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My Ekiben Adventure

Ever since I read Ekiben Hitoritabi, the food manga about a train enthusiast who went travelling around Japan to eat the various bentos sold at Japanese train stations, I have been wanting to do an ekiben trip myself someday.  

Like Oishinbo, Ekiben Hitoritabi is an interesting food (and also train) manga where an English translated version should be in print.  But sadly, this  is not currently available in either print or digital format.  I bought the English digital format on JManga, an online manga website, some years ago and enjoyed reading it so much. Pity that JManga has shut down and all the digital mangas distributed by them also bit the dust with the business closure.  I am just glad that I had the chance to read this manga once, in English. I am hoping that someone will license it for distribution again some day.

 photo c728c61a-f328-4e24-8a1c-f6539d01da1b_zps2cd74462.jpgMy recent trip to Japan involved quite a bit of travelling around on the Shinkansen and other JR trains, and I looked forward to eating ekibens during my train rides.   Choosing an ekiben from the display sets at the ekiben shop was a lengthy exercise, albeit a very pleasant one.  I felt like an excited child standing in a candy store with too many choices and limited resources.  There were so many ekiben options to choose from!  I would decide on one because I liked the food, then change my mind because I liked the shape of the box in another set, then change my mind again because the food in another box looked more delicious.  The indecisiveness lasted all the way till it is time to dash to the platform to catch the train.

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Manga: Ekiben Hitoritabi

I have recently started reading this really interesting gourmet manga called Ekiben Hitoritabi on JManga, a manga portal.  JManga allows manga readers access to their mangas online using a point system.  I purchase a certain number of JManga points with cash, and the points are deducted from my account whenever I buy a manga from the portal.

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One can read the manga directly from JManga, or you can download the PDF onto your computer and read it using a PDF reader.  I prefer the former.  The manga loads quite quickly on my MacBook Air, but it doesn’t work on my iPad or my Windows-based notebook.  I am not sure why, and I haven’t written to the website to find out.  For the time being, I am happy to read mangas from my MacBook Air.

Ekiben Hitoritabi is a slice-of-life story about a 35 year old man called Daisuke Nakahara who travels around Japan by trains to eat bentos sold exclusively at train stations.  Hence, the name “Ekiben Hitoritabi” – “ekiben” refers to “bentos sold at train stations” and “hitoritabi” means “travelling alone”.

Daisuke is a man who loves bentos and trains.  He is a married man who runs a bento shop in Tokyo.  On his tenth wedding anniversary, to fulfil his personal dream, his wife bought him a train ticket that allows him to travel around Japan by train.  He makes it a point not to travel by shinkansen, as he wants to be able to enjoy the scenery through the windows of a normal-speed train.

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Like most gourmet mangas such as Oishinbo, Ekiben Hitoritabi has enough food porn to send one’s saliva glands into overdrive.  Aside from exquisitely drawn drawings of bentos and detailed explanations of the bento specialities in each Japanese prefecture, what I found interesting about this manga is that it provides some insights into the history of the Japanese train systems, and introduces the readers to the background of various trains that serve the country.  Even though I am not a fan of trains, I found the trivia relating to the local, express and sleeper trains relayed by Daisuki in the manga fascinating.

That’s one of the good things about reading manga – it livens up alot of technical (and otherwise dull) stuff with beautiful drawings and simple explanations, and stimulates my interest in things which I might never have been keen to read about.  Besides gastroporn and trains, the manga also includes drawings of paranomic views of Japan seen through the window of a train.

Reading this manga makes me want to do a Daisuke-style holiday, criss-crossing Japan on trains, eating delicious bentos found at train stations.  This manga serves as a splendid train-travel guidebook, because it offers so much detail on which train station to stop at, what train to hop on, and it even provides train schedules so you know exactly what time a train arrives at and departs from a station.  Knowing the Japanese to be sticklers for perfection, I am pretty certain that most of the train-related information in the manga should be fairly accurate.

Ikitai!

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