The bullet train is one of the greatest feats of modern transportation technology, but as fast as it goes, it still takes a good two-and-a-half hours to get between Tokyo and Osaka. Chances are, you’re going to get hungry before you arrive at your destination, and while eating on ordinary commuter trains is generally frowned upon, it’s not uncommon for business people to pick up a snack or an eki-ben, a station-specialty lunch box, for longer rides.
But there’s some etiquette to consider when eating on the bullet train. First and foremost, eating cleanly and tidying up after yourself is a must, and not causing trouble to other guests with the sound of your food packaging is also important. Similarly, it’s also considered bad manners to eat something with a strong smell, since the aroma could bother other passengers. In a country that sells low-smell Kentucky Fried Chicken to discreetly carry on the train, politeness concerning food is key.
For some bullet train passengers, however, it seems that calling it bad manners is not enough to discourage businessmen and women from eating fragrant foods. Instead, they are calling for a ban, especially of one particular target: the 551 Hourai Pork Bun, a steamed bun filled with spiced meat from Osaka, which is a local favorite and a popular train snack for commuters. These filling and tasty snacks have a meaty and sweet-salty smell, and are often eaten with Japanese spicy mustard, which adds to its pungent aroma.
According to opponents, there are lots of reasons why it’s impolite to eat smelly food: it can make other passengers nauseous, it may disturb the sleep of your neighboring passengers, and it might even make those who weren’t smart enough to pick up a snack before their departure hungry. But should the 551 Hourai Pork Bun be banned from the bullet train simply because it has a strong smell? Something that has an offensive smell, like fermented sushi, would be a bit more understandable.
Some smelly foods have already been banned, like takoyaki, one of Osaka’s other famous cuisines made of octopus in fried balls of batter. It used to be the most popular bullet train snack, but owing to its distinctive smell, JR East initiated a rule in 2011 forbidding passengers to eat it. Other snacks and bentos sold at stations have stickers on them asking passengers to refrain from consuming them on the train, so it’s not unheard of for a particular food to be frowned upon.
Currently, however, JR East doesn’t have a policy on the 551 Hourai Pork Bun, and there’s no sticker requesting that passengers refrain from eating them. If someone makes a stink about it, train attendants may request that they put it away, but otherwise, at the moment, the 551 Hourai Pork Bun is a restriction-free food.
Will the voices against tasty train snacks be strong enough to force the 551 Hourai Pork Bun to meet the same fate as its predecessor? Only time will tell. But if so, supporters of the bun wonder where the line will be drawn. Will eating on the bullet train be banned altogether eventually? Let’s hope not, otherwise travelers may lose out on a lot of tasty food.
Source: Yahoo Japan News via Hachimakiko
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