Is There a Dark Side to Those Adorable Bento Boxes?

Panda-shaped rice balls. A nori-whiskered Hello Kitty. Creatures made from hard-boiled eggs. When prepared for schoolchildren, praiseworthy bento boxes combine healthy ingredients with adorable designs.

But does this culture of cuteness (the Japanese call it kawaii) have a dark side, one in which frantic moms attempt to out-charm each other for the sake of their reputations?

Said to have evolved centuries ago among the Japanese elite, bento has attained worldwide popularity in recent years, and its rise in popular culture has resulted in a type of fanaticism epitomized by international competitions, vegan bento box blogs, and a never-ending flurry of photos cultivated by proud moms (and dads) on ...

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