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Inside the Bento Box: Exploring the Art of Charaben (#キャラ弁)

To see more photos of beautifully decorated bentos, browse the #キャラ弁 hashtag.

For many Japanese people, having home cooked bentos, or boxed meals, for lunch is a part of everyday life. Often parents will wake up early in the morning to prepare and pack the lunches into individual bento boxes for the whole family before they go to school or work. In recent years, the daily endeavor to prepare a balanced and appetizing meal has evolved into an artistic talent. These have taken the form of “charabens" (キャラ弁), short for "character bentos."

Charabens are bentos that are arranged to resemble famous characters, animals or other cute icons using the ingredients of the meal. Charaben making originally started as a way to encourage fussy kids to eat everything in the bento, including vegetables. Nowadays, with more cooking ideas and specialized tools at hand, this elaborate style of bento creation has become a hobby for many mothers. The bentos are increasingly sophisticated with rice balls shaped into rabbits, eggs baked to form stars and seaweed carved out into kids’ favorite manga characters. Skilled charaben are also beginning to gain recognition for their craft as many mothers have taken to writing blogs and cookbooks about their work, producing new cooking utensils or even entering charaben cooking contests.

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Local Lens: Going Grey with San Francisco’s @karlthefog

In this series, local Instagrammers show you their favorite places to shoot around where they live. For more photos and videos from the San Francisco fog, follow @karlthefog and fog-photographing friends @lec101, @wesinthewild, @finn, @ravenreviews, @cafeaulei, @luciomx and @moonman415.

As the community of Instagrammers has grown and connected people across the globe, so too has our ability to share some of the personal, hidden and beautiful locations in our hometowns.

In the second of a two-part series of local guides to San Francisco, the city’s very own fog (@karlthefog) shows you the best spots to photograph him.

Below the Fog – Mt. Davidson

"Located near the geographical center of San Francisco and notable for being the highest hill in the city at 925ft (282m), Mt. Davidson is one of my favorite parks. What makes this place so special is the different types of landscapes found within its boundaries: small narrow paths covered by trees that lead up to open fields with panoramic views of the city. (If you’ve ever seen pictures of San Francisco that make you think ‘When did this city turn into a rainforest?’ they were probably taken here.) For the best shots, go on a foggy morning and capture the way the paths disappear in my cloudy presence. On a few lucky days, you’ll reach the top and realize you’re above the clouds, looking down on a sea of cotton candy covering an entire city below.”

Above the Fog – Mt. Tamalpais

"If you’re thinking ‘Mount Davidson is cool, but I wanna go somewhere with an even better view,’ then I have the place for you. One of the Bay Area’s hot spots for photo taking is Mt. Tamalpais. This place has everything: extremely windy roads, dense forests and spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean, California coast and the entire San Francisco Bay Area. Drive along the Panoramic Highway and stop at every vista you come across. Check the weather report before you go and plan your trip on a foggy day. Time your trip around dusk to watch the sun set over me. You’re welcome.”

In the Fog – Point Reyes

Point Reyes is a giant cape located 30 miles (48 kilometers) northwest of San Francisco. While many people know it because of the Point Reyes Lighthouse, it’s also the location of vast countryside, farms, lakes, beaches and incredible views. Even the hike to get to the lighthouse is filled with several photo opportunities: steep cliffs, paths covered by trees and staircases that disappear into the horizon. I might be biased, but I recommend going on a foggy day. Bundle up in multiple layers (it’s colder and windier than you think) and capture the way the trees hug the path to the lighthouse. It manages to make an ordinary road look simultaneously daunting and magical.

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Robert Smithson’s Ever-Changing Spiral Jetty

To see more photos and videos of Spiral Jetty, explore the Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty location page.

Over the course of six days in 1970, American land artist Robert Smithson created his greatest work: Spiral Jetty. The 1,500-foot-long (460-meter) curlicue made of basalt rock juts from the shore of Utah’s rose-colored Great Salt Lake and constantly changes with the surrounding environment. Two years after Smithson finished the sculpture, rising water levels submerged the entire artwork for decades. When recent droughts lowered the height of the lake the artwork reemerged, though its appearance had changed dramatically. The once-black rocks are now whitened by salt crystals and silt. Fortunately, Instagrammers have made the trek to rural Utah to see and capture Spiral Jetty in person while it’s still visible.

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instagram:

Finding Googly-Eyed Creatures Everywhere with @alen4a_b

For more photos and videos of googly-eyed monsters, browse the #я_тебя_вижу hashtag and follow project contributors @alen4a_b, @gmentezi and @olasimxa on Instagram

For Ukraine Instagrammer Alena Baranova (@alen4a_b), the world is full of living creatures many people fail to notice.

She loves bringing everyday objects to life and giving them new, unexpected identities. As she lets her imagination run wild, Instagram has become her creative sketchbook for ideas. Inspired by childhood games, she bought a pack of googly-eye stickers and began to post photos of her new living creations with the hashtag #ятебявижу, which translates to “I see you.”

"The hashtag ‘I see you’ is a continuation of my favorite story from childhood," she says. "The world is full of living creatures, and adults forget about it when they grow up—so I resurrected my favorite game about pretty monsters."

Other Instagrammers welcomed the project. Alena sent a similar packet of googly-eye stickers to Ukraine Instagrammer Evgeniya Drach (@gmentezi) to take part, who also shared the eyes with her sister Olga Simxa (@olasimxa). Since then, the three Instagrammers have been finding little monsters everywhere. “Evgeniya and Olga make cooking videos and spend a lot of time in the kitchen,” explains Alena. “That’s why food, vegetables and fruits are often the subjects of the project.”

As for Alena herself, she carries a special small box with the eyes in it so she is ready to shoot at any second inspiration appears.