Avant-garde artist’s creativity spices up her bento box works

HIGASHI-HIROSHIMA, Hiroshima Prefecture–Artist Miki Matsuura’s works are a mouth-watering feast for the eyes.

The works of the “avant-gardist bento artist” here never stop evolving. 

Matsuura, 60, had one of her works, which are a cross between bento box lunches and art, featured in an ad for an art exhibition. She gives one-woman shows at a museum and elsewhere.

The “Munch’s Shakebi bento,” one of her showpieces, mimicked Edvard Munch’s famous painting series “The Scream.” Its title contains a portmanteau word combining “shake” (salmon) and “Sakebi” (The Scream).

The “Beetho-ben,” another of her signature works, used shavings of the tangle seaweed to represent Ludwig van Beethoven’s hair.

The artist said she has posted more than 1,000 of her bento works on social media over five years or so.


Matsuura, who goes by the pseudonym of Nancy, is a resident of Higashi-Hiroshima, Hiroshima Prefecture.

This year, she started releasing a new series of works titled “Sonomanma,” which roughly translates as “just so.”

What looks like a gigantic sachet of mustard in fact contains an “omuraisu,” or an omelet with stir-fried rice as a filling, made into a flat shape.

What could be mistaken for a huge pack of “abura-age” deep-fried tofu is in fact an “inari-zushi,” or sushi rice wrapped in a pouch of abura-age.

A graduate of a professional school of design, Matsuura started out as a telephone clerk with a design firm when she was 20. Her career trained her in handwriting designs, as no personal computers were available at the time.

In her married life, Matsuura developed an urge to make “kyara-ben” (character bento), or elaborate box lunches that feature cute characters, when her only son grew up to be a high school student some 10 years ago.

But she had to give up on that idea, as her son sensed that his own box lunches could become a platform of his mother’s creative activity and told her flatly, “No kyara-ben, please.”

Matsuura’s creative urge, which she thus had to seal off for a time, found an outlet in the making of bento for her husband when she had more time at her disposal after her son left to attend university in the greater Tokyo area.

Her “John Lemon bento” was an attempt to use round lemon slices to represent John Lennon’s round glasses. Never mind that “sudachi” citrus was used instead of a lemon.

The “Ben-ksy,” inspired by the anonymous street artist Banksy, used edible bamboo charcoal powder to mimic his graffiti.

Also featured in her other kyara-ben works were Francisco Xavier (1506-1552), the first missionary to have brought Christianity to Japan; Napoleon Bonaparte; President Vladimir Putin of Russia; former U.S. President Donald Trump; as well as Japanese entertainment figures, including Tamori and Matsuko Deluxe.


Matsuura began posting her successful bento works on Instagram in 2018.

She took the pseudonym of Nancy after “Nani shon ka,” the Hiroshima dialect for, “What the heck are you doing,” from the phrase that friends often hurled at her when she was a clumsy teenager.

Her bento-making process begins with the stage of a “design,” which she draws elaborately on a personal computer. She sets about her work before going to bed at night and finishes it the following morning.

That allows her to achieve, without much strain and as part of a daily routine, the double goals of bento making as a household chore and the output of an artist’s expression.

“A lack of stress could be the key to continuity,” Matsuura said.

It didn’t take much time before her kyara-ben works caught the attention of art curators and editors.

Commissioned by the Yamaguchi Prefectural Art Museum in 2019 to make an ad for an exhibition of works by Ryusei Kishida (1891-1929), Matsuura created a “Reiko kyara-ben,” inspired by the well-known image that Kishida painted of his daughter Reiko.

She gave a one-woman show, her first, at the Woodone Museum of Art in Hatsukaichi, Hiroshima Prefecture, in 2020.


“The world has recognized these wife-made bento with No. 1 eater-unfriendliness,” declares a blurb on a strip of paper wrapped around “Bento Bijutsukan” (Bento museum), a book that Matsuura published in 2021.

Her husband, in fact, has never failed to gobble up all the bento she makes for him at his workplace.

“He has apparently grown accustomed to eating people’s faces and whatnot,” Matsuura said.

Ideas just don’t stop welling up in her mind. Her kyara-ben modeled after speedboat racers were featured, last year, in a poster for a boat race.

Matsuura plans to have ceramic and lacquerware artists make bento boxes any way they like and fill them with her new ideas and, don’t forget to say, nutrition.

“I hope to further expand the breadth of art,” she said.

Matsuura’s avant-garde bento works are showcased on her website (https://nancychannel.pw).

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