The Tokyo station is a crazy maze! Japanese people walk around like ants, workers in their white shirts, black pants and black leather shoes hurrying to catch their train, tourists running to make it on time… But there is this specific spot where people seem to be motionless, waiting online. Curious, I get closer: this is Matsuri, one of the popular bento shops of the station.
Bento’s are boxed-meals, often eaten at lunch time on the go. They are readily available throughout Japan and can also be served in restaurants. From supermarkets to high-end shops, without forgetting the sacred convenient stores like 7-11, Family Mart or Lawson, these fresh boxes often contain rice flavoured in different ways, fish or meat, with pickled or cooked vegetables. The variety is impressive: Matsuri is said to carry 170 different ones!
Some specific shops are renowned and Japanese people take time to stop to order their bento’s there. We have had many surprises, not always knowing what we were eating, and often marvelling at the variety of small portion composing the lunch boxes. Rice being a key element of the bento’s, they are always filling.
We would often buy a bento in the morning while road tripping in Kyushu, Shikoku or Hokkaido, giving us a lot of flexibility regarding where to eat. While riding the train, buying the bento at the station is ideal. When many bento’s can be eaten cold, it is easy to warm them up as supermarkets and convenient stores provide microwaves, and they represent a tasteful alternative to instant ramen!
On top of being delicious, bento’s are also very practical as they come with disposable chopsticks. Going through at least a pair a day, we started wondering about the environmental impact to find out that in 2013, 57 billion of disposable chopsticks were manufactured in China and 24 billion of them used in Japan. This is roughly 200 a year per person for Japan only! This is creating a massive pressure on forests for which the solution is fairly straightforward: buy your own pair of chopsticks and carry it with you!
Marcella & Claire
- If bento’s can be found all over Japan, we decided to point out to Tokyo station on this interactive map where shops like Matsuri can be found.
- Check out this interactive map (quick tutorial) for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area!