Say “I still love you, but I’m furious” with the adorable, contemptuous Japanese concept of the “Revenge Lunchbox” (Shikaeshi Bento).
“If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?” -William Shakespeare
For most of us, days at work (or school) are long and arduous, even if we truly enjoy what we do. The midday break — where we pause for lunch, socialization and/or time to ourselves — is one of the more universally understood human joys we allot on a daily basis. And on the other hand, there’s a basic concept that’s perhaps universal, as John Prine sings: Sweet Revenge.
The Japanese have elevated this to a high form of art, with the homemade Aisai Bento (愛妻弁当) — the lunchbox from a beloved wife — being perhaps the greatest way to say “I love you” while you’re away at work. (Kids get the homemade touch as well.)
Some of these are truly amazing, from the Mario-themed lunch (above) to ones with adorable hedgehog-like characters (below),
to even lunches that cater to someone’s favorite band,
or, if you’re incredibly lucky, the greatest bento I’ve ever seen: the King Tut lunchbox.
There are also a myriad of other fantastic, creative forms, made (with love) especially for the delight of the eater, and perhaps the envy of their coworkers/schoolmates.
But to every coin there are two sides. If you’re living in a culture where one of the ways someone expresses their affection to another is through the food that they prepare, you have to expect that they won’t always feel affectionate, particularly when they feel they’ve just been wronged the night before.
And when that happens, the Japanese have a special way of expressing that. Sure, sometimes there simply is no lunchbox prepared at all, and it’s straight to the vending machines for lunch.
But then — for the more creative — there’s the Shikaeshi Bento (仕返し弁当), or revenge lunchbox — which not only offers an unparalleled “surprise” for the one who opens it,
but also the tremendous potential for embarrassment as their peers and even superiors may be looking on.
The revenge can be as specific as you want, depending on what exactly they did to earn the enmity of the bento-maker.
Sometimes, the revenge can be as simple as providing a terrible, inedible meal, such as uncooked rice or a raw egg.
Sometimes, it can come in the form of monochrome, dissatisfying lunches, such as the “corn-with-corn” revenge bento, or the “rice-with-rice” and a broken heart,
or, sometimes, simplicity itself: the words spelling out exactly what you deserve.
But perhaps the most creative revenge of all compares the bento-eater to a cockroach, complete with the brand-name of a roach-killing spray written across the top!
So enjoy your lunch today and every day, but do your best to avoid the most artistic of revenge meals. Revenge bento all via Iromegane and Tokyogesu. As we say in America, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!”
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