Hikari's Food/Japanophile and Other Interesting Stuff blog

Building the American Bento (Part 3)

on August 23, 2012

Click here for Part 1.

Click here for Part 2.

The second half is very picture intensive, making for a VERY long post! Apologies!

So far, we’ve looked at all sorts of ways to contain your lunch. But how do we carry it around all day until time to eat? Lunch bags come in a variety of sizes, styles and shapes for most people’s needs. From brown paper to the insulated carrier, these bags are relatively easy to find, especially with Back-to-School fever sweeping the stores. Also consider the camping/sports section of a store to look for more options.

Assorted totes for $1


If you don’t wish to purchase a bag especially for lunch, consider one of those reusable shopping bags that most stores offer now. Any kind of tote will do.

Another option is to look to the Japanese at how they wrap their lunches. We can easily adapt their ideas to the American lunch.


The kinchaku from Daiso

Kinchaku: This is a drawstring bag, basically. Usually carried by Japanese women, it can be as small as a coin purse or as large as a decent sized handbag. Many are sold specifically for carrying bento.

Here, you can see one I bought at Daiso (Japanese worldwide “dollar” store chain. In America, mostly in California with 2 in Seattle), as well as one I made on  my own a year ago.

Yes, that's a bandana!

My hand sewn kinchaku from 2011

Furoshiki: A traditional wrapping cloth, furoshiki are basically a square piece of cloth used to wrap things, and they can wrap almost anything. Available in different materials, styles and sizes, these cloths are currently getting a popularity boost with the eco-friendly crowd. However, Japanese furoshiki can be quite expensive. You should know by now that I have an alternative, right? Of course!

Bandanas. Yes, bandanas. They can be found in department stores, dollar stores, Walmart and Target. You can usually get them for a dollar, if you’re careful. Most are made of easy to wash cotton and they come in a variety of colors and styles (you don’t have to stick with the traditional pattern).

You can also use a square scarf or handkerchief if you like, or even custom cut your own, as long as it’s square.

But, you say, how do I tie that cloth to hold my things? The Japanese government released a list of ways to tie furoshiki to encourage their use. (Click the link for an image of general tying tips) Sometimes Japanese instructions can be a bit hard to follow. I’ll give some basic instructions at the end.

Sanrio branded oshibori with case

Oshibori: When we eat, everyone should wash their hands. Bringing your own washing method is a good idea. You can bring wet wipes  or if you would like, you can use what the Japanese call Oshibori. This is basically a wet washcloth that is used to clean your hands before/after eating. Offered at restaurants, they’re usually warmed. For use in a lunch box, they’re the ideal alternative to wet wipes.

Baby washcloths as oshibori, with container ideas.

How can you pack your own? All you need is a thin washcloth and a container. I like the baby washcloths available at the dollar store in a pack of 4. Remember Magic Towels? Those are nice and thin, usually cheap, but you’ll have to un-magic them first. The whole point is we need them to take up a small amount of space. The container can be anything that won’t leak. Travel toothbrush or soap holders are a good example. Some of those small snack containers I’ve suggested in Part 2 will work too. In a pinch, use snack-size zip-bags. Also, the washcloth should be damp, not soaking. Just moist enough to remove dirt from your fingers. When you come home, just toss it in the washer.

How to Wrap Furoshiki:

Method 1: (Otsukai Tsutsumi) This is mostly for containers with secure lids or for items that are less likely to leak. (Place fabric face down)

Lay your bandana flat. Place your container in the middle with the corners diagonal to the wrap. Fold one corner neatly over the container. Fold the opposite corner over the container and tuck under.

Grasp the free ends and bring them together over the container, tie a double knot.

Extra: Bring up the excess folded corner and cover your knot. (not necessary)

Method 2: (Yotsu Musubi) This helps hold containers with less secure lids and items that may leak. I use this to wrap potentially leaky items that go into another bag in case of spills. (Place fabric face down)

Lay your bandana flat. Place your container in the middle with the corners diagonal to the wrap. Bring up two opposite corners of your wrap and tie a single knot (or double knot).

Repeat with the remaining corners.

Extra: Pull the free ends of the first (single) knot to the outside. Holding them together with the ends of the second knot, tie a single knot.

The bundled item can either be carried by the knot or you can place it in a bag.

The Bag: (modified Katakake Fukuro) More useful with a larger piece of cloth, it can hold your items plus silverware and a drink. An extra large cloth can even make a shoulder bag or beach bag.

Fold the bandana on the diagonal with the outside facing in. Tie a knot in each of the two folded corners, about 1/3 down from the edge to the middle.

Turn the wrap inside out, tucking in the knotted corners.
Take the free ends and carefully double knot just at the end.

Extra: You can also roll the free ends to give it more of a handle look.

Also feel free to YouTube videos showing how to tie furoshiki. There are MANY.

So now you have the hardware, what’s for lunch?

*Update* Looking for more American Bento ideas? Check out Part Four Here!


6 responses to “Building the American Bento (Part 3)

  1. I don’t even know how I ended up here, but I assumed this post was good. I do not recognise who you might be but certainly you are going to a famous blogger in case you are not already. Cheers!

  2. happyuan says:

    You are good at sewing. I like those designs and colors of the fabrics(^.^)

  3. […] not try using furoshiki? I know I gave a bit of a tutorial for wrapping items in my American Bento part 3, but I would like to consider other items that can be wrapped beautifully, like bottles. Many […]

  4. […] Next Time: Bags, cloth wrappers and napkins/washcloth. […]

  5. […] One furishiki (Bandana size) for wrapping your lunch. I don’t know what it will look like as I will be buying it after the […]

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