If you’ve read my previous entries then you already know that Japanese trains are amazing! and wonderful! There is one thing that makes traveling them even better. Yes, it’s food, very special one – Ekiben. “Eki” is the Japanese word for the station and “ben” is short for bento, which means a meal packed in a box. Ekiben is an essential element when we travel in Japan by train.
The first Ekibens were sold at the end of the 19th century. Their history is as long as the history of Japanese railways. For decades, Ekibens has satisfied the hunger of countless travelers and has provided nice memories of many trips, because Ekiben is more than just a meal. It usually contains local specialties from local suppliers. Thanks to that, we get to know the region on the train and the journey becomes even more exciting. We never know what delicacies are waiting for us at a particular station!
There are 2000 to 3000 different types of Ekibens sold in Japan! On average, their price is around 1,000 yen. Railway stations that serve trains on long-distance routes always have stores specializing in Ekiben sales. A boxed meal is something that many Japanese travelers are waiting for. In the flowing scenery you can enjoy local specialties. It’s a chance to indulge all your senses.
You can sit and observe the landscapes flowing past you, while you are eating Ekiben. It reflects culinary traditions from different regions of Japan. The prototype of Japanese Ekiben was food made of sticky rice, which was dried. Ages ago, travelers would carry it with them and soaked in water to make the rice soft again. From the 17th century, many tea houses were built along the main roads. Travelers could join them and enjoy freshly cooked rice. Tea houses also offered boxed meals for travelers to eat on the road. In this way, the habit of wearing packed meals arose. The rice was stained with yellow gardenia fruits which was supposed to help in regeneration after fatigue.
In 1872, the first railway route between Yokohama and Shimbashi in Tokyo was launched. Ekiben made his debut 13 years later. At that time Ekiben often did not include local delicacies, the choice was not so rich either. It began to change at the beginning of the 20th century. Ekibens with local food appeared throughout Japan. In the 40’s, at the station in Hokkaido, squid stuffed with rice and boiled in a special sauce began to be sold. This meal is sold until today and is still enjoying popularity. The development of railways meant that steam locomotives began to be phased out, and electrification speeded up travel. In the following years, there was a travel boom.
TV also participated in the Ekiben promotion. In the 1970s, television films became the most popular form of mass entertainment, and the new medium caused a lot of interest in the regional Ekiben, which was eaten in the popular series Kita no Kazoku. This ingredients to this day have names reminiscent of the names of the serial characters. In those days, the sellers approached the windows on the trains, or the passengers were going to the station to buy Ekiben. There was time for this, because trains were being attached or disconnected, which lasted a while. Today, when trains often do not stop at many stations or stop only for a minute or two, this type of sale is no longer popular.
Currently, the Ekiben producers use various innovations to attract travelers. There is an Ekiben that is heats itself up when you pull the string. Some of them have sake in small bottles. There are Ekiben boxes that have the shape of Shinkansen or Hello Kitty. They are a hit among children and tourists for whom they are a souvenir. Every year, the Ekibens festival is organized in a department store in Shinjuku. Local producers from all over Japan come to present their Ekibens to a wider audience. In this way, local Ekibens become popular throughout Japan.
Each Ekiben contains disposable sticks and a moist napkin. The packaging itself usually presents characters important for a given region or characteristic landscapes. This is also an attraction, some passengers collect paper in which the box is wrapped. Ekiben is an inseparable part of traveling on a Japanese train. Enjoys the eye, acquaints with local specialties and of course is delicious!
I invite you to the new project about Japan – Amazing Japan! It’s just launched and we want to connect all Japan Lovers and anyone who wants to know more about Japan.