Japan Railway & Transport Review No. 60 (photostories)


JR East Damage and Recovery from
Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami

Railways started in Japan in 1872. As the network spread and more people travelled by train, there was increasing demand for more onboard food services. One answer to this need was ekiben station lunchboxes. It is widely believed that ekiben started when a Japanese hotel owner sold a lunchbox containing two rice balls and several slices of pickled radish at Utsunomiya Station in 1885. Initially, ekiben were sold from the platform to passengers leaning out the
windows of trains standing at stations. Today, most are sold from platform kiosks and onboard wagon services.
With the rise in ekiben sales, wrapper designs became more elaborate, evolving from a simple bamboo leaf of 1885 to colourful designs showing local tourist spots, and even socio-political comment. This article presents some of the wrappers used on the Tohoku and Tokaido main lines.

Tohoku Main Line

The Tohoku main line is a key artery connecting Tokyo with Morioka and Aomori in northeast Japan. It opened in September 1891 and 2011 marked the 120th anniversary.

Photo: Decades-old photograph of ekiben sales through train windows while standing at platform (The Railway Museum)
Photo: Ekiben kiosk at Ueno Station (NRE)
Photo: The Kodama limited express (introduced in 1958) with sealed windows made purchase from the platform impossible and marked the start of onboard cafeteria services. (Akira Hoshi)
Photo: Koriyama Station: Ekiben sold at Koriyama Station in 1930 with picture of steam locomotive (Nasunogahara Museum)
Photo: Shirakawa Station: Ekiben sold at Shirakawa Station on 4 May 1931 with picture of Nanko Park and slogan ‘do not waste rice harvested by hard-working farmers’ (Nasunogahara Museum)
Photo: Utsunomiya Station: Ekiben sold at Utsunomiya Station with picture of sumo wrestler (Nasunogahara Museum)
Photo: Oyama Station:  Ekiben sold at Oyama Station in 1940 (Nasunogahara Museum)
Photo: Kuroiso Station: Ekiben sold at Kuroiso Station in 1935 (Nasunogahara Museum)
Photo: Fukushima Station:  Ekiben sold at Fukushima Station in 1929 containing inari-zushi flavoured rice stuffed in fried tofu pouch (Nasunogahara Museum)
Photo: Morioka Station: Ekiben sold at Morioka Station in pre-war era with poem by Takuboku Ishikawa from Morioka City (Nasunogahara Museum)
Photo: Iwanuma Station: Ekiben sold at Iwanuma Station on 3 March 1931 with pictures of nearby famous tourist spots, including shrines and seashore (Nasunogahara Museum)
Photo: Sendai Station:  Ekiben sold at Sendai Station on 16 May 1928 with pictures of Aoba Castle (top) and Godaido Temple Hall (below) (Nasunogahara Museum)
Tokaido Main Line

The first section of the Tokaido main line opened in 1872 between Shimbashi and Yokohama.
The Tokaido corridor was, and still is, the most important trunk route linking Tokyo with Kyoto, the ancient capital, and Osaka, the centre of commerce and industry in west Japan.

Photo: Kyoto Station Kyoto Station ekiben with design of famous tourist spots in city (Asukayama Museum)
Photo: Maibara Station Ekiben sold in Maibara Station with picture of Lake Biwa at centre (Asukayama Museum)
Photo: Osaka Station Ekiben sold in Osaka Station in 1931 with picture of Osaka Castle at back and Osaka Railway Office at front (Asukayama Museum)
Photo: Nagoya Station Ekiben sold in Nagoya Station with a picture of Nagoya Castle keep at top left (Asukayama Museum)
Photo: Hamamatsu Station Eel and rice ekiben sold at Hamamatsu Station in 1926 showing popular Lake Hamanako tourist spot (Tenri Gallery)
Photo: Shizuoka Station Very descriptive wrapper for rice and sea bream ekiben sold in Shizuoka in 1929 (Tenri Gallery)
Photo: Yokohama Station Ekiben sold at Yokohama Station in 1919 with statue of Ii Naosuke, who opened Japan to western countries, leading to development of Yokohama harbor (Asukayama Museum)
Photo: Ofuna Station Ekiben (sandwiches) sold at Ofuna station in 1931 (Tenri Gallery)
Photo: Kozu Station Ekiben sold in Kozu Station on 16 October 1938 (Asukayama Museum)