This sandwich bento with 120-year history from Kamakura is a masterful example of how less is more – The Foreigners magazine In tokyo
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This sandwich bento with 120-year history from Kamakura is a masterful example of how less is more

Written by on May 21, 2021


Don’t be fooled by its simplicity, because that’s what makes it shine!

In Kanagawa Prefecture in the city of Kamakura, just about an hour outside of Tokyo by train, there’s a neighborhood called Ofuna that’s famous for its huge Kannon statue. You can see it from the train on both the Tokaido and Yokosuka lines, watching over the town from behind the trees. The huge statue of the goddess of mercy is a symbol of protection for the town and its inhabitants.

But there’s something that Ofuna is famous for that has an even longer history than the Kannon statue: an ekiben (station bento) known as the “Ofuna-ken Sandwich”. Ekiben are popular lunch options for people traveling on the bullet train or on other long train journeys, named for the fact that they are exclusively sold at stations. Since most stations have their own local specialties, part of the fun is trying all the different kinds out there.

Ofuna’s specialty, for example, is their sandwiches, which have bragging rights as the first sandwiches to be used in bento in Japan. They originated in the Meiji period in 1899, and when word got around about these then-unusual but tasty meals, they quickly became a national phenomenon. Ofuna’s sandwiches are, in fact, the reason why sandwiches became a food eaten throughout Japan.

But Ofuna-ken Sandwich bento aren’t limited to Ofuna Station, and you can also find them in the Tokyo metropolitan area. We happened to spot them at Shinagawa Station in central Tokyo, which actually has a much smaller selection of bento shops compared to larger hubs like Tokyo or Shinjuku. Nevertheless, they do sell a variety of really popular bento, including the Ofuna-ken Sandwich Bento, which we snagged for 530 yen (US$4.90).

The packaging has a nice retro feel, while also looking luxurious. It’s full of interesting historical anecdotes about the origins of the sandwiches. For example, we learned that the ham originally used for the sandwiches was actually from a highly rated small-time food producer, and because so much ham was ordered to make sandwiches, that producer eventually evolved into a company that specializes in ham known as the Kamakura Ham Tomioka Company.

Now take a look at these beauties!

They actually looked exactly like the sandwiches depicted in the artwork on the box. They have an old-school, nostalgic feel, a simple look that radiated freshness. They’re simple, but very neatly arrayed.

The box contains four boneless ham sandwich slices and two cheese ones. We tried the ham first, and it’s surprisingly good! Though it seems like a small piece of ham, that doesn’t mean it’s unsatisfying, and the thin layer of mustard really complements its flavor. It’s so delicious that it drew up images of life during the Meiji period in our mind.

The mellow cheese sandwich also has a nostalgic taste, and we were impressed by its high level of quality. Though both sandwiches are extraordinarily simple, you can really enjoy the differences between them as you sample each one. They’re on a whole different level from the convenience store sandwiches that are crammed full of all sorts of different ingredients.

In conclusion, these sandwiches have an undeniable appeal in their simplicity and quality. They leave you with a lingering comfort of simpler days gone by. Like the giant Kannon statue in Ofuna, but different, they leave an impression in your heart. We definitely want to eat them again, and if you have the opportunity to try these sandwiches with more than 120 years of history, we highly recommend you do!

Shop information
Ekiben-ya (Shingawa Branch) / 駅弁屋(品川店)
Tokyo-to Minatao-ku Takanawa 3-26-27
東京都港区高輪3-26-27
Open 6 a.m.-9 p.m.
Website

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