Hello Kitty Bento Box

The school lunch box has long been an item of interest in post-war America, just as school lunch itself is of recent interest in discussions of American food policy and nutrition. The National Museum of American History has a rather large collection of school lunch boxes, and there are many private collectors of such boxes. The museum has even had a small exhibition of some of these iconic boxes (see http://americanhistory.si.edu/lunchboxes) from the earliest, which featured working man’s lunch boxes and dinner pails (often made from repurposed food tins) to the inauguration of school lunch boxes specifically manufactured for children’s lunches from the 1940s on to the 1970s.
Updating the older collections of lunch boxes inevitably had to involve taking substantial changes in what and how we eat. Two factors that made Americans change what and how they eat, from 1950 to the present (in 2013) concern the increased travel abroad by Americans since the post-World War II period and, conversely, new resettlements of millions of people from the global world to America. These resettlements caused millions of Americans to be exposed to new foods and once-exotic cuisines, even to new containers for meals taken to school and work.
The two layer multiple compartmented soft plastic Japanese lunch box, a pink bento box in the popular “character” bento “Hello Kitty” design, was made to carry a child’s lunch (with rice, fish, meat, fruit, or vegetables nicely arranged inside) from home to school, a picnic, or sports event. This one was made for repeat usage, though ekiben (portable bento) made of cheap plastic or cardboard, can be purchased at train stations or airplane terminals and thrown away. Though this bento is Japanese, where bento making is competitive and taken very seriously, other bento using cultures include Taiwan and China, and India, where workers carry multiple compartment and tiered lunch boxes called tiffin.
Like the bento box, “Hello Kitty” (Haro Kitty) has become popular in the United States, but like the bento, “Kitty” (or Kitty White, a white bobtail cat) is of Japanese origin and has been an important figure in Japanese popular culture and popular in commerce since 1974 when she and many associated consumer products were first introduced. Pre-adolescents and adults alike buy and adore the “cute” school supplies, wearables, and theme-park/animated television show/video-game based goods identified with Kitty, her friends, and family members.
Object Name
bento box
date made
ca 2000
Physical Description
plastic (overall material)
overall: 7 in x 7 1/2 in x 3 1/2 in; 17.78 cm x 19.05 cm x 8.89 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Domestic Life
FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center

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