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100-Year-Old Ekiben Business Hiroshima Ekibento

100-Year-Old Ekiben Business Hiroshima Ekibento

May 31, 2019
Company Visit and Interview
Hiroshima Ekibento has made ekiben for over 100 years, insisting on making only "the essence of Hiroshima." To find out what the secret is behind their popularity, I paid the company a visit. I heard the story of their rocky road.

Established in 1901 & Business Started in Hiroshima Station

Established in 1901 & Business Started in Hiroshima Station
Over 100 years ago, in 1901, the first president, Ukichi Nakajima, founded Nakajima Kairyoken. Later, five companies inside the station, including Nakajima Kairyoken, merged to create the present Hiroshima Ekibento (a.k.a. Hiroshima Ekiben). During the war, the company supplied bentos as meals for soldiers traveling by train to locations around the country.

First Comeback, Restarting after the Atomic Bomb
On August 6, 1945, an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. The Hiroshima Ekiben company building, not to mention all of Hiroshima, was destroyed. However, a small bento shop would be built. President Nakajima spoke with five wooden sandal makers and carpenters, and decided on rebuilding. In less than two months, in the burned-out area near Hiroshima Station, Gaishokuken Shokudo was opened. This building became the holder of Hiroshima Building Permit Number 1 after the dropping of the atomic bomb. Spurred on by the feeling of "now is when bentos must be made," the company was miraculously restarted.
 

The Shinkansen Comes to Hiroshima!

The Shinkansen Comes to Hiroshima!
As Hiroshima was recovering from the atomic bomb, Japan entered a period of high-speed economic development. The Shinkansen came to Hiroshima as well. With it came an unprecedented travel boom, and the demand for ekiben expanded. The number of ekiben companies also grew to more than 400. Naturally, at that time, Hiroshima Ekiben did fantastic! They developed several of their long-selling bentos that are still loved even now.
 

Hiroshima Ekiben is Packed with "The Essence of Hiroshima!"

Hiroshima Ekiben is Packed with "The Essence of Hiroshima!"
The Shamoji Kakimeshi, one of the most popular ekiben, has been loved for over 40 years, and has been recognized as the present "The Hiroshima Brand." Since the container is made in the shape of a shamoji (rice spoon), the Miyajima specialty, it is considered a good-luck bento, making it very popular. The Shamoji Kakimeshi bento is representative of the kind of bentos that Hiroshima Ekiben makes. In addition to filling their bentos with ingredients that are "the essence of Hiroshima," they also fill them with hometown dishes and culture that can only be found in Hiroshima as well.

The Great Hanshin Earthquake, and the Crossroads
As the popularity of ekiben grew, the company charged on! Though the future looked bright, there was a sudden giant shock. In 1995, the Great Hanshin Earthquake struck. Tremendous damage was caused to Western Japan, mostly in Hyogo Prefecture. This disaster caused a complete shutdown of the transportation system. Ekiben sales dropped dramatically.

What Must Change, and What Must Not
In consideration of the 100 years since the company's founding, the man who had assumed the presidency, Kazuo Nakajima (current president), was faced with an unprecedented crisis, and had to make an important decision. Rather than just focusing on ekiben and meals for special events, he decided to "take on the market for three meals a day, 365 days a year, 1,095 meals annually." The company entered the prepared foods shop and delivery businesses, which had been unknown territory for them until then. By making the most of the knowhow acquired from more than 100 years of making delicious, safe and reassuring bentos, and adding their own unique innovation, they have succeeded.
 

We Asked the Product Developer Why People Love Hiroshima Ekiben!

We Asked the Product Developer Why People Love Hiroshima Ekiben!
We Asked the Product Developer Why People Love Hiroshima Ekiben!
We Asked the Product Developer Why People Love Hiroshima Ekiben!
Ms. Doi, who works in the Merchandise Department, has been making ekiben for 45 years! We asked her why people have loved Hiroshima Ekiben for so long, and what is important to her when making bento.

Interviewee
Ms. Doi has been a Carp fan for decades. Her favorite Carp player is Kuroda.

