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 ^_^!

Last modified: 
11 Jun 2019 - 06:20

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