in japan, packed lunches are more than a sandwich and a biscuit.
Mums gathered in Tokyo recent-ly for the annual character bento contest, with prizes for the most aesthetically pleasing lunch box.
Bento, a small meal comprising sticky balls of rice, fish and vegetables, is a staple of Japanese cuisine, eaten since the Middle Ages. Traditionally, it is presented in elaborate and creative arrangements, and many mothers compete to make their children the most artistically ambitious offerings.
The winner of this year's competition, "Rainy days are fun too!", named in honour of the imminent wet season, featured a ball of rice wrapped up as a frog wielding a red pepper umbrella. Other entries included pandas, rabbits, trains and Manga characters made from food.
The Manga characters were perhaps the most unsettling morsels, featuring grimacing faces constructed from rice, garnished with egg eyeballs, seaweed eyelashes and a nest of shredded vegetable hair.
"They are impressive but perhaps not that appetising," admitted one observer. "Some of us prefer not to make eye contact with our lunch."