What is Ekiben etiquette? Introducing etiquette and ways to enjoy eating on the Shinkansen or train

Ekiben is a must-try experience while traveling in Japan. Ekiben are mainly sold on trains and Shinkansen trains and at stations, and you can purchase unique bentos depending on the region.

Ekiben can be eaten on the Shinkansen or train, but please be careful not to disturb other passengers.

Let’s understand the manners and ways to enjoy ekiben and enjoy Japan’s bento culture.

■What is Ekiben?

Ekiben is a boxed lunch sold on trains and Shinkansen trains and at station shops.

It is said that bento boxes were sold at Utsunomiya Station in Tochigi Prefecture as a portable meal during long journeys. At that time, it was a bento box containing rice balls and pickled radish.

Nowadays, each region has a wide variety of ekiben available, and it has become one of the pleasures of traveling.

Ekiben is chilled to prevent the growth of bacteria, but the special feature is that it can be eaten deliciously without being heated.

■5 manners when eating ekiben on the Shinkansen or train

Ekiben can be eaten on Shinkansen trains and trains as long as you follow the rules and etiquette. Here we will introduce five manners, but they are not difficult, so be sure to understand them and enjoy your ekiben.


Check if there is a place where you can eat and drink.

Ekiben are sold as portable meals and can be enjoyed on the train.

However, there are some railway companies and vehicles that prohibit eating and drinking. If you are not sure whether you can eat or drink, ask the station staff.

Also, when eating in a public place other than on a train, be sure to check whether it is a safe place to eat and whether it will be a nuisance to other people.


Avoid eating and drinking during crowded times

When eating ekiben on a train or Shinkansen, avoid crowded times. For example, there may be many passengers during commuting hours (around 7:00 to 9:00 Japan time) and on public holidays.

When the train is crowded, problems such as “spilling lunch boxes and drinks and staining other passengers’ clothes and belongings” and “unfolding your lunch box in a small car can get in the way” are more likely to occur. Therefore, respond according to the surrounding situation.


Eating and drinking on local trains is prohibited.

You can eat ekiben on trains, but eating and drinking on local trains is generally prohibited.

On local trains, many passengers get on and off, and seating space is limited. Therefore, widening the ekiben will obstruct people getting on and off the train and make it difficult to secure space on the train.

It’s okay to stay hydrated, but choose something that doesn’t have a smell, such as water or tea, and be careful not to spill it.


Avoid things with strong smells

Avoid drinking or eating foods with strong odors on trains or Shinkansen trains. Also, if there are other passengers sitting next to you or across from you, ask them if they can eat your lunch.

The reason why we avoid things with strong odors and ask people to talk to us is because some passengers may feel uncomfortable eating or drinking, or may be unwell.

Also, be sure not to open your lunch box too much so that passengers in the back seats can easily avoid it when they get up to go to the toilet, etc.


Always take your trash with you

If you eat Ekiben on a train or Shinkansen, be sure to take your trash with you when you get off the train. Do not leave them in the car or litter them at the station. Either take it home with you or separate it and throw it away in the trash cans on the station platform or in front of the ticket gates.

Also, if the area around your seat or table gets dirty, please clean it as much as possible. If you have difficulty, please ask a station staff member.

■3 ways to enjoy Ekiben

Ekiben are not only delicious, but the bento boxes and wrapping paper are all creative, making them popular as souvenirs.

Also, you can enjoy a bento filled with local specialties while looking at the scenery, which is unique to ekiben. Now, I will introduce three ways to actually enjoy ekiben.


Unique wrapping paper and bento boxes

The bento boxes and wrapping paper used for ekiben are unique. Colorful and tasteful wrapping paper is popular as part of travel collections.

There are a wide variety of bento boxes, including disposable ones, ones made of ceramic, and ones that heat your lunch when you pull a string. Ceramic bento boxes are reusable, so they are recommended for use at home for cooking or as interior decoration.


Taste local specialties

There are various types of ekiben depending on the region. Although there are some common Japanese bentos such as “Makunouchi bento,” it is recommended that you choose a bento that is only available in that region.

