Kazumi Shimomura's kitchen table is cluttered with tools not usually associated with cooking: A pair of tweezers, a razor knife and a digital camera.
Her culinary style is just as unique.
She sculpts rice colored with egg yolks into the shape of a dinosaur, fashions its eye with sliced cheese and strips of seaweed. Star-shaped pieces of okra adorn the belly.
"I just wanted my son to have fun when he goes to day care on Saturdays," explains Shimomura as she uses tweezers to place tiny teeth-shaped bits of cheese in the dinosaur's mouth.
Spending hours meticulously perfecting a meal that will be gobbled down in a school cafeteria by her 6-year-old son hardly seems like time well-invested.
But lunch-box art marries the age-old Japanese penchant for precision and aesthetics with the country's modern, shrinking, affluent nuclear family, where fewer children mean moms have more time and money to lavish on their little emperors. The intricate presentations are also a public way for mothers -- who often forgo careers to cater to their families -- to demonstrate their devotion to motherhood, dedication to their children's nutrition and creative skills.
"This is rather about my pride," acknowledged Miho Tsukamoto, 41, the mother of two in the western city of Osaka. "My son boasts about my cooking to his friends, so I can't stop doing this."
The boxed lunch -- known in Japan as "bento" -- has been around for a long time.
The prototype of modern bento dates back to the late feudal period between the 17th and 19th centuries. With industrialization came mass production: office workers buy them in train stations, convenience stores and food courts.