On board sales – What kind of items are sold on train?


Ekiben (boxed meal in the train) is the popular food in Japan (C) Sonic Rail Garden
Ekiben (boxed meal in the train) is the popular food in Japan (C) Sonic Rail Garden

When you travel by train, you need to think about food before boarding. If the train that you take has a dining car or on board sales, you may get some foods and drinks in the train. If it does not, you must buy something before taking the train. So it is very important which you can get something to eat on board or not. If you travel by Japan Rail Pass or other rail pass, you mostly take Limited Express train or Shinkansen. Most of Limited Express and Shinkansen have on board sales in the train. I explain about on board sales in this post.

*The information in this article is current at the time of writing.

Dining car

Dining car, Diner Pleiades on Twilight Express (C) Sonic Rail Garden
Dining car, Diner Pleiades on Twilight Express (C) Sonic Rail Garden

When you are hungry in the train, you may think about a dining car. But we cannot see many dining cars in Japan now. Lots of JR trains used to have that. But Japan is small country and JR trains have been getting faster and faster. As a result, most of dining cars are stopped to operate because of low demand. Now the dining cars are operated on these following trains:

You can eat a full course dinner on Twilight Express, Cassiopeia and Hokutosei. But the dining cars in Yufuin no Mori and SL Hitoyoshi are not real dining car. It is like a cafeteria style. Only light meals and snacks are sold on those trains. Basically you cannot eat any hot meal on daytime trains.

On board sales

Sales staff go around the train with the cart. (C) Sonic Rail Garden
Sales staff go around the train with the cart. (C) Sonic Rail Garden

On board sales is very popular in Japan. Many items are sold on most of Limited Express trains. Here is the list of items that are sold on trains:

Drink

You can get any type of drinks, like coffee, tea, pop, juice in the train. And also drinking in public space is allowed in Japan. So you can buy some liqueur beverage, like beer, whiskey, Japanese Sake, etc. Some trains have a vending machine too.
Sample image — You can see some sample in JR East Group, Nippon Restaurant Enterprise website.
Price range is 150 to 300 yen for soft drinks and 250 to 500 yen for liqueur.

Bento and Sandwich

Bento (弁当) is Japanese style boxed meal. Especially Bento that is sold at the station is called “Ekiben” (駅弁=station bento). Ekiben is very popular meal in the train. Every single major station has a different Ekiben. I don’t know how many, but I guess it is more than 3000 in Japan. These Ekiben are sold in the train too. But Ekiben is basically Japanese style boxed meal. That is the combination of rice and vegetable, meat and/of fish. If you like to have a western style meal, the sandwich may be available in the train. But sometimes it is not available on the train. I recommend you to buy it before boarding.
Price range is around 1000 yen per Bento.

Snack

You can buy some snacks, such as chips, chocolates, crackers, beef jerky, dry fish and ice cream.
Sample image — You can see some sample in JR East Group, Nippon Restaurant Enterprise website.

Souvenir

Mostly they are foods. There are like rice crackers, baking stuffs and buns with some fillings. In Japanese custom, when they travel somewhere, they buy some popular foods there. And when they are back to home, they share it with family or friends and sometimes even co-workers. Mostly it is wrapped with very nice wrapping paper.
Sample image — You can see some sample in JR East Group, Nippon Restaurant Enterprise website.

Which train is on board sales available in?

I show you the list as follows. But these informations are as of Jun 1, 2011. It may be changed without notice. And mostly the trains that depart in early morning and late night do now have on board sales. So I recommend you to buy something to eat before boarding.

Shinkansen

On board sales is available on most of trains. But some Kodama on Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen and Tsubame on Kyushu Shinkansen do not have on board sales.

Hokkaido (JR Hokkaido area)

On board sales is available on these following trains:

*Super Kamui, Hamanasu and other trains in Hokkaido do not have any on board sales.

Tohoku and Kanto area (JR East area)

On board sales is available on these following trains:

*Akebono, Sunrise Seto and Sunrise Izumo do not have any on board sales.
*Only drinks and snacks are available on Rapid service Green car in Greater Tokyo.

Tokai and Chubu area (JR Central area)

On board sales is available on these following trains:

*On board sales is not available on Wide View Hida between Takayama.

Kansai, Hokuriku and Chugoku area (JR West area)

On board sales is available on these following trains:

*On board sales is available on Nihonkai from Aomori to Osaka only. Nihokai to Aomori from Osaka does not have it.
*Haruka do not have any on board sales.

Shikoku (JR Shikoku area)

On board sales is available on these following trains:

*On board sales is available on Shiokaze between Marugame and Kannonji, and on Nanpu between Marugame and Kotohira. These sections are very short. So don’t rely on this service.

Kyushu (JR Kyushu area)

On board sales is available on these following trains:

  • Kamome
  • Sonic
  • Nichirin
  • Kirishima
  • Kysuhu Odan Tokkyu
  • Kumagawa
  • Yufuin no Mori
  • Aso Boy!
  • Ibusuki no Tamatebako
  • Umisachi Yamasachi
  • Hayato no Kaze
  • Izaburo / Shinpie
  • SL Hitoyoshi

2 thoughts on “On board sales – What kind of items are sold on train?”

  1. I will be visiting Japan in May but cannot find any formal sites that explain on-board service. I’m trying to work out if its worthwhile to travel first (green) class or not. Apart from slightlty bigger seats, do first class passengers get any complementary food or drinks on board?

    Thanks!

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