駅弁 Eki-ben—lunchbox for eating on the train

The Shinkansen has been moving people around Japan at high speed since the 1960s, and throughout that time the network has continued to extend, with new, ever faster and more futuristic-looking train designs appearing every few years.

The latest development, which opened in March 2015, extends the Hokuriku line to Kanazawa and Toyama on the Sea of Japan coast. The journey from Tokyo to Kanazawa is reduced from 4 hours to 2 and a half, in the stylish comfort of the new E7 series train.

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This morning we took the local train to Shin-Osaka station, where we reserved seats in the Shinkansen for our journey to Tokyo and for the onward journey from Tokyo to Sendai. The JR pass entitles us to unlimited travel for one week on the JR rail network. This represents excellent value as the cost of the pass is equivalent to that of one return journey from Osaka to Tokyo.

The trip to Tokyo took just under 3 hours on the Hikari service, which reached a top speed of 285 km/h and made several stops en route. Punctuality is extraordinary, with departure and arrival times accurate to within a few seconds over the journey. The reclining seats are spacious and comfortable and have electric sockets and seat-back tables to facilitate use of laptops.

The faster Nozomi service covers the same distance in 2 hours and 25 minutes but is not available with the JR pass.

When we arrived in Tokyo station it was time to think about buying lunch. Japan has a tradition of 駅弁 eki-ben, lunchboxes sold in stations for eating on the train. eki means station and ben is short for 弁当 bentou meaning lunchbox. You can buy a lunchbox in the shape of the new E7 train.

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My lunchbox commemorates the opening of the Ueno-Tokyo line.

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Each of the 9 little compartments contains food typical of Ibaraki prefecture, with a wonderful variety of ingredients, including melon jelly for dessert.

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This is the train that took us to Sendai. It was the first time I had seen the E5 train, with its cartoonishly long nose cone.

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The train information board shows where to find your carriage when you go upstairs to the platform. We were in carriage number 8 on the 12:36 train. Needless to say, it pulled smoothly out of the station at exactly 12:36.

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土曜日 doyoubi—Saturday

This blog post is being written at 280 km/h as we speed through the countryside in the 新幹線 Shinkansen train from Osaka to Tokyo on Easter Sunday morning.

Our destination today is Sendai, in Japan’s 東北 touhoku (north-east) region. Even at Shinkansen speeds, it will take 5 or 6 hours to get there. Sendai is much cooler than Osaka right now (about 14°C difference), so we had to pack winter clothes for Sendai as well as short sleeves for Osaka.

Yesterday morning we decided to visit Osaka Castle Park to see the 桜 cherry blossoms. They are earlier than usual this year so we expected that we would arrive in Japan too late to see them. But in fact our timing was perfect: the flowers were 満開 mankai—fully open when we arrived. The blossoms were beautiful against the backdrop of the castle and the blue sky.

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