"I want to leave Japanese bento culture to future generations."
Why did I start working for this company? That was quite a long time ago (LOL). Well, I'd have to say it's because I love to eat. When measured against the bentos of today, the bentos that my grandmother and mother made back then were extremely well balanced. They used little oil, and they were incredibly nutritious. One single bento was packed full of the knowledge of our ancestors. I think I had a great desire not to allow that kind of thing to end with my generation, and to deliver it to the next generation.

"The bento I'm most proud of? Of course I have one!"
Our company is particular about using ingredients that are produced in Hiroshima. I think the signature ingredients are conger eel and oysters. My policy is something I inherited from my mother. "Include these three: sweet, salty and sour." And, "Don't include anything that isn't delicious." (LOL) I have developed several hundred bentos over the years. There are several that I'm proud of, but if I had to choose one, I'd say it's the "Hiroshima Joto Bento." We recreated the first ekiben from the time of our founding 100 years ago using old documents we have. We experimented a lot, and I think it turned out really delicious.

"I went to the Carp training camp to meet Carp team members."
Since we're in Hiroshima, I develop a bento for the Hiroshima Toyo Carp. I find out what the player likes, and include home cooking from their hometown. The contents of the bento changes every year along with the player, so it's really very hard for us who make them. One that is very memorable for me is the bento for Kuroda who announced his retirement last year. It's an extremely filling bento that includes a giant rice ball with a whole flavored egg inside. I still remember having Kuroda himself check it before the season when I traveled to the training camp in Miyazaki.

"We stay true to our origin. That's an amazing thing!"
I have worked under a few different presidents. Even though they have changed, they all say the same thing. They say, "There is a story to every bento," and, "We deliver deliciousness." I believe that is exactly why we are able to keep making bentos that are consistent, while remaining aware of the changes of the times. I think this allows us to deliver the devotion of the cooks and the greatness of hometown dishes not just to Japan, but abroad as well.

There certainly seem to be a lot of people working at Hiroshima Ekibento that are from Hiroshima. Naturally, all of them are Carp fans! Here she is with another Kuroda fan, Mr. Fujimoto, and an Ono fan, Mr. Kanesada.
 

Sai's Notebook Working as a sales clerk for Hiroshima Ekiben!

Sai's Notebook Working as a sales clerk for Hiroshima Ekiben!
Sai, an editor at Nippon Houdai, tried selling ekiben at Hiroshima Station!
Her report is filled with her trials and tribulations.♪

Sai A
Sai was born in Taipei, Taiwan, and currently resides in Tokyo. She has been an editor at Nippon Houdai for a year. Just recently, she's finally become used to the very physical reporting she does all around Japan.
 

#1

#1
This is the Omiyage Kaido shopping area inside the Hiroshima Station Shinkansen gate.
 

#02

#02
The Hiroshima Ekiben shop, Ajiroya, is at the back. They have bentos full of local ingredients such as conger eel and oysters.
 

#3

#3
I changed into the uniform and started my experience as a sales clerk!
 

#4

#4
First, I learned how to place the bentos into bags from the seven-year veteran clerk, Nobuko Nakano. It's important to do it carefully, but also give them quickly to the customers who are in a hurry.
 

#5

#5
I was nervous and expectant while waiting for customers to come.
 

#6

#6
At 11:00 a.m., customers kept coming and coming to buy bentos!
 

#7

#7
I recommended bentos to the customers who had a hard time choosing. All of Hiroshima Ekiben's bentos look so delicious. I could totally understand why it was hard for them to choose one.
 

#8

#8
They actually cook the conger eel at the shop! The Katsu Anagomeshi bento, freshly grilled conger eel on a bed of steaming-hot rice, is very popular with foreign customers.
 

#9

#9
We had a customer from Spain! Naturally, he bought the Katsu Anagomeshi.
 

#10

#10
Bentos with oysters are very popular! We order more, but they keep selling out. It keeps us clerks very busy.
 

#11

#11
Thanks to Ms. Nakano's help, I was able to make it through the day! She kindly told me, "You did a great job." (It made me cry.)
 

After-Action Report

After-Action Report
Ms. Nakano told me, "Our bentos really are very delicious! What makes me the happiest is when a customer comes back to buy a bento that I recommended because they like it so much." She taught me that it's not enough just to sell bentos, but that it's important to do it earnestly. I hope that I was able to communicate how I felt as well. By the way, the bento that I recommend is the one full of Hiroshima specialties: Hiroshima Tabi Bento!