The Aesthetics of the Japanese Lunchbox

Paperback (Print)
Buy New
Buy New from
Buy Used
Buy Used from
(Save 41%)
Item is in good condition but packaging may have signs of shelf wear/aging or torn packaging.
Condition: Used – Good details
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $14.76
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 78%)
Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (10) from $14.76   
  • New (3) from $42.26   
  • Used (7) from $14.76   


The Makunouchi Bento, or traditional Japanese lunchbox, is a highly lacquered wooden box divided into quadrants, each of which contains different delicacies. It is also one of the most familiar images of Japan's domestic environment. When presented to the diner, the Japanese lunchbox seems straightforward enough; each of four food portions resides in its own compartment,apparently obeying a strict lunchbox geometry. So far, just food. But Kenji Ekuan reveals that a much deeper reading is possible, one that sees the lunchbox as nothing less than a key to an understanding of Japanese civilization, the spirit of form, and the aesthetic ideal in which the many are reduced to one.Ekuan reads the Japanese lunchbox as both object and metaphor. It is one of this book's many charms that he is able to see it as both simultaneously. He compares the visual pleasures of the Zen lunchbox to an aerial view of the Japanese archipelago; he invites us to savor its quadripartite structure as we savor the four seasons. In so doing, he unlocks the secrets of ancient Japanese rituals, celebrates the aesthetics of Japanese design, explores the contours of Japanese landscapes and technology, and delineates the forty-eight rules of the etiquette of Japanese form.With an agility more characteristic of poetry than of design criticism, he connects everything from food, television, motorcycles, package tours, and department stores to landscape,ecology, computers, and radios, all the while keeping his eye on his subject. In this book of magical transformations, nothing is what it first appears, but everything is deepened by "lunchbox theory." Consider the influence of the lunchbox on TV viewing, for example: chopsticks are used to stroll through a meal, just as remote control devices are used to browse TV channels. This book reveals a world of secret connections between its covers, in the spirit of the lunchbox itself.

Offers a key to understanding Japanese design and culture.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Ekuan argues his intriguing points with diaphanous prose." John D.

Thomas Village Voice

Shellie Williams
This beautifully designed and illustrated book will challenge the average liner-thinking reader, who may find the author's poetic and at times esoteric `global' approach overwhelming. But perseverance will be rewarded... In the box's exquisite arrangement of textures, flavors and colors, Ekuan discovers connections with the Japanese landscape: a narrow slice of mountains and plains squeezed on all sides by a lapping sea... the lunchbox's ordinariness is its greatest form of salvation for in its commonplace foods and utilitarian nature we may yet live richly and with beauty.
Ted Anthony
Cultural studies, once purely an academic tool, is drifting into the mainstream. By dissecting something intellectually, the theory goes, we can find meaning within. This is the theory of The Aesthetics of the Japanese Lunchbox, an unusual but ultimately highly rewarding study of said lunchbox as `both object and metaphor.'...The lunchbox is a device that induces creativity,'Ekuan writes. And that is the beauty of the best of Japanese design (things that are themselves, but are also gateways to other ideas entirely. This book is a tour of those ideas, through an unusual and innovative eye).
Philadelphia Tribune
Library Journal
Not surprisingly, this book is modeled on the Japanese lunchbox in both form and spirit: the reader opens the square cover and experiences a richness of content with an exquisite layout. Ekuan, Japan's foremost industrial designer and the author of seven previous books, has succeeded in explaining the essence and intersection of design and life by relating the lunchbox to all aspects of Japanese civilization. Ekuan is expert in supplying stimulating thoughts about the metaphorical meaning of the lunchbox. He compares the lunchbox to a unified-world mandala and the quadripartite structure of the lunchbox to the four seasons. A brief history is included. A delicious treat, although the print is a little too small for relaxed reading. Recommended for large art collections both in academic and research libraries.--Lucia S. Chen, NYPL
David R. Brown
The universe, human beings' place in it, and a way to understand it -- all in a lunchbox! Only the intricate culture of Japan could have produced an idea like this; and only its Zen master of design, Kenji Ekuan, could have explained it. -- David R. Brown
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780262550352
  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Publication date: 10/23/2000
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 1,034,425
  • Product dimensions: 9.80 (w) x 9.70 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Table of Contents

Dazzling Nothingness - A Pretext
Introduction: Joys of the Lunchbox 1
Pt. 1 Hidden Aspects of the Lunchbox - Japanese Etiquette of the Creation of Forms 11
1 Beauty Is Function 13
2 Flexible Functionality 23
3 Equipment That Draws Out Creativity 33
4 Saving Grace of the Prototype 39
5 Pine-Bamboo-Plum - Unification in Diversity 45
6 All-Inclusive Assimilation and Structuring 53
7 Developmentality of the Lunchbox 59
8 Untrammeled Adaptability - Hypothetical Culture 67
9 Model for a Civilization of Maturity 75
10 The Ultimate Spirit of Service - Heart of the Merchant 85
An Interlude 91
Pt. 2 Lunchbox-Style Interpretation of Japanese Industry - The Lunchbox Archipelago Today 95
11 Technology to Cope with Environment: Nature and Seasons of an Air-Conditioned Culture 97
12 Technology of Order: The Buddhist Home Altar and the Department Store 117
13 Technology for Quality Enhancement: Connoisseur's Guide to Soy Sauce and the Motorized Tea House 125
14 Technology of Structuring: Products and People in the Economy / A Theory of Japanese Organization 143
15 Technology of Aims: Goals and Receptivity in the Artificial Urban Environment 155
16 Lifestyle Technology: Shaping Human Character and the Ideal of the Single Blossom 161
Conclusion: Spirit of the Lunchbox - Globalization of Japan 177
Appendix A Brief History of the Lunchbox 187
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)