A Brief History of Ekiben ~Over 130 Years from the Birth of Ekiben~

March 31, 2019
To enjoy ekiben, start with some history!
The History of Rail Development and Ekiben

What is the Ekiben Mark?
It is a trademark established by the Japan Railway Sales Central Association for businesses that sell ekiben in JR stations. Made to resemble a bento box, the wooden frame is divided by a cross, with a red circle representing a hinomaru bento, and the warm fraternizing of travelers.

1872 First railroad established in Japan!

Shimbashi Station to Yokohama Station opened. Osaka Station to Kobe Station opened two years later. Kyoto Station to Osaka Station opened three years later.

Around 1877 First onigiri style ekiben!

Purportedly started at Kobe Station and Osaka Station (former Umeda Station), and in 1883 at Ueno Station. Commonly believed to have started in 1885 at Utsunomiya Station on the Tohoku Line with "Two onigiri sprinkled with black sesame seeds, and takuan, wrapped in a bamboo sheath."


After a quality bento in a thin wooden box started being sold, ekiben increased nationwide until 1894.

Around 1900 First local ekiben!

During the long 16-hour express trip from Tokyo Station to Osaka Station, passengers were tired of just Makunouchi bentos. This gave birth to bentos based on single local ingredients. Some examples are the Shizuoka Station "Taimeshi," Yamakita Station "Ayuzushi," and Ofuna Station "Ham Sandwich."

Around 1955 "Travel Boom" and "Ekiben Boom"!

With the post-war rebuilding and great economic growth as well as the increasing speed of trains, ordinary people began to have the means to travel more. Passengers demanded more than just a "filling" ekiben, but one with "extra high-quality value," which gave rise to an increasing number of unique bentos. Some examples are the Yokokawa Station "Kamameshi," and Yokohama Station, Kiyoken "Shiumai Bento."

Start of Business Limited Express buffet

1960 Dining car appeared

Train windows become fixed (cannot be opened), and the first dining cars appear. The change is made from selling ekiben from the platform through train windows, to selling inside the train.

Tokaido Shinkansen opens
The Tokaido Shinkansen starts operation in conjunction with the Tokyo Olympics. Fewer people are seen eating ekiben while looking out the train window.

From around 1975
With the rise of the car culture, expanding expressways, and popularization of highway buses and airlines, people increasingly use trains less.

1987 Ekiben improved!

With the breakup of Japanese National Railways, JR is founded. The restaurant industry, convenience stores and fast food restaurants open for business inside stations, ending the ekiben-only era. Ekiben manufacturers come up with ideas to differentiate their bentos by such methods as improving containers, self-heating bentos, and using select ingredients. More efforts are put into selling inside stations and developing collaborative bentos.

Present Nearly 70% of Ekiben Mark ekiben producers have been in business for 100 years. Surging popularity among foreign travelers

130 years have passed since the first ekiben. There are also numerous ekiben businesses that have been in existence for over 100 years. Ekiben-ya Matsuri shop opened in Tokyo Station, selling famous and popular ekiben from around Japan. Another branch opened in Sendai Station in 2015.

2015 Ekiben goes abroad!
NRE (Nippon Restaurant Enterprise) opened an ekiben shop in Lyon, France, for three months. It was a huge success.