Tokyo Bento Shopping Guide
Date: 2010 May 2nd Sunday [14:59] | Posted By: Helephant
Bento, beautiful and healthy lunchboxes, is an otaku passion that keeps niggling at the edges of mainstream consciousness. The New York Times ran an article on it recently, some of the most amazing photos made the Flickr blog last week and there has been an explosion of books (US, UK) about the topic.
You don't need anything more than an imagination and a container to make a beautiful bento box, but if you want to spend some money there are enough cute accessories and boxes to fuel any otaku's lust.
I have been steadily growing my bento enthusiasm over the last six months. When I recently spent a couple of days in Tokyo as a stopover on the way to visit my relatives in Australia I went on a bento pilgrimage to fill my suitcase with cute, coloured plastics.
Loft is a chain of homeware stores that I have loved since my first trip to Shibuya because of their beautiful Japanese stationary. Turns out their bento boxes are just as cute as their stationary, with a sizeable range of boxes and accessories.
They have both character bento boxes and more grown up patterns. They only had small character boxes for the little children, with 300ml-400ml of capacity. For larger boxes there was the choice of more grown up patterns or solid colours. They didn't have any really cheap boxes, the prices ranged from about ¥1000 to ¥2500.
They also had a good range of bento equipment. I picked up some bento face stamps that I have lusted after since I started following the bento groups on Flickr. I also got some reasonably priced bento clothes and elastic bands.
I went to Loft in Shibuya, which is about a 3 minute walk from the Shibuya train station. The bento gear was all on the first floor, as soon as you walk into the building. If you go into the floor with the stationary, that's the basement and you'll need to go up to the next floor.
Tokyu hands describes itself as a "creative lifestyle store" and sells all sorts of things from bicycles to flooring for your house. They also have a wonderful range of bento boxes and bento equipment.
The bento boxes are fairly upmarket and range in price from ¥1200 to ¥2500. They had a massive selection, with about eight aisles just for the boxes. They stocked every type you could imagine from the cute character boxes to sensible single coloured manly ones in plastic, wood and metal.
They also had a good range of the standard accessories like cloths, onigiri shapers, stamps and cutters. The selection was great but there wasn't anything you couldn't buy in Loft. The prices were about the same as everywhere else.
I went on to the Tokyu hands store at Shibuya. It's a large building with a green and white sign about five minutes walk from Shibuya station. The bento gear was on the ground floor, just as you walk in. If you go in the basement entrance (where the bicycles are) you'll need to go up to the next floor.
Daiso is a Japanese hundred yen store. It is full of cheap and cheerful plastics for incredibly low prices. They don't have the best range of bento boxes and they aren't the highest quality ones, but they're excellent for picking up extra bits and pieces like small containers, sauce bottles and cutters. The boxes are about ¥300 to ¥500 and the accessories are around the ¥100 mark.
Daiso is where the Japan Centre in London gets a lot of their bento stock from, which they sell at two or three times the original price. You can also get a lot of it at Jlist online as well.
I got this big bag of bento gear for ¥700. Considering how expensive all the other bento things I saw in Japan were, I couldn't believe it!
I visited a Daiso is right near Harajuku station. You need to walk down Takeshita Avenue, which is one of the main streets in Harajuku. Daiso is just past McDonalds. It has a large shop front with a blue sign. The bento gear is in the basement.
If you can't make it to Japan, Daiso have also recently opened an English language online store aimed at people living in the US. They sell a lot of the same bento boxes and accessories that they sell in their Japanese stores but you have to buy in bulk. Perhaps you can buy everyone you know a bento box this Christmas? They only ship to the US so bento fans from other parts of the world are out of luck at the moment.
It seems bento is fashionable in Tokyo at the moment because I found that toy shops were a gold mine of cute bento boxes. Pretty much every toy range (Hello Kitty, Ghibili, Care bears, Power Rangers, Naruto) had their own lunchbox range. Most only had a few lunch boxes with characters on the lids, but the Hello Kitty range had a heap of cute accessories like onigiri shapers, lunchbox dividers and picks.
The best find for the whole trip was this lego block shaped bento box that I picked up in Toy Park in Ginza. I also got a lovely set of animal cutters that I hadn't seen anywhere else.
Kiddyland in Harajuku had a better range than Toy Park with bento boxes in pretty much every area of the shop. They had a really great range of Ghibili boxes and we got a nice Totoro box.
Going to Japan?
I've put together a Google map with the places that I visited, with the idea of updating it on future trips with new places that I find.
If you can't make it to Japan
I expected shopping for bento equipment in Japan to be much cheaper than buying it online at J-box but J-box's markup was only ever 10-15%. The range in Tokyo is better (of course) and you don't have to pay for shipping (unless you go over your luggage allowance) but it's not going to save you the cost of the plane ticket, unless you have a really bad bento habit.