Maki Ogawa realized the power of a well-placed anime character after she sent her three-year-old son off to kindergarten for the first time. Like most toddlers, he would cling to his mother when it was time for her to drop him off. “I thought a cute bento box would help him,” says the Saitama-based Japanese cookbook author of the kawaii packages she started preparing for him.
At that point, Ogawa immersed herself in the world of kyaraben, or decorative bento boxes (sometimes shortened to deco-bens): creatively assembled meals arranged to look like popular cartoon characters—think Hello Kitty, Doraemon, and Pikachu. The kyaraben helped her toddler break the ice at school: ' classmates started looking forward to seeing , and he made more friends,” says Ogawa. The mom-son duo even developed an after-school ritual of browsing through illustrated books and magazines together to inspire the next day’s creatio
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