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Delight in the Japanese Eki-Ben Experience for a Scenic High-Speed Meal

November 13, 2020 Visit North Asia No Comments

While traditional Japanese etiquette discourages eating and drinking on most trains, there is one occasion where dining is considered part of the full commuting experience – when speeding across Japan via bullet train. Dubbed ‘eki-ben’, these iconic meals are beautifully packaged bento boxes designed exclusively for high-speed train travel.

Delicious yet highly functional, eki-ben come equipped with sauces, pre-meal hand wipes and disposable cutlery. In addition, many regions use eki-ben to encapsulate their local delicacies, offering a small snapshot of the area’s speciality cuisine or produce. So, no matter how time-pressed you may be, eki-ben provides an insight into the unique flavour profiles that exist throughout different regions of Japan. Almost all JR East stations sell eki-ben, ranging from a singular stall to food halls overflowing with choice. They have shared their insights for their most popular eki-ben – from bite-sized-bits to a fully vegan bento.

Sake Meshi Bento – Jōetsumyōkō Station, Niigata Prefecture
Awarded as the best eki-ben in the JR EAST 2019 Grand Prix, Niigata’s salmon eki-ben is something special. With the competition inviting over 26,000 votes and measuring eki-ben based on taste, volume and packaging, it posits a result of high credibility. Niigata’s Sake Meshi Bento(salmon bento) took the award due to praise for its generous toppings of salmon and roe upon a bed of high-quality brand Koshihikari rice. Priced at a reasonable 1200 yen, it can be found at JR Jōetsumyōkō Station.

Hitokuchi Darake Bento – Shin-Aomori Station, Aomori Prefecture
Over in the Tohoku region which is known for its lush wilderness lies JR Shin-Aomori Station where you will find Hitokuchi Darake Bento. Translating to ‘full of single bites’, this bento lives up to its name by offering an amuse bouche style of meal, showcasing 24 small bites of Aomori’s local specialty flavours. At only 1350 yen and changing based on seasonal ingredients, this eki-ben is the perfect gourmet start or finish to your journey in the wild north of Japan.

Saishoku Bento – Shinjuku Station, Tokyo
In true Japanese style, even the most ordinary ingredients are celebrated. In response to the influx of international travellers in Japan and voicing a desire for more vegan-friendly eki-ben options, the Saishoku Bento offers a delightful array of completely vegan ingredients such as tohu hamburg or simmered bamboo shoots. It’s the first eki-ben to be certified as vegan and is reasonably priced at 900 yen. This one can be found across some JR stations across Tokyo.

These are just a small sample of the many wonderful eki-ben that exist, and the joy in these meals is that they don’t feel like just a quick snack for the train. As bullet trains speed through scenes of glimmering expanses of ocean and lush rolling hills of the countryside, the eki-ben experience feels quintessentially Japanese – despite being enjoyed aboard some of the country’s best technology. For those interested in exploring Japan by train, the JR EAST PASS offers a convenient, multi-day train pass that offers easy access to the above-mentioned locations.

JR East has recently created the JR EAST Welcome Rail Pass 2020 which special pass for foreign passport holders regardless of their visa status. The pass allows unlimited travel on all JR East trains in the Tokyo, Tohoku, Nagano, and Niigata areas for 3 consecutive days, including the use of Shinkansen.

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