How can we show Japanese people something they don’t already know about bento?

The Tokyo metropolitan art museum invited me to make an installation about Japanese Bento eating culture. I felt honoured they asked me. I was wondering how can I show Japanese people something they do not already know about bento?

I feel intrigued by animism, the belief that everything, also lifeless objects or computers, have a soul. This is rooted in Japanese culture. I think, when you believe everything has a soul or a spirit, you will handle the things around you with more care. I am not sure if this counts for contemporary Japanese culture, looking at the current state of food- and plastic waste. But exactly this friction could be a base for my project.

the gallery space at the museum is huge and approached from the top. Immediately I imagined it as an enormous bento box which could be entered by humans as if they are tiny and go into the box. (We always say to think outside the box but I doubt that.)

Eventually I made an installation about the intangible parts of bento. The things you cannot see or feel but are certainly there, like memories, the effects something has on our environment, the future, microbes, human connection etc.

Marije Vogelzang plants special seeds inside our hearts; through Kawaii / beautiful / fun / a wonderful sense of humor and a unique point of view.

Yayoi Manabe project guide

Visitors are invited to come down and enter the bento box. Inside the box they find a soul: The spirit of Bento. The spirit of Bento is a tiny character that has been living inside bento boxes for ages- since the first bento boxes were made. He talkes to  the visitors trough a ‘spirit-phone’ and guides them trough the installation. The installation is made of segments covered with thousands of ribbons. visitors walk trough the ribbons and discover places and objects and stories inside. The whole installation functions like a maze. Visitors feel the sensation of the ribbons touching their skins and hear the spirit talk to them about the intangible part of bento trough various objects. Visitors can leave their memories behind in a monument for memories of bento’s that have long been eaten. They can leave a sticker, a trace of microbes behind and connect physically trough the Spirit of bento symbolically visualising the human connection of all the unknown people that have grown, harvested, packed and prepared your food.

Yayoi Manabe:

‘Marije Vogelzang plants special seeds inside our hearts; through Kawaii / beautiful / fun / a wonderful sense of humor and a unique point of view. 

 In our collaboration for the “Bento exhibition”, she let the “Spirit of Bento” guide the visitors into her art works.

These seeds grow in our hearts in our daily lives and then one day we find out that we have grown new perspectives, and then that”seed” is planted again to the people around us. 

After getting to know Marije, I truly could understand why the designer/artist is necessary and important for our lives.’

Commissioned by

Tokyo metropolitan art museum
by Kazumi Kumagai and Sawako Inaniwa

Inside the installation are on display

Algae Vases
by Studio Klarenbeek & Dros and Atelier Luma (Luma Arles)


Tempeh Bowls
by Mediamatic


Body Culture
by Philipp Kolmann

My own objects:

Plant Bones for Bento
monuments for fish and sculptures of the spirit of bento all made of porcelain.

Scents for the exhibition made by

Bernardo Fleming
supported by IFF

If you liked that, you're gonna love these!