Tokyo Station Ekiben

Getting a bento 弁当 and riding on one of the express trains from Tokyo station is a ritual that is comes with traveling in Japan. Even on a short ride, like the hour ride to Narita on the Narita Express, we take advantage of the opportunity to enjoy a bento. Above are some bentos that we recently purchased for the Narita Express.

The bento on the top right included many delicacies from the sea like asari clams, ikura salmon roe, and simmered anago sea eel. The bottom right bento is made with 50 different ingredients. It was fun to follow the menu and check off each item.

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Our five-year old loves the shinkansen bento, which come in a variety, based on actual running shinkansen 新幹線. The bento boxes themselves are quite sturdy so we wash them and reuse them at home. The shinkansen bento are about 1,200 – 1,300 JPY and are filled with kid-friendly bites like kara-age chicken, sausage, and fruit jelly. I am reminded by Twitter friends that adults also enjoy this bento.

The above bentos were all purchased at Bentoya Matsuri 弁当屋祭, a bento shop inside of Tokyo Station. As it is in the station, you will need to purchase a ticket to access the shop. If you are traveling from Tokyo Station to another destination, then you will have access to the shop. If you are already near Tokyo Station and just want to come in to see the shop, then yes, you will need to purchase a ticket to enter the station. It is at Tokyo Station Central Street, between the stairs leading to platforms 5/6 and 7/8. Matsuri sells over 170 different ekiben 駅弁. Ekiben are bento sold at different eki (stations) throughout Japan. It’s a popular shop and usually very busy. On the wall of the shop is a sample of the different bento for sale, which are brought in from all over Japan.

*Note, the Matsuri website says that it is open from 5:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.

For beverages we like to go to Hasegawa Saketen which inside Tokyo Station in the basement in an area called GranSta. There is also a counter for drinking saké if you have the luxury of time on your hands.

*** Note – Hasegawa Saketen has moved to a new location while their original shop in the station is under construction. There is still a shop in the station, about a 1-minute walk from the original location. (The photos above are from the original shop.)

Hasegawa Saketen sells full bottles of sake, shochu, umeshu, and wine. For drinks for the train, look to the far left of the shop where there is a big selection of tea, beer, and smaller servings of sake, beer, and shochu.

If you are riding at a time that is between meals and don’t need a full bento, Hasegawa Saketen sells small bites and saké-friendly snacks.

*Note, the Hasegawa Saketen website says that it is open from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. (Monday – Saturday) and 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. on Sunday.

Other good places to pick up bento are throughout Tokyo Station, including in the depachika-like area across the aisle from Hasegawa Saketen, GranSta. Daimaru department store is also next to Tokyo Station and has the biggest selection of bento. If you have time, then come here, and allow yourself time to carefully peruse the options.

* The GranSta website says that it is open from 8:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. (Monday – Saturday and holidays -except for the last day of a string of holidays). 8:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. Sunday and last day of a string of holidays.

* Daimaru website says it is open from 10:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. on weekdays. 10:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. on weekends and holidays.

Once you are on the train, wait for it to depart the station before drinking and eating. It’s part of the ritual. 🙂

When you are done eating, the trains have trash cans for bento and for your drinks.

Enjoy partaking in this fun eating and drinking part of traveling in Japan.

 

 

 

Narita Layover

So, you’ve got a long layover at Narita but not enough time to go all of the way to Tokyo. What’s a person to do? And, is Narita worth leaving the airport for? Absolutely.

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Just outside of Narita train station there is a tourist information booth. Pick up a map of the area so you can get your bearings.

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Chiba is famous for its rich farming and fishing. Peanuts, rakasé or pīnattsu in Japanese, are one of the prefecture’s pride. It comes in a variety of ways including roasted, salted, or coated with sugar.

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And, pīnattsu miso, yes, peanut miso. Not salty at all as one thinks of miso, but very sweet.

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Some shops let you sample before you purchase, so you can see if you like pīnattsu miso. It reminds me of supple peanut brittle. Whole roasted peanuts in a thick, sweet caramel-like sauce.

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A very popular shop on the main street is Kintoki Ametarō-yaki. A shop that makes grilled cakes stuffed with either sweet azuki paste or a sweet white bean paste.

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It’s a popular shop and magazines and TV shows say that there is always a line here, as was the case when we arrived. The Ametarōyaki is only 100 yen so we joined the line and had fun watching the process of making the cakes through the large window.

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The area near the train station is filled with omiyagé souvenir shops and restaurants. It’s about a twenty-minute walk to the famous temple, Narita-san.

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There are several restaurants that specialize in unagi. So, plan on having a meal while in Narita. The smell of the river eel grilling is hard to resist.DSCN1399

Grilled unagi that has been dipped in a sweet soy sauce.

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Saké is even brewed in Narita. Chomeisen is a sake distillery that is on the main street and you can buy saké at their shop. We had an early morning flight the next day so picked up a small one cup.

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The Narita-san Shinshōji Buddhist temple is very famous and on this weekday there were lots of visitors, mostly Japanese. The temple’s rich history can be dated back to February 14th, 940. Yes, over 1,000 years ago. Several buildings on the premise have been designated as Important Cultural Properties. There is an English brochure at the temple introducing some of the historic buildings, like the three-storied pagoda erected in 1712.

If you have time, Narita is worth visiting. We had an early morning flight the next day and had plans to stay at a hotel near the airport. So, we traveled to Narita early the day before our flight to visit the city. I don’t know if it’s worth a special journey from Tokyo. But, if you are going to be in the area, or if you have some time to kill between flights transiting through Narita airport, then yes, it’s worth exploring.

Narita Airport Eats – Na no Sato 菜の里

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A flight out of Narita airport is usually an international flight. Which often means having a lot of waiting time at the airport. Don’t make the mistake that I’ve done in the past, to go past immigrations thinking you’ll find something to eat close to the gate. Be sure to eat BEFORE immigrations. Lots of options including sushi, tonkatsu, and ramen. And, there are restaurants, like Na no Sato, that do a variety of Japanese dishes.
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Most of the restaurants have impressive plastic food displays clearly showing what is included in each meal and the price. No worry about anything getting lost in translation here.

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This set meal has a sign that says that it was the most popular item ordered last month. For 1,580 JPY (about $16 USD) there is sashimi, tempura, tonkatsu, pickles and other vegetable dishes, as well as rice, miso soup, and even a light dessert.

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And, how impressive is this? The meal resembles the plastic food in the display case.

Narita Airport, Terminal 1, Central Building, 4th floor