Every day around noon, thousands of students, office workers, and moms and dads throughout Japan open up their bento boxes to dig into a much-appreciated, often homemade lunch. The quiet excitement shared during lunchtime doesn’t just come from waiting all morning with grumbling stomachs — for many people, the act of lifting the lid of a bento box to discover its contents is one of the simple pleasures in life.

Not everyone has the time to pack a homemade lunch in the morning, however, which is why grocery stores, convenience stores, and even food carts offer a wide variety of bento boxes for the busy and hungry. But then comes the problem of choosing one, and many people roam around a number of stores before going back to buy their top pick. Luckily for anyone having lunch in the Shinjuku, Tokyo area, there’s only the need to make a stop at the Isetan Department Store to savor a delicious meal packed with regional delicacies from all over Japan.

Although the Isetan Department Store in Shinjuku may look like any other Japanese department store, their bento area located on the first basement floor offers hundreds of bento boxes catered to their multitudes of customers. Showcased side-by-side is a colorful selection of bento made with fresh, top-quality ingredients delivered from farmers and fish markets in the morning. Not only that, each bento box has a unique layout that makes lunchtime a feast for the eyes as well as the taste buds. YouTuber Kelly of Strawberry Mochi made a visit to Isetan to try out some of the bento for herself, where she also discovered a spacious outdoor eating area at the rooftop garden:

Walking through Isetan’s bento area is like walking through a culinary treasure chest, and there’s certainly enough gold for everyone. Locals can treat themselves to a nutritious meal packed with flavor, while foreign visitors can also enjoy the opportunity to try out a little bit of everything. Vegan and vegetarian customers will have no problem finding a bento that caters to their food restrictions either, for which, unfortunately, the same can't be said for many restaurants and food places in Japan. Of course, those with other types of limitations will have as much fun prowling for a bento box as any other hungry visitor.

As for the history, bento culture is said to date back to around the 5th century when farmers, fishermen, and those whose work required them to be outdoors, began packing dried rice in portable vessels. It’s safe to assume that the idea for these home-packed meals was born out of sheer desire for convenience, and it’s unlikely that workers back then had the luxury of meticulously putting together a highly nutritious and balanced meal. But while such pre-prepared lunches may initially have been a practical solution to an everyday inconvenience, bento boxes have since evolved into an indispensable aspect of Japanese food culture.

Head over to Isetan’s website to find out more about their marvelous selection of bento boxes. If you decide to stop by the department store for an entire afternoon, make sure to indulge yourself with a refreshing picnic on the rooftop garden, where you’ll be greeted with seasonal flora and lots of sunshine. If you're up for a mini excursion, you can also go to the nearby Shinjuku Gyoen Nation Garden with bento in hand.

By - grape Japan editorial staff.

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