Simanaitis Says

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THE CUISINE OF Japan is renowned for its artistic presentation, even with the everyday dining from the lunchbox, the bento. What’s more, some Japanese moms have transformed their kids’ bento lunches into miniature works of art ranging from classical themes to pop characters to pure whimsy.


Bento Art, by Junko Terashima, Great Knowledge, 2006. ISBN 978-4-7678-0507-8. This book and her website, in Japanese.]

I bought Junko Terashima’s book partly for its photography and partly because of a translation game played by wife Dottie and me. A while back, we enjoyed a semester of Japanese 101; I followed up with 102 as well. This scant knowledge of Japanese combined with a couple of dictionaries (and, these days, Google Translate) enhances bento art education with entertaining 日本語/English puzzles.


シャラポワ. This and other bento art from Junko Terashima’s book.

There’s little doubt which international tennis star appears in this bento. The katakana characters シャラポワ translate directly into shi-ya ra po va.

This illustration began with tracing a photo of Maria Sharapova onto paper, then cutting out the larger shapes of the same color.


Color Sample Charts show the natural ingredients used. (This title is the only English in the book.)

The pattern pieces are then used to form the major elements. Whenever possible, natural ingredients are used, not food coloring. Sharapova’s face and figure are cut from a slice of ham. Her hair, mouth, racket and ball are fashioned from pickled daikon (Japanese radish). Cloud ear mushroom, sliced thin, provides the beige accents. Thinly sliced nori (dried seaweed) is used for the dark details.


Gatchaman, ガッチャマン.

Language skills, however meagre, can lead to cultural exchange. I could only guess at ガッチャマン, “ga chi-ya ma n,” and then researched the matter. It turns out Science Ninja Team Gatchaman was an immensely popular Japanese anime (cartoon) TV series, 1972 – 1974.

The main character of its latest incarnation, Gatchaman Crowds, is a 16-year-old high school girl. As the latest member of the G-Crew, she’s “powerful and energetic, has artistic spirit and is a bit strange but in a good way.” My kinda gal.


マトリョーシカ. A cross-cultural puzzle.

The four separate bento figures titled マトリョーシカ had me puzzled. From left to right, they’re Russian leaders Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin, Leonid Brezhnev and Vladimir Putin. Yet my Nihongo/English was challenged in making sense of ma to ri-yo shi ka.

But then I recalled that katakana is used with borrowed words of any foreign language, not just English. This foursome is an example of matryoshka, Russian nested dolls.


モーツァルト. An easy one to figure out.

Mo tsu-a ru ta is as he appears in a posthumous portrait (and modern confection packaging). The 1819 work was by Austrian artist Barbara Krafft, who worked under the supervision of Maria Anna Walburga (Mozart’s sister “Nannerl”).

Bento artist Terashima’s Mozart has a face of ham with details of cloud ear. The scarf is another Japanese mushroom, thinly sliced to imply the material’s sheerness.


Some Japanese kids get to appreciate art as well as healthy lunches.

頂きます, itadakimasu, let’s eat! ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2015

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