With two bags in hand and a pack on your back, you dash to the platform to get on the shinkansen bullet train… finally you made it!

After managing to find a space to stash your luggage, you sit next to an old Japanese man in a beige bucket hat. He starts rustling around and finally pulls out a can of Asahi beer and a bento (lunch box) out of his plastic bag. It looks delicious.

In fact you look around and you see that nearly everyone has a lunch box placed in front of them.

But where’s yours?

One of the excitements of riding the shinkansen is buying the lavish and delicious bento lunches at the station. These bento boxes are called ekiben, since “eki” means “railway station” and “ben” is abbreviated from the word “bento”, which means lunch box.

It is believed that Japan’s first ekiben was some onigiri (rice balls) sold at Utsunomiya Station in 1885. Not go to any big station and you will see rows and rows of beautiful ekiben lined up at stores. Worried that you won’t find something you fancy? Don’t worry, some stores even sell over 150 different bento boxes!

The appeal of these bento boxes is that you can buy special ekiben made with the local delicacies of whatever city that you’re in. So in Sapporo where seafood is popular, you might find some special ekiben made with crab meat, while in Kyoto you might find a lunch box made with special kyo-yasai (Kyoto vegetables).

You can also find ekiben with soba noodles, sandwiches, sushi and at some stations you may even find vegan ekiben where they don’t use any animal products.

Are you planning on visiting Kyoto Station? Here are some ekiben we found at Kyoto Station that you might enjoy. From the traditional makunochi bento to the more contemporary healthy lunch box, we hope you enjoy and let us know which one is your favorite! Photos courtesy of DiscoverKyoto.

Sushi Bento

SUSHI BENTO – How cute are these sushi? These are cut up into perfect bite sized pieces so you don’t have to worry about any rice falling out of your mouth awkwardly and making a big mess. This sushi is the oshizushi type which is popular in Kansai.

Makunochi bento

MAKUNOCHI BENTO – A very popular style of bento is the makunochi bento, which is usually prepared in a rectangular box and consists of rice, fish, meat and veggies. It is believed that the makunochi bento was first served in the Edo Period when they were available during the intermission of long theatre performances such as no and kabuki.

Layered Ekiben

 LAYERED EKIBEN – These two layered ekiben usually have rice on the bottom and the main dishes on top. The rice was topped with egg and chicken mince, while the main dish included a meat patty, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, and other tasty small dishes. Ohh yum!

Healthy lunchbox

THE HEALTHY LUNCH BOX – This might not be a traditional ekiben but it’s definitely a healthy lunch box you can enjoy on the train. It included sushi made from brown rice, salad, a Vietnamese style spring roll, and more.

The Kyoto Maiko Bento

THE KYOTO “MAIKO” BENTO – Maybe you didn’t get the chance to see a maiko in Gion, but don’t worry! You can still enjoy this maiko style bento. No, a maiko didn’t make this, but the delicate and beautiful bento depicts the image of a maiko. As the ingredients in the bento are light and healthy, we can imagine a maiko would enjoy this bento as well.

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