Buying the Japan Rail Pass, a one-week to three-week pass for foreign tourists, gives you the ability to travel on local and high-speed rail (aka the shinkansen) across Japan very easily. It’s a little pricey, but very good in value: Imagine paying $300 a week in order to ride Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor and all the local city trains in Washington, Philly, New York and Boston. It’s arguably something like that. (If you have a better comparison, please share it in the comments. I can totally see a better comparison, I just don’t have one myself.)
The JR pass also gives you the ability to buy as many cheap and filling bento box lunches (aka ekiben), filled with rice, seafood and vegetables, as you can. Each city tries to showcase its local specialities. I almost bought a bento in Kyoto, and another one 20 minutes later while connecting in Osaka, just to be able to eat the differences.
One thing to know about bentos, and it’s really only an issue if you don’t speak Japanese: Eating a bento will be troublesome if you are squirmy about unidentifiable food. As long as something didn’t taste truly horrible, just eat it. The food in question probably has some vitamins and minerals you or I are missing.
Check out the varieties of bentos (along with an itinerary of which high-speed trains we took):
Tokyo to Kyoto: Mostly rice and veggies, with a small piece of cured salmon. No pic of the other bento, too excited to eat it.
Kyoto to Shin-Osaka: No bentos. It was only a 20-minute ride. Also, the variety seemed low, many shop shelves were low on inventory. I’m not sure if it was because it was a holiday day (we left on Oct. 13, which was part of a three-day national holiday celebrating sports and health), or if it was because of the typhoon passing through and people came early to pass the time while waiting for a train. That said, no high-speed train coming in or out of Kyoto was delayed more than 10 minutes.
Shin-Osaka to Hiroshima: This bento had little whitebait-looking fishies on top of the rice. It took some getting used to, ultimately I decided it was rice confetti.
Kiwi’s had a lot more fish involved:
Hiroshima to Shimonoseki: Hiroshima is known for its oysters, so I bought Kiwi a bento with a half dozen of them.
I bought myself a bento with octopus in it. Notice the little maple leaf-looking thing, to show it’s an autumn bento box: