Bento food tourism lures visitors to Japan

TOKYO — Bento, a Japanese compact meal packed in a box, is gaining global popularity. Bento-making classes are attracting tourists visiting Japan from abroad, who are even attending them as the main purpose of their visit. They are attracted by bento’s rich and appealing ingredients which are not readily accessible in their home countries.

In January, Max, a 19-year-old Dutch student studying in Japan, participated in a class to make “character bento” or “charaben,” a type of elaborately arranged bento which features food decorated to look like people, characters from popular media, animals and plants. Using rice dyed yellow with a colorant made from gardenia seeds, he carefully made a bento featuring the jolly face of Pikachu, a yellow, mouse-like cartoon creature from the Pokemon media franchise.

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