Can You Really Eat on Trains in Japan?

If it’s your first time in Japan, for sure you have lots of questions and concerns about the culture, the food, and what you can and cannot do, even the luggage to bring.

Going on a long-distance train ride? Then you must have heard you can eat tasty dishes on trains in Japan. But again, the nagging questions!

Disclosure : Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Can you order a multi-course dinner as your shinkansen zips through the countryside at 200 mph?

Would it be considered rude to slurp noodles or talk with full mouth when seated across from a stranger? Also, what’s the deal with ekiben, those iconic boxed lunches sold on train platforms across the country?

As I travel across Japan, I find out that dining aboard Japanese trains is an art with its own etiquette and unique culinary tradition.

In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know to eat like a pro on your next rail journey in Japan.

Can You Really Eat on Trains in Japan? 1

Bento Boxes – The Perfect Train Meal

Delicious Bento Boxes

The Shinkansen bullet trains are famous for their bento boxes,  traditional Japanese lunch boxes with separate compartments for rice, fish, or meat, and pickled vegetables.

Some bento options on the Shinkansen include Kanto-style with grilled eel over rice, Kansai-style with fried shrimp and octopus, or Hokkaido-style with crab and corn.

The bentos are made using fresh, local ingredients and are a great way to experience Japan’s regional flavors while zooming past at 200 miles per hour. 

Ekiben: Station Bento Boxes

Each Shinkansen station stop offers bento boxes featuring local specialties, known as ekiben.

Many ekiben bentos come in special decorative containers that are part of the experience.  Some containers, like the Tokyo and Kyoto stations’ bento boxes, have become collectible items.  

At Tokyo station, you can find bentos with ingredients like unagi eel, tamagoyaki omelet, and simmered hijiki seaweed. You can also get affordable sushi in a bento box!

Out of curiosity, I tried the bento with yuba bean curd, pickles, and marinated vegetables at Kyoto station.

I was doubtful at first and thought it wouldn’t be as good as the ones you get at a restaurant. But I couldn’t be more wrong! From the first to the last bite, I thoroughly enjoyed the flavor and the texture of the food inside the bento box!

Cafe Counters and Buffet Cars 

In addition to bento boxes, some Shinkansen trains offer cafe counters and buffet cars where you can purchase snacks, pastries, noodles, and alcoholic drinks.

You can order hot and cold beverages, including popular coffee in Japan.

The Tohoku Shinkansen has a buffet car called Gran Class. 

I had the pleasure of riding the themed TOHOKU EMOTION dining train that looks like a fine-dining restaurant. What I love most about it is the detail they’ve added to the train, including the canopy, which is similar to an actual restaurant with matching hanging lamps!

I feasted on the drool-inducing French-inspired cuisine served at my request. I had shrimp for starters, followed shortly by vegetable and seafood appetizers.

For the main course, I had porkchop and asparagus, and an assortment of desserts was served in a delicately designed box. 

But what’s fine dining without wine, right? Of course, they serve red and white wine! If you are not into alcoholic beverages, then also serve apple cider – all of which are locally sourced.

With delicious food options ranging from bento boxes to buffet cars and cafe counters, dining on the Shinkansen is an experience in itself. 

No matter which train you take, you can sit back, relax, and enjoy traditional and gourmet fare as you zoom through Japan’s beautiful countryside. 

Can You Really Eat on Trains in Japan? 2

What You Get in a Bento During a Train Ride

Bento boxes are a popular refreshment for train travel in Japan. These compact boxes contain an assortment of small portions of food meant to be eaten by hand. Bento comes in various styles, but they all share some common elements. 

Rice

No bento is complete without a serving of steaming hot rice. Rice is a staple of the Japanese diet, providing a satisfying base for the other tasty morsels in the bento.  

Seasonal Vegetables 

A variety of fresh, seasonal veggies are always included. Sweet carrots, green beans, cabbage, spinach, and mushrooms are popular choices. The veggies are usually lightly seasoned to highlight their natural flavors. 

