japan. It's not carried by JList or YesAsia unfortunately.
3. A colorful intro to macrobiotic bento
I tend to be a bit skeptical about macrobiotics, but there's no denying that macrobiotic cookbooks in Japan have some great vegan and vegetarian recipes.
Makurobiochikku no Obento (Macrobiotic Obento) is another mook from Orange Page. It has big, beautiful photos of bentos close up, step by step instructions for many items, and more. If you're interested in vegan/vegetarian bentos this is a very good one to get. Some of the ingredients may be puzzling, so come here and ask what it is! Available from Amazon Japan.
4. Beautiful girly bento, for crafty people too
Onnanoko no Daisuki na Obento (Obento that Girls Love) is a beautiful book. Aimed mainly at mothers with daughters who are in school (I think probably girls of mid-elementary school age and higher), the style is quite different from many other bento books aimed at the moms-with-kids market. The bento contents are simple yet beautifully arranged and easy to prepare, and quite inspirational.
A bonus is that this book also has some crafty ideas for cute or elegant bento wrapper cloths and bags and so on, to make lunchtime that much nicer. This one is available from YesAsia as well as Amazon Japan.
5. Inspiration from the pros: Ekiben, train station bento
Ekiben__ are bento boxes sold at train stations (there's also an equivalent that's sold at airports, _kuuben). The best ekiben are the pinnacle of portable bento, culinarically and artistically. Regional ekiben makers take great pride in their seasonal bento featuring local products. Shun no Ekiben Meikan 800 (800 Seasonal Station Bentos) is one of many books that lovingly catalog the variety of ekiben sold around Japan. The pictures are inspirational, and will whet yor appetite for travelling to Japan and doing an ekiben trip for sure. If you read Japanese the book also has detail travel information so you can really use it to plan a trip. (I intend to do an ekiben trip as soon as I can afford it myself.) This book is available at Jlist/JBox, YesAsia and Amazon Japan.
Manga fans may want to check out a whole manga series dedicated to ekiben love. Ekiben Hitoritabi (Ekiben Lone Travel) is about the owner of a bento shop (!) who receives a 10th wedding anniversary gift from his wife - a rail pass and 'orders' to fulfill his lifelong dream of exploring the ekiben of Japan. The detailed drawings of both ekiben and trains make this series nirvana for any bento or train nut. There are four so far in the series, which are listed on this Amazon astore page. YesAsia also carries volumes 1, 2 and 3.
(Disclaimer: JustBento is affiliated with Amazon Japan, Jlist/JBox and YesAsia, and links are affiliate links that help to support the site.)
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