A classic scene on Japanese TV: a child opens up his or her lunch box to a desert-like expanse of white rice and a single red pearl of a kari kari ume in the center. There can be only two possibilities. Either a serious mistake has been made (e.g., due to mom being delirious with--no, make that dying from--dengue fever while making o-bento that morning) or the child is unloved, and must subsequently be mocked or pitied but most certainly taken away by children's social services. The opening and comparing of kindergarten o-bentos at lunch time can become the motivation for fierce competition amongst the mothers intent on sparing their children from early experiences of humiliation. While discussing this subject one evening, one woman confided the story of a mother of one of her son's kindergarten classmates who would wake up at 5am to do things like peel the membrane off each segment of mandarin orange for her kid's o-bento.
After the membrane peeling is done, though, what else is there to do? How much work could really go into a kid's packed lunch, right? Well, when armed with fish paste, seaweed, and a pair of craft scissors, I assure you things can get well out of hand. Take this hermit crab montage, for instance. Grownups eat o-bentos, too, so how about something more understated, but with a nice traditional feel (okay, can someone please tell me how this Hokusai recreation with the eggs was not a total freak accident)? Plain inarizushi--puh-leez, that's so combini o-bento. Then there's the o-bento with so much going on, it just plain looks like it's going to detonate in your face, as you lift the lid--but does win a few points for bravely incorporating old-school favorites like the stale prawn tempura and tako sausage (basically an octopus shaped from a cocktail wiener).
This site has almost three years' worth of o-bento ideas, kids, so scramble over and marvel at the infinite ways in which egg and fish cake can be manipulated. But please know this: In my four to five years living in Japan, I have never actually seen anybody make/eat o-bentos like these, so don't think all Japanese people are o-bento making fools. Just a few of them.