Despite protestations from Japanese farmers and members of the government bento lunch boxes made in the US went on sale for the first time in Tokyo (July 19) today. According to  Nippon Restaurant Enterprise Inc. (NRE), a restaurant unit of East Japan Railway Co. (JR East),  the cheaper-than-average bento's sold well and on the first day 5,100 units were shifted.
The lunches, imported from Fairfield, California through NRE World Bento Inc,  are available at 25 JR stations in the Tokyo metropolitan area, including Tokyo Station. NRE World Bento Inc, already sells 80,000 bentos a day in the US.  Tariffs are cheaper for this type of product than if the ingredients are imported separately. Consequently the JR is able to cut its bento prices by up to a third.   NRE bento prices ranging from 330 yen to 600 yen, where typically a train station bento costs around 1000 yen. The overall bento market in Japan shifts about 6m to 8m units per day.

Criticising JR's move a group of lawmakers and farmers have demanded the company 'reavaluate its position and its  domestic and social responsibility' in light of Japan's lack of self-sufficiency in food production. The Japan Agricultural Cooperatives protested that JR's sales would increase imports of rice and reduce consumption of heavily government subsidised domestic rice.

By Michael Fitzpatrick, correspondent in Japan

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