Subject: Re: Japan?
Hi Debby, This message is about train station dining.

In Japan, I had some of my best meals in, around, under, or near train stations. The impression I got was that the huge commuter culture relies on the convenience of buying breakfast AND dinner at the train station, or along the roadways and sidewalks on the periphery of stations. The variety, quantity, and quality of the offerings at these shops and stands are astonishing.

I spent a couple of nights in Yokohama last February. The food market inside the train station is absolutely incredible, but due to the immense size of the station it takes some effort to actually find. In the first place there were six or seven levels to the station, all underground, with each level offering different kind of shops. One level is devoted entirely to full-service sit-down restaurants, almost an untold number offering every style of cuisine. Another level might be clothing stores, another electronics, another books and sundries. In the second place, the hours of most of these shops are geared to the crucial hours of the commuting public. The coffee shops, bakeries, noodle stands, sandwich shops will be open in the morning. The more complete grocery stores and prepared food shops will open much later in the afternoon, and might stay open as late as 20:00 or 21:00. One evening I returned through the station at around 19:45, and enjoyed all the merchants out-yelling and out-screaming each other as they scrambled to mark down all their fresh goods, eventually by as much as 75%. I bought my dinner there that night-- sushi, gomae, sunomono salad, fried chicken, tempura-- all for under $5 or so.

What's more, I don't think the size and range of the Yokohama Station market is unusual in Japan. In the warren of streets underneath the Ueno Station (northeast Tokyo) there are hundreds of these food stands, each one more delicious than the next. They are not for the faint of heart however, as most are simple stand-up joints occupying a few grungy square feet at most. It should go without saying that one eats very inexpensively when "train-station dining." But I also repeat that the quality of everything is outstanding. And it is great fun.

Joel, in wintry Chicago