NEW YORK – In a push to promote Japanese tourism and culture, the bustling Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan began hosting Japan Week on Tuesday, with food, drinks and nine kinds of “ekiben,” or boxed lunches sold at train stations.
The meals, whose name is shorthand for “eki” (station) and “bento” (boxed lunches), made by nine New York restaurants, highlight Japanese regional cuisine, including Kobe beef and Hiroshima-style grilled eel over rice, among other foods.
“Americans don’t know about ekiben. I’d like for them to be able to try regional foods,” said Akiko Takahashi from Sobakoh restaurant.
Some New Yorkers came to the event because of their familiarity with Japan, such as Debbie Kinzer, who lived in Tokyo for more than a decade. She bought “kani meshi,” a lunch of crab meat over rice with her favorite topping, salmon roe.
“I came here today because I really love Japanese food and I miss it,” she said.
As the 100-year-old building is a popular tourist destination, many visitors, like Ozgur Yildiz from Germany, came across the event by chance and learned why the boxed lunches are so popular in Japanese rail stations.
“I like this idea. While everybody is in a hurry, you can just grab (a boxed lunch) and go,” the 33-year-old said, adding that he liked knowing the food was “fresh” compared with other prepared meals.
For after-work visitors, Japanese sake experts will serve more than 50 varieties of the traditional drink at a temporary “tachinomiya,” or standing bar like those popular in big cities.
Japan Week is also celebrating the new “sister station” relationship between Tokyo Station and Grand Central Terminal. The move will commemorate the 100th anniversaries of the New York station in 2013 and Tokyo Station in 2014, according to East Japan Railway Co.
JR East Vice Chairman Masaki Ogata and Tokyo Stationmaster Yasuyoshi Umehara paid a courtesy visit to the head office of the Metro-North Railroad that runs services from Grand Central.
Grand Central, which serves about 130,000 passengers per day, opened Feb. 1, 1913, while Tokyo Station, completed Dec. 20, 1914, is used by 380,000 passengers per day.
The Japan Tourism Agency and Japan National Tourism Organization organized the event, which will run until Thursday.