Art & Culture
Oct 1, 2015
We’ve been told not to play with our food, but bento artist Keisuke Umeda breaks these rules by creating beautiful, yet whimsical works of art that are just as edible. And while bento sets may be a common Japanese staple, this video game designer by day transforms each bite into a unique masterpiece.
At first, I started making lunch boxes to improve my cooking skill. I make them at home before leaving for the office, and they usually take about 30 minutes to an hour per set. My colleagues were impressed with the unique bento sets I created, and motivated me to continue. I wasn’t content with merely making simple bento sets, so I kept on creating more of such artworks and this developed into the style you see today.
Instead of having rice in a bento box with ingredients piled on top, I wanted to transform this common lunch item into visually stark works of art. I use everyday ingredients in an unexpected way that you wouldn’t guess at first glance. My designs have a sense of humor too. Once, I tried fitting an entire crab into a bento box because I liked how dramatic it was. However, I realised that the crab was too thick and I couldn’t fit a lid on it. In order to make sure there was enough space, I ended up eating the crab on the spot to hollow out its base so that it would fit perfectly.
I take a leaf from various artworks when creating my bento sets. To recreate Michaelangelo’s Medici, I made a paper cutout of the statue’s head and placed it on top of rice. Then, I sprinkled black sesame seeds all over and removed the cutout to reveal a silhouette. I completed the work by defining its facial features.
Sometimes, these designs are guided by the nature of ingredients used. I remember cutting carrot slices into plum blossoms. As I assembled the ingredients, I realised how the rectangular shape of the bento box and flowers looked like hanafuda (a traditional Japanese card game). So I just went ahead with that concept and came up with an ensemble of flora.
Most importantly, my designs have to be edible. Many of my bento sets make use of just one ingredient, so I understand if people think it’s unhealthy to exclusively eat one food group per meal. However, I believe that it’s fine so long as you eat a different food group for each day of the week. I suppose I’m just a little unorthodox that way!
(Photo Keisuke Umeda, yosuke harada (portrait) Text Matthew Fam)
Find out more about Keisuke Umeda and his work by visiting www.keisuke-umeda.com (in Japanese and English).