Bento and Kabuki, Feast and Sight

Bento has been part of Japan along with matcha, samurai, kimono, and many other things. There is no better experience than to enjoy bento than in Kabukiza Theat

Bento has been part of Japan along with matcha, samurai, kimono, and many other things. There is no better experience than to enjoy bento than in Kabukiza Theatre.

THE KABUKIZA THEATER located in Ginza, right in the heart of downtown Tokyo. From the outside, Kabukiza teater looks stands out among the highscrapper in Ginza. Aside from having grandiose architecture, Kabukiza theater is about color, fireworks, and magic.

I have been back and forth to Japan as a journalist for Tokyo International Film Festival and whether coincidental or not, the Kabukiza Night (a special program held during the festival) started the first year I covered the event. Kabuki is one of favorite leisure activity in Japan and most of the audience is Japanese. However, there is a special ticket for the non-Japanese that allows you to see only one act.

Everything is conducted in Japanese but the theater will rent you an earphone for the English translation of the script but still leaves plenty of room for you to listen to the voices from the stage. The important element in Kabuki is the time; normally Kabuki plays last for about three hours in total with one or two breaks. Thus, before or in-between the play, eating inside the theater is allowed and bringing bento inside the theater is a norm. The performance often accompanied with a special bento called makunouchi bento. This set of ticket and bento will cost you around 10,000 yen. It was quite expensive, but worth every penny.

Bento itself in Japanese culture hold a very dear place. For the Japanese, they represent not only convenient food that can be eaten on the go, but also traditions that have been celebrated and renewed over the years. It has even become a competition among mothers in Japan.


The origin of bento dates back to the Heian era and the tradition of eating bento during kabuki play stemmed from hundreds years ago. Though the real history is unknown, it is said that this style of bento was remarkably popular during Meiji period (1862-1912), at the same time when Kabukiza theatre founded. The name of Makunouchi Bento came from Maku represents curtain stage of theatres, “Uchi” means inside, and Makunouchi implies the word “between acts”.

The first year I covered the event in 2014, the festival comittee redesign the original menu of the makunouchi bento. The box consisted of baked white fish miso taste, beef steak, mix baked tofu burdock laver, baked cuttlefish green laver, fish paste with the col-or of kabuki curtain color and thickness of baked eggs, jellied fish, meat broth, boiled vegetable, and of course rice ball. The taste was a little bit bland for my palate but the presentation was exquisite.

The second year I covered the event, the Kabukiza theater played a play from the be-loved Akira Kurosawa, “They Who Step on The Tigers’ Tail.” Auteur John Woo also came for the event. For the bento box, the festival comittee introduced a few material form outside of Tokyo with symbolical meaning behind the selection: sushi rolled in seaweed to reflect the shape of Kanjicho or in English known as The Subscribtion List (a kabuki play that inspired Akira Kurosawa on They Who Step on The Tigers’ Tail), sweet potato and turnip from Ishikawa prefecture where the Ataka Barrier is located, and mama-fu (wheat gluten) of Kanazawa.

For my third year, “sakura,” cherry blossom has been prepared in the special bento box meal selected as “sakura’” is in the lyrics of the night performance of “Sagi Musume (Heron Maiden)” for the special night at Kabukiza theater and “sakura” is mentioned in the farewell poem by Asano Takumi no Kami in “Chusingura.” For those who is a stranger to Japanese cinema, Chusingura is a title given to fictionalized accounts in Jap-anese literature, theatre, and film that relate the historical incident involving the Forty-seven Ronin.

Compared to the previous year, this year bento looked more formal. Year after year, makunouchi bento become the lure for me to always return to Kabukiza theater. Bento and kabuki has become elements of an experience that cannot be separated. It is not only a tradition that celebrated on one nation’s pride, but also its dignity.



Ginza 4-12-15, Chuo-ku
Tokyo, Japan
T: +81 03-3545-6800

Written by Tatu Hutami January 25, 2017.