Photographs by Ishii Hiroaki.
Bite-sized morsels arranged into art
Ohanami bentō offer a sampling of colorful springtime foods to savor while enjoying cherry blossoms in bloom. The seasonal practice of ohanami (flower viewing) is all the more enjoyable with good food and good company.
Below, we introduce 4 well-reputed bentō-makers and their offerings of natural ingredients prepared in a Japanese style. Not only are their meals wholesome and full of flavor, but they are also packaged in beautiful design-like presentations. Let’s explore the Japanese bentō aesthetic, which combines great flavor and great looks, with selections from the 2015 sakura season. Feast your eyes on these colorful works of art!
Please note that the contents of each bentō box change from year to year and the pictured bentō may differ from what is currently available.
The first layer in Wakuden’s Ouka bentō.
Year round, Wakuden offers popular bentō boxes such as the Murasakino (3,000 yen) and Toubako (4,500), and from 2014, they began offering more modern ohanami bentō with champagne. While their cooking is based on a long history of Tango province culinary, Wakuden continues to lead with innovative and modern bentō. Their bentō offer a wonderful blend of Japanese and Western-style delicacies including cured ham and stewed pork to fresh spring sprouts, vegetables, an assortment of raw fish, and steamed eel wrapped in cherry leaves.
The second and third layer of the above-mentioned Ouka bentō produced by Wakuden.
All of these dishes are served in 3 layers of clear plastic with a colorful and aesthetically-pleasing but no fuss presentation. The first layer comprises of many vegetables and morsels of melt-in-your-mouth morsels of pork. In the second layer, strips of juicy white fish are covered in bright yellow dried mullet roe to offer a unique texture. The third tier includes beautiful pink salmon and soy sauce-flavored sea bream with wholesome rice to compliment the white and pink flowers.
Murasaki no Wakuden, Daitokuji Branch
Address: 28 Murasakino Unrininchō, Kita-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto 603-8214
Opening hours: 10:00 – 17:00
Price: Ouka bentō / 8,000 yen
Note: If you place an order, please reserve 2 days before the desired pick-up day. You can also pick up one of these bentō boxes at the Wakuden shop in JR Kyoto Station’s Isetan Department store. Reservations are required on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays between March 20 and April 5.
A bentō composed of many rich creams, browns, and vibrant greens by Kinobu.
The moment the lid comes off one of Kinobu’s bentō boxes, the careful arrangement of contrasting colors and elegant presentation make this establishment stand out. The tasty yet simple flavors stir up nostalgic feelings and memories for many Japanese people. Kinobu’s third-generation head has gained a reputation for breathing life into traditional Kyoto cuisine with his novel ideas.
This ohanami bentō by Kinobu features soft boiled eel drizzled with a savory sweet sauce and sprinkled with Japanese mountain pepper along with slices of rich roasted duck and high-quality cuts of delicate cream-colored bamboo shoots.
Address: 416 Iwatoyama-cho, Shinmachi-dori Bukkoji-sagaru, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto
Opening hours: 11:30 – 13:30 (last entry), 17:00 – 19:30 (last entry)
Price: Sakura no gozen bentō / 6,000 yen
Note: Please reserve your order 2 days in advance.
Colorful waves of shrimp-topped chirashi zushi created by Sushi Aoki.
For those that want to indulge in an extravagant ohanami feast, then Sushi Aoki provides the perfect bentō for you! The top layer features a colorful serving of chirashi zushi (scattered sushi) with lotus root, strips of dried gourd, shiitake mushrooms, squid, and shrimp. Sweet minced meat perfectly compliments the slightly vinegared rice. For our article in Waraku Magazine though, Sushi Aoki especially prepared this eye-catching array of shrimp, which mimic a wave-like pattern often found in Japanese art.
An assortment of ball-shaped sushi called temari zushi made by Sushi Aoki.
Under this layer lies a set of delicately hand-shaped balls of vinegared rice topped with seasonal fresh fish. Edomae sushi, a type of nigirizushi unique to the Tokyo area, is a common feature in most ohanami bentō. The bold and colorful presentation boasts of the Edokko spirit only found in Tokyo! These small bite-sized sushi were crafted in the image of Japanese mon (family crests) found in kimono and industrial crafts. Their design resembles that of flowers and are a great match for cherry blossom season!
Address: Ginza Takahashi Bldg. 2F 6−7−4 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0061
Opening hours: 12:00 – 14:00, 17:00 – 22:00
Price: Hanami chirashi and ball-shaped sushi set / 17,000 yen
Note: Please place an order at least 3 days in advance.
Over 20 dishes are arranged into this bentō by Kikunoi.
Located near Maruyama Park in the Gion-Maruyama district, Kikunoi was established in 1912 and since then, has been awarded three Michelin stars. Kikunoi is known for their gorgeous and meaningful preparation of Japanese cuisine. They apply the same spirit and dedication to their original bentō boxes.
Over 20 different dishes are arranged in Kikunoi’s ohanami bentō. Early spring delicacies like sprouts, shoots, and edible flower buds accompany savory quiche, grilled eel, and roasted duck. Enjoy sampling the various flavors and high-quality ingredients.
Address: 459 Shimokawara-cho, Yasakatoriimae-sagaru, Shimokawara-dori, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto 605-0825
Opening hours: 12:00 – 13:00 (last order), 17:00 – 20:00 (last order)
Price: Hanami bentō / 5,000 yen
Note: Bentō can also be ordered and purchased at the Kikunoi corner in Kyoto’s Takashimaya Department. Orders must be put in 4 days prior to the pick-up date.
Translated and adapted by Jennifer Myers.