If you have a hard time choosing, it might be fun to bring a variety of ekiben to your hotel and take your time trying them out.

In that case, business hotels often allow you to bring in items, but the handling varies depending on the hotel, such as “you can’t bring it in” or “you need to pay a fee for bringing it in.” Be sure to follow the rules of your accommodation. Some hotels have ekiben on their menu.


Eating while looking out the train window

The best part of ekiben is enjoying the bento while looking at the scenery from the train window.

If you enjoy the ekiben while watching the scenery flow by, your meal time will become one of the memories of your trip. Please enjoy the scenery that can only be seen by train or Shinkansen.

■3 Recommended Ekiben in Eastern Japan

Here are three ekiben that you can buy in eastern Japan. Ekiben, packed with the charm of the station and region, can be enjoyed in a wide variety of ways, from the unique to the simple. Please refer to it.


【Hokkaido】Squid rice

“Ikameshi” is a simple yet impressive ekiben that just contains a lot of squid inside the bento.

The squid is stuffed with non-glutinous rice and glutinous rice, and simmered in a sweet and spicy soy sauce-based sauce.

【Yamagata Prefecture】Beef Domanchu

“Beef Domannaka” is a filling ekiben in the style of a beef bowl that uses the brand rice “Domannaka” from Yamagata Prefecture.

Plenty of minced beef and braised beef seasoned with a special sauce are spread over rice, and side dishes include kamaboko and fried eggs.

【Gunma Prefecture】 Kama-meshi at the mountain pass

“Touge no Kamameshi” is an ekiben that uses a “earth pot made from Mashiko ware” instead of a disposable container.

The clay pot is filled with various ingredients such as rice, chicken, shiitake mushrooms, and chestnuts. After eating, the clay pot can be used for cooking. In addition, various reuse ideas such as smartphone speakers and flower vases are introduced on Official X.

■3 Recommended Ekiben in Western Japan

We will introduce three popular ekiben in western Japan. One way to choose an ekiben is to pay attention not only to the taste of the bento, but also to the container and wrapping paper.

Be sure to stop by when using trains or Shinkansen in western Japan.


【Hyogo Prefecture】 Popular octopus rice

“Hipparidako Meshi” is an ekiben served in an octopus pot-like pottery and is also popular as a souvenir.

The octopus pot-style pottery contains soy sauce-based cooked rice, red octopus, conger eel, and seasonal vegetables, so you won’t get bored until the end.

【Hiroshima Prefecture】 Couple conger eel

When you open the lid of “couple conger eel”, you will see two conger eel placed on top of the rice. The plump conger eel comes with a special sauce, so you can add whatever sauce you like.

Garnishes include fried Hiroshima greens and fried conger eel bones. The fried conger eel bone is crunchy and delicious.

【Kumamoto Prefecture】 Three generations of Ayuya Kanroni

“Three generations of Ayuya Kanroni” is a luxurious ekiben that uses whole sweetfish.

Sweet and spicy sweet-simmered sweetfish is placed on top of rice cooked using “grilled sweetfish soup stock” that takes three days to make. Sweet and spicy seasoned sweetfish goes perfectly with rice and side dishes.

■Ekiben etiquette summary

Ekiben is a part of Japan’s bento culture. Eating an ekiben while looking out the train window on a Shinkansen or train will make it taste even more delicious.

When eating ekiben, please check the rules and etiquette for Shinkansen and trains, and be careful not to disturb other passengers. Enjoy your Shinkansen journey by observing Ekiben etiquette.

Q.Where can I buy Ekiben?
A.Ekiben can be purchased at shops inside the station or in front of the station. Tickets can also be purchased on board the Shinkansen and sightseeing trains.
In addition, you can also use ekiben events such as product exhibitions at department stores and order them online.

Q.Where can I eat Ekiben?
A.Ekiben can be eaten on board Shinkansen and limited express trains. You can also take it back to your hotel and enjoy it at your leisure.
When eating ekiben on the train, be careful not to disturb other passengers, and take your trash home with you.