Not your everyday brown bag lunch

The brown bag lunch is a staple in the elementary school lunchtime, Anne Allison notices the Japanese equivalent of the brown bag lunch called obentó shows it cultural relevance and its place in the structure of Japanese values. Obentó shares a common connection to the brown bag lunch  of our American culture.

Obentó as Allison describes it is a “a small box packaged with a five or six course miniature meal whose pieces and parts are artistically arranged, perfectly cut, and neatly arranged.” The presentation of these meals is highly stressed among the japanese mothers who prepare them. Whole magazines are dedicated to the very subject of preparation, every detail is important because the structure of the Japanese culture goes beyond the functional lunch and has implied judgement on the quality of parenting. In other words their is a stigma that parents who don’t do a good job preparing their child’s obentó is in fact a bad parent altogether. This is where I saw similarity to brown bag lunches.

Brown bag lunch meant that I could avoid  the dreaded cafeteria food and participate in the daily trades that happen at your average elementary lunch. Lunches created unspoken discrepancies between the students in my class. Reflecting on my time in an elementary school lunch rooms, kids who bought from the cafeteria everyday missed out and usually seemed kind of ashamed, perhaps both parents worked or economic situations kept them from participating in our rituals. Another similarity is the compassion that a well made lunch represents, one might remember hand written “have a good day honey – Mom” this message is communicated not explicitly but implicitly in the quality of preparation used in creating an obentó lunch. Just like the notes are used to cheer up American child obentó’s remind Japanese children of their mother’s care for them.

Where obentó departs from brown bag lunches are in the gendered roles that obentó creates. Japanese culture that the art of preparing obentó must be assumed my the mother. Further the involvent of the State and government in the structure of the school system and schedule has much different implications in Japan. Unlike America where lunch options are varied and the state provides lunch, Japanese school press the issue of motherhood as an agenda by structuring lunchtime with the context of a obentó that was daringly prepared my a mother