Boasting over 800 recipes, Japan’s ObentoPark helps ladies make bentos every morning

From Obento Park’s Facebook page

See the original story in Japanese.

Nowadays, when there are countless recipes shared on the web, for someone who enjoys cooking, kitchen tips are scattered all over the place, but what about when it comes to making bentos (Japanese style lunch boxes). A bento is something that get’s carried, so it’s important that it’s made in such a way that the arrangement of ingredients doesn’t get messed up and that everything fits nicely inside the box. Making a bento requires a special kind of ingenuity that regular home cooking doesn’t.

Ladies in their 40s and 50s who make bentos for their families and use Instagram

The Obento Park website

Obento Park is a website that specializes in bentos, bringing together bento recipes and pictures. Released on the 10th of July this year, there are now roughly 800 recipes posted to the website.

For many ladies in Japan, making bentos for their kids and husbands is something that is done every morning. Just like moms worry about what to make for dinner, what kind of bento to make is also a common concern. With Obento Park, visitors to the site can browse pictures of beautifully arranged bentos to gather inspiration and find out which ingredients are best suited for bento making.

In contrast with typical CGM (consumer generated media) websites where the quality of pictures always seems to be somewhat inconsistent, every single bento picture looks delicious on Obento Park. Of course all of these pictures are uploaded by users. It appears that new users are flowing in via Obento Park’s Instagram account.

When you hear “Instagram users” you probably imagine young people, but actually Obento Park is focusing on the 40 to 60 year old female crowd. This includes a lot of people who make bentos every weekday, so after posting their first bento on Obento Park, users check the site every day and post a picture of that day’s bento.

ObentoPark was founded by operating company Career Woman CEO, Yukie Kikuchi. She explained:

The age range of people posting to Obento Park is quite broad, but there are a lot of people who are making bentos for their husbands and their high school aged children. It seems like, while also using Ameba Blog (a blogging platform in Japan), Instagram, and other services, users want to share the bentos they’ve made with an even bigger audience.

Creating a world free of bento worries

Career Woman CEO Yukie Kikuchi

Kikuchi gathered some bento making experience during her time as an office worker, but struggled with ingredient arrangement, so while remembering the difficulties of making bentos that don’t apply to regular cooking, she began developing ObentoPark.

Kikuchi added:

I could cook just fine, but I wasn’t very good at making bentos. At work I’d open my bento while being careful that no one saw. Thinking back on those experiences, I did some research and listened to the opinions of some of my friends who are moms, and I realized everyone has these kinds of concerns when it comes to bentos.

For Kikuchi, ObentoPark is the second business she has started. As for her first business, the site still exists but, as it didn’t end up scaling largely, has ended operation. One thing she learned from that, Kikuchi said, was to be more honest and frank about what she wants and what she wants to use when creating a service.

Kikuchi continued:

All around me were investors, CEOs, and other well experienced people. When I first started my business I was very aware of my inexperience, so I foolishly assumed that the opinions I was hearing from other people must be correct. While I do think referring to people’s opinions is very important, I learned at that time that your own original vision and trusting your intuition is just as important.

Aiming at 10,000 uploaded recipes by March next year

Kikuchi’s bento, made after referring to a bento published on ObentoPark

It’s not uncommon for women (and sometimes men) to wake up at 5 or 6 in the morning to make bentos. This is because making bentos means making enough food to fill several people’s stomachs. For these early risers, it would be nice to save even 10 minutes of their time every morning. For that reason Kikuchi is committed to increasing the number of “pre-made” recipes.

These “pre-made” recipes consist of various side dishes which can be made ahead of time. The side dishes feature mostly just one ingredient, and can be made quickly and stocked in the fridge. Many of these side dishes will keep for several days, so just by keeping them in the fridge, you can arrange them as needed to easily add more variety to your bento.

Kikuchi elaborated:

I want to save ladies ten minutes every morning when they’re making bentos. In that extra ten minutes, maybe they will spend more time on their makeup, or read the newspaper a little more relaxed. Make your side dishes on the weekends and make the weekdays easier. We will be publishing more recipes for pre-made side dishes to support making bentos easier and faster.

Often when people have their bentos made for them every day, they start to take it for granted and forget to say thanks. The service Kikuchi has made might not only be a savior for bento maker’s block, it may help to make up for all of those missing thank you’s. Touting a vision of a world free of bento worries, ObentoPark’s first goal is to gather 10,000 recipes by March next year.

Translated by Connor Kirk
Edited by Masaru Ikeda