Long-established Restaurant & the War Anagomeshi Ueno
Here, we introduce a history of a long-established restaurant that has been in business since before the war in the peace-dedicated city of Hiroshima and how it survived the war and the post-war periods. This time, we interviewed Ueno Junichi, the fourth-generation owner of “AnagoMeshi Ueno,” established in 1901.
A special lunchbox for soldiers going off to war
“Anagomeshi” started in 1901 when the founder Ueno Tanikichi started selling lunchboxes filled with conger eel on top of seasoned rice near Miyajima Station (the current Miyajimaguchi Station). Miyajima has always been an area where many conger eels were caught, so locals were often eating conger eel bowls.
In the mid-Meiji period, Tanikichi-Oh (Mr. Ueno) worked as a rice merchant in Miyajima. This was when he opened a tea store on the approach of the station in front of Miyajimaguchi after Miyajima Station opened. As the coal-powered steamship service became popular, the number of people using the station increased rapidly. In response, Mr. Ueno took on the business of transportation arrangement and loading coal onto steamships. Also, he made and started selling “Anagomeshi” as a new station lunchbox, which was made from the conger eel bowls he was selling at the tea store. From then on, the lunchbox became popular as an Ekiben (station lunch box).
Also, Etajima, where the marine was based, and Miyajima/Miyajimaguchi served as the marine route connecting a pier. As a result, after the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), Itsukushima Shrine served as the shrine for praying to be fortuitous in war by inscribing “Buunchokyu” (fortune in war) on rice scoop before soldiers headed off to war.
Lunch boxes were put in a box to be sold to passengers from outside the train (the photo is in the Taisho period)
When World War II began, conger eel fishermen went off to war one after another, and at the same time, it became difficult to obtain rice, so conger eel lunchboxes ceased being sold at one point. Still, there was a demand for Ekiben, so the story is that they were selling bread and milk. Fortunately, the area around Miyajimaguchi, where Ueno is located, did not have any airstrikes, but on the day the atomic bomb was dropped, the wind pressure broke Ueno’s home window, and the mushroom cloud could be seen in the distance. After the war, fishermen returned from the war, and the conger eel lunchboxes could be sold again.
Historical background seen through a lunchbox label
While it started as an Ekiben and shared history with the railroad, there was a major turning point in the 1950s. It was when dozens of buses started coming to Miyajimaguchi daily for sightseeing and school trips, and “bus bento boxes” became the main trend. At the time, NHK interviewed us loading lunchboxes onto buses. The year after the segment was aired, we started selling Anagomeshi in other stores, becoming famous as a Hiroshima specialty.
That was when we found an old label from the warehouse. It was proof that Ueno was the original, and as “Anagomeshi” became a mainstream item, we could be the one and only restaurant.
This first label was used from the end of the Meiji period to the early Taisho period
In the Taisho period, the Sanyo Railway was integrated into the Japan National Railways, and all the Ekiben labels started to be printed at a printing plant in Kanda, Tokyo. The labels reflected the states of the time with advertisements of Kanto region companies, sharply increased prices during rice riots, and no prints immediately after the Great Kanto Earthquake. During World War II, it was printed with the words “Total Mobilization of Citizens and Spirit” and showed how the war was part of people’s lives.
The label during the war that says, “Total mobilization of citizens and spirit”
There were 12 types of labels. The retro design and advertisements of the time reflect how things were back then
It is peace that allows us to continue
The current “Anagomeshi Ueno” lunchbox
Although “Anagomeshi” had ceased at one point, it has now survived the changing times and continues to be produced with the same conger eel quality and methods. The current name “Anagomeshi Ueno” and the current management style were established during the bubble economy when the Japanese economy was getting carried away. At the time, we were not involved with the “fortunes of the bubble economy,” but in the end, I think that was for the best. The founder Ueno Tanikichi made the original, and we are working hard believing it has the best taste. I think we’ve been able to continue because of our consistent policy of not selling unless we get good ingredients and not selling too many.
The fourth-generation owner, Ueno Junichi
This year, the fifth-generation owner started an online sales “Anago no Chirashi Sushi” because of the coronavirus situation. You can only have Ueno’s “Anagomeshi” in Hiroshima, but you can now get the “taste” of Ueno throughout Japan. I’m leaving future matters to the fifth-generation owner, but I think the reason why we can continue our business is that it is peaceful now. I want people to know that although Miyajima is a tourist destination now, there used to be a time when Miyajima became a deity of war from a deity of the ocean and that Tsutsumigaura was a military base at one point. So I want Tsutsumigaura to be an opportunity where people can learn and think about peace.
I think many people will continue to visit Miyajima, and if people dine at “Anagomeshi Ueno” or buy one of our lunchboxes, I also hope they take a moment to contemplate the concept of peace and bring the thought back with them.
Founded in 1901. It started selling “Anagomeshi” as Ekiben, which became popular. In the 1980s, the name was changed from Ueno Shokudo to “Anagomeshi Ueno.” It is a restaurant you cannot miss when you are touring Miyajima as it offers the original “Anagomeshi,” a Hiroshima specialty.
Address: 1-5-11 Miyajimaguchi, Hatsukaichi City, Hiroshima Prefecture
Hours: 10：00 to 19:00 (closes at 18:00 on Wednesdays) lunchboxes available
Access: a minute on foot from JR Miyajimaguchi Station
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