Edo period Shokado Bento Boxes, Simple, Elegant & InspiringKatachiware Japanese Style Tableware
Shokado bento boxes (松花堂弁当) are simple yet elegant lacquered bento boxes used for serving food. Divided into four uniform sections like the Chinese character “field” 田, the bento box includes extended edges with a lid to keep its contents safe from spilling.
Shokado bento evolved from Kaiseki Ryori cuisine
The Edo period was the golden era of Japanese cuisine and bento boxes were popular in Kyoto’s tea house culture. Guests were served light meals during tea ceremonies, which were an expression of a host’s thoughtfulness and hospitality toward their guests.
The concept evolved from Kaiseki Ryori cuisine (tea-ceremony dishes), which is a style of Japanese gourmet cooking that consists of multiple courses, including a selection of carefully prepared and beautifully presented seasonal dishes.
Meals consisted of an appetiser, rice (which is considered the basis of the meal), pickled or simmered vegetables, sushi, grilled meats, fish, and soup made from fermented soybeans was also provided to wash down the meal.
The tea ceremonies (Sadō/Chadō 茶道), “The Way of Tea”) are a component of Japan’s traditional culture that was initiated throughout the country during the Kamakura period (1185–1333), along with Zen Buddhism’s teachings, the cutting-edge culture of the time.
Later, bento soon became synonymous with high-class Japanese culture and grew into an elegant dining style adopted by aristocrats of Kyoto’s Imperial Court, who had their meals served in exquisite lacquerware bento boxes.
Shokado bento origins, Shōjō Shōkadō, Buddhist monk
Shokado Bento is named after Shōjō Shōkadō, a highly regarded Japanese Buddhist monk during the early Edo period (1584-1639). Versed in Shingon Esoteric Buddhism he was also a prominent person of culture, accomplished in the arts, including painting, calligraphy, poetry and a master of the tea ceremony. Known as one of the Kanei Sanpitsu “three brushes” of the Kan-ei era, he was associated with the Iwashimizu Hachimangu Shrine in Yawata City, Japan.
As a dedicated calligrapher, Shōjō came up with a storage box for his calligraphy and tobacco tools. The box was influenced by land farmers near his shrine who kept sowing seeds in small partitioned containers. The box featured four compartments with cross-shaped separation strips and a lid to safeguard its contents. He painted it by hand in the traditional crimson red and black and finished it using the Shunkei-Nuri technique.
Shojo was a devotee of the tea ceremony. He loved to use his partitioned boxes during tea rituals. Around the Meiji and Taisho eras, hundreds of years after Shojo’s death. The Shokado hamlet and Shoin building of Izumi-bo Temple was rebuilt, evoking a public feeling of respect for this person of refined taste. At the time, members of the cultural community created the group “Shokado-kai” and built the Taisho-ji Temple to house Shojo’s grave.
Although none of Shojo’s original boxes survives, a few later reproductions do. The bottoms of the boxes are embellished with paintings of daffodils (winter), a swallow (spring), a kingfisher (summer), and chrysanthemums (winter) (autumn).
Shokado bento boxes, Lacquered Shunkei-Nuri
The traditional shunkei-nuri (春慶塗) technique was employed to colour and polish the original Shokado bento boxes. Using red and black colours in the manner in which they were most used until the nineteenth century. Shunkei-nuri involves putting translucent lacquer to the wood to preserve it while allowing the natural grain to show through.
Shokado would have begun by colouring the base black, letting it dry, and then painting it with coats of red. He would have then polished away the upper coats, revealing the black undercoat in spots. Creating the appearance of a worn, utilitarian object. The final coat consisted of a transparent Shunkei-nuri that dries to a clear film.
Each coat is allowed to dry completely and polished completely before adding the next. This method can be time-consuming and labour intensive. contributing to the high cost of traditionally manufactured bento boxes.
The name is derived from the inventor who lived in Sakai during Emperor Go-reign. Kameyama’s (1368-1392). This approach gained popularity in Takayama, Hida province, in the 17th century. This process was used to create a large number of pieces for use in dinnerware. Shunkei-nuri is an excellent material for such things. Since it produces lightweight, waterproof, and, of course, attractive tableware.
Restaurateur Yuki Teiichi Discovers Shokado
In the early Showa period (1926–1989), Shokado-bento became more graceful and popular in refined restaurants or as part of a ryokan stay (Japanese style inns) and onsen spa establishments.
During his visit, he noticed a replica of Shokado’s calligraphy box that was used to serve meals during the tea ceremony. Yuki was so taken with Shokado Shojo’s black lacquered box that he created a modified version for his restaurant.
Divided into four squares with taller edges, the Shokado bento lunch box was introduced to his restaurant’s menu and was a hit. It is convenient to serve at big parties, and it is also popular as a variant at tea ceremony lunches.
The meals’ ingredients varied according to the occasion and season. Organised into compartments to make the meal appealing and irresistible to taste. Shokado bento might have included sashimi, raw fish slices, grilled and boiled foods, rice, and other sumptuous foods.
Shokado bento during the Heisei era
Today, Shokado bento boxes are regarded as an elegant and formal style of bento. Served at high-end restaurants throughout Kyoto, the bento box enhances the culinary experience. With the ornate black lacquered box, the servings are lavish assortments in small portions so that you can enjoy an extravagant meal in one sitting.
Shokado bento cooking style incorporates a complex array of foods with careful preparation. Like the Kaiseki cuisine, in which dishes are served in courses, Shokado is many dishes served in one course. This can include raw fish in the form of sashimi, chawanmushi, grilled or boiled food, rice and steamed savoury egg custard. It may also include tofu served with ankake, a Japanese favourite sauce. Thickened with potato starch, served with many traditional Japanese side dishes.
Meals served in the Shokado bento boxes are available all over Japan. You can still enjoy Yuki Teiichi’s original Shokado dining experience from Kitcho’s restaurants, with more than 15 branches across Japan. Shokado Bento will cost you 12,000 yen, a Kaiseki lunch 20,000 yen and dinner 40,000 yen.
Dubbed “Shokado Bento” in honour of Shojo, it has become an iconic style of boxed lunch in high-class Japanese cuisine. Since its conception, Shokado bento has evolved into an elegant and sophisticated way of serving Japanese food. The lacquered bento box with its four compartments enhances a meal’s appearance. while preventing the flavours and aromas from the other dishes from mixing. resulting in a delectable meal that is still sold today.