By JESSICA GE
. Train station goers take some time to shop at one of ekinaka’s many shops. Photo by author.
It is estimated that some 40 million people in Tokyo use the railway system in their daily commute. For these passengers, the existence of ekinaka (駅中) are an everyday sight. Ekinaka, literally translated as “inside the station”, is the term used for the shopping malls found inside train stations.
The steady stream of train station goers contrasts with ekinaka restaurants offering a pause in their busy lives. Photo by author.
In the early 2000s companies like Japan Railways (JR) began to expand the commercial benefits of train stations and take full advantage of their vast underground space. Tokyo train stations now contain a myriad of stores selling food, clothes, souvenirs, books, plants, homeware, the list goes on. These can be accessed from virtually anywhere above the ground, as the streets of Ginza, Shinjuku, and other popular areas are littered with train station entrances.
It’s common for daily commuters – businessmen, students, everyday city-goers – to stop by at one of many cafes, restaurants, or bakeries for a quick snack or meal on their way home. In some cases travellers may also find themselves going to a train station with the specific purpose of eating a certain dish.
The daily rush in Shibuya train station. Photo by author.
As Dhriti Mehta, a PEAK freshman at the University of Tokyo, points out, “Sometimes I will go to Tokyo Station just to eat at this vegan restaurant found only in Tokyo Station.” The restaurant in question, T’s TanTan, is particularly popular among vegans in Tokyo having trouble finding completely vegan dishes. This goes to show that while an ekinaka may be a simple convenience stop for some, it can be a destination for others.
The smell of freshly baked bread draws in many travelers. Photo by author.
However, money-wise, shoppers looking for a good deal might find themselves looking in places other than in ekinaka. Takuma Furukawa, a sophomore at the University of Tokyo, commented that clothing shops in train station shopping malls are more limited in choice and higher in price, driving him to shop elsewhere – above ground perhaps. Furthermore, the abundance of souvenir items in train stations indicate that at least some aspects of ekinaka are more targeted towards gifts-on-the-go.
So next time you’re at a loss about where to eat or where to explore, look into Tokyo’s train stations and see what they have to offer. Whether you’re looking for food, books, or just cool things to look at, these ekinaka are bound to have something in store for you.