Protein  

Whether it’s slices of grilled chicken, pieces of fish like salmon or tuna, or savory meatballs, bento boxes always contain a good source of protein. Eggs, tofu, and edamame are also popular plant-based protein options. 

Pickles or Salad 

Tangy pickles or a simple salad add flavor, texture, and balance to the bento. Pickled daikon radish, cucumber sunomono salad, or cabbage coleslaw are commonly included. 

Sauce or Dressing 

A little dish of savory sauce, like tonkatsu sauce or a light citrus dressing, allows you to season the bento to your liking. Just a dab will do!   

Bento boxes provide a convenient and delicious way to experience traditional Japanese cuisine,  even on the go. With so many tasty selections, your bento adventure will surely be a treat for your taste buds and eyes. Enjoy! 

Can You Really Eat on Trains in Japan? 3

Train Station Bentos – A Must-Try Experience 

When traveling by train in Japan, one of the highlights is enjoying tasty food along the journey. Some of the best foods to try on the train include: 

Bento Boxes 

Bento boxes are compact, portable food packs containing rice, fish or meat, and pickled vegetables. They are available for purchase at most train stations and are perfect for eating on the go.

Look for regional bento boxes that feature local specialties like grilled eel over rice, fried pork cutlets, or braised beef and vegetables.  

Onigiri  

Onigiri are rice balls wrapped in nori seaweed and filled with savory fillings like ume (pickled plum), salted salmon, or kombu (kelp). They are inexpensive, filling, and travel well.

Onigiri are found at convenience stores and train station kiosks and are popular pickings for kids and adults alike. 

Ekiben 

Ekiben are special bento boxes featuring regional delicacies for eating on trains. 

For example, you might find crab bento in Hokkaido, unagi eel bento in Nagoya, or octopus bento in Osaka. Ekiben contains small portions so you can sample various dishes, and they come in attractive packages that are perfect as souvenirs.  

Other options include snack mixes like kakipi, packets of rice crackers and peanuts, or small bags of soybeans boiled in their pods.

And, of course, you can always find classic Japanese munchies like Pocky, Hi-Chew, and Kit Kats to satisfy your sweet tooth during those long rides between cities.  

Whether you want a full dining experience or just a little something to nibble on, Japan’s trains offer a delicious selection of foods to make your journey even more memorable—sample as many tasty treats as possible.

After all, no trip to Japan is complete without experiencing the incredible cuisine, even at 300 kilometers per hour! 

Can You Really Eat on Trains in Japan? FAQs 

One of the most unique parts of traveling by train in Japan is the ability to buy bento boxes, or Japanese lunch boxes, on the platforms before boarding. These bentos contain a variety of tasty little dishes and are meant to be eaten during your journey.

A Variety to Choose From 

At major train stations like Tokyo and Osaka, you’ll find dozens of shops selling bentos on the platforms and in the station. They range from basic rice and curry bentos to elaborate seafood spreads.

Some shops specialize in regional cuisine, allowing you to sample specialties from all over Japan. The options are endless, with both hot and cold choices available.

Perfectly Portioned 

Bentos are designed to be eaten with chopsticks while on the train, so everything comes in bite-sized pieces that won’t make a mess.

A typical bento contains rice, a few slices of protein like chicken or fish, and several small sides like pickled vegetables, seaweed salad, or tofu. They provide a balanced mix of flavors and textures in just the right amount for one meal.

An Experience to Savor 

There’s something special about buying a bento and enjoying it while watching the scenic Japanese countryside roll by outside the train window.

It’s the perfect way for Japanese people who commute by train to dive into the culture and experience daily life.

Bentos embody the essence of Japanese cuisine – fresh, high-quality ingredients artfully prepared and presented in a simple but beautiful way. 

The next time you become a train passenger on the rails in Japan, arrive at the station with an empty stomach. I do this all the time, and I get to eat as many bento boxes as I can get my hands into! You’ll love it!

As a non-local traveler, eating a tray full of tasty Japanese food while riding a train was a memorable part of my trip to Japan – make it yours, too! Hop on, grab a bento, and enjoy this delicious tradition!