Shokado Bento, Simple, Elegant & InspiringKatachiware Japanese Style Tableware
Shokado bento box (松花堂弁当) pronounced “shookadoo” bento is a simple yet beautifully lacquered thirty-centimeter square box divided into four equal compartments like the Chinese character for FIELD 田, with partitions that include extended edges and a lid to keep its contents warm.
Shokado Bento named after Shojo Shokado (1582-October 14, 1639) a respected Japanese Buddhist priest who was also a painter, calligrapher, tea master and poet lived during the early part of the Edo period (1603-1868). Shokado’s real name “Nakanuma Shikibu” was associated with the Iwashimizu Hachimangu Shrine (Yawata City, Kyoto Prefecture).
Being such an avid calligrapher Shojo wanted to create an elaborate storage container for his calligraphy and tobacco tools. He found inspiration from farmers close to his shrine who stored seeds in small partitioned “seedlip” containers for sowing. The elaborate partitioned box was created and served its purpose for many years. Eventually, he used the box as a vessel for kaiseki, a meal served at the tea ceremony, and finally used to carry his lunches in. As Shojo retired, he built a soan chashitsu (Japanese team house) called Shokado (Pine Flower Hall) in the grounds of the nearby Izuminobo temple. He turned it into a famed literary salon and venue for tea ceremonies.
From its inception into the Shokado bento box that we know today it took several hundred years to become famous. Early in the Showa period, 1930’s ‘Kicho’ 吉兆, a popular restaurant in Osaka Japan founded by Yuki Teiichi (湯木貞), a tea connoisseur of his time. During his travels, Yuki Teiichi visited the Shokado Tea House in Kyoto Prefecture and on his way out he caught a glimpse of a replica of Shokado’s calligraphy box. The simplicity and elegance were so inspiring that he created a similar box painted in black with a lacquered finish, partitioned into four squares that he used to serve “Shokado” bento meals. The box with four divided compartments gave the meals an attractive appearance while preventing flavours and aroma from the other dishes to mix, making for a delicious meal still sold today.
Ingredients used in the Shokado bento varied according to the occasion and season, but you can rest assured that the foods served were beautiful to look at and delicious to taste. Shokado bento included sashimi, sliced raw fish, grilled and boiled foods, rice, and other visually sumptuous foods arranged into compartments that would make the meal visually appealing and irresistible to taste.
Fast forward 70 years and you can now find Shokado bento boxes used for serving foods in high-quality traditional restaurants around Japan. You can also purchase them in an ABS black only or black and red with melamine coating. Also available in natural wood or bamboo in, square, rectangular in several sizes. Most come with fixed or removable dividers that are great for showing off your cooking skills.