The vast majority of our bento box manufacturers are located in Ishikawa Prefecture, north of Kyoto. You may know the city Kanazawa, which is nicknamed “Little Kyoto”. It is definitely worth a visit if you go to Japan.
Few days ago, I visited one of these manufacturers, and also had the chance to take pictures of the whole production line of bento boxes, (I had you all in mind, of course!) The mold used to make raw plastic boxes, the artisans who apply the color and patterns to the boxes, the machines they use, you can see everything related to the manufacturing process here. No hidden tricks, folks! (^-^)
Our boxes may be used by people all over the world (over 80 countries), but the manufacturing is all local—everything is located in the countryside in an area of two to three kilometers.
Except for the rice production and the timber trade, the great activity is the production on bento boxes and other products, such as bowls (for miso soup) and chopsticks. The production happens in a beautiful surrounding, as you can see.
Now, on to the production.
As for the plastic boxes, in order to make the boxes, a mold is necessary. The molds are made by some impressive machines which “sculpt” the metal into the desired shape. You can see the machines and the molds below.
The next step is the fabrication of the boxes and other elements, like covers and dividers, are done in the press. The press works by heating and then blowing small plastic beads into the mold, which then forms the box. All of this happens a few hundred meters from the company which made the mold. Here is the man who cares for the plastic box fabrication, which he has been doing for 15 years.
Behind him, the bento box lids come out of the press and are deposited by a robotic arm on the table. At this company, there are about five or six presses and about a dozen people.
The last step is where they make the box look pretty. The plastic parts are now given their color by passing them under a paint gun. (This paint is a food-grade paint.) Each piece is examined—you can’t find any dust or particles on the surface of the box. If there was this kind of imperfection, it would be fixed immediately, of course!
“There we go”, the craftsman paints this box white. Now it awaits it’s motif.
The motifs are something a bit more technical. For most boxes, a screen-printing technique is used. The colors are applied where necessary using perforated screens. The more complicated techniques are need for boxes that are round, like the heads of our Kokeshi Bento!
This artisan here works for several manufactures, specializing in screen-printing, as I am sure you can see from the amazingly creative Kokeshi Bento above. These are all designs he created while playing around, thus, you will not see them anywhere else.
During our visit, he was busy applying the small red circles on the cheeks of the Kokeshi Bento with a machine that turns the plastic bento part and gives a few well-placed brushstrokes.
One by one, part by part, he adds his contribution to the pieces. It’s work, but is is a work that we and our craftsmen love. What a pleasure to know that these boxes made here will find their way into into the lunch bags of so many people in so many countries around the world.
Wait, wait! It’s not over yet! The last stop for the boxes before their delivery to Bento&co is at Hakoya, one of our favorite manufacturers. It is here that the elements of bento boxes are assembled and packaged.
Many small highly skilled hands pack assemble and pack the boxes, and also check that the job done right. That’s everything. Now, it’s time for us to our job: to promote the pretty boxes and export them worldwide. The fact that we can do that is all owed to these craftspeople.