The humble lunch pack becomes the talk of the press room.

While traditional Japanese foods like sushi and tempura are well-known around the world, once you get here, you’ll find there’s a wide range of western foods to tantalise your taste buds as well.

A lot of them are a liiiitle different to what you’d find in Western countries, though, with one example being sandwiches, which are sometimes filled with fruit and cream, and other times, packed in bags with their crusts cut off, in what’s known as “lunch packs“.

Visiting media from overseas covering the Tokyo Olympics recently received an introduction to the Japanese lunch pack, after they were offered for free to journalists at the press centre.

▼ This reporter lists the two varieties available: strawberry jam and margarine, and peanut cream.

The lunch packs were initially described as a “culture shock” by a number of journalists, but like many surprising foods in Japan, once people tried the sandwiches they turned out to be a hit, with the Peanut Cream Sandwich in particular earning its fair share of fans.

Lunch packs come in a huge variety of flavours, covering some rather out-there fillings like ramen and Baskin Robbins ice cream, but it appears that Olympics organisers chose to go with two of their most familiar fillings for visiting foreigners, who were likely trying them for the first time.

▼ Combine these two varieties together and you’ve got yourself a third option: peanut butter and jelly!

The lunch packs on offer at the press centre are definitely on the sweet side, and according to this Japanese reporter, all the free food options were sweet.

Unlike sandwiches overseas, which usually come with the crust included, and might contain more wholesome salad-like fillings on wholemeal or multigrain bread, sandwiches in Japan are usually made with soft white milk bread and are often light on ingredients, making them more like a snack than a filling meal.

That doesn’t mean the media has to go hungry while reporting on the Olympics, though, as the lunch packs were one of the free food options on offer, with more substantial meals like bento lunch boxes and ramen on sale at the press centre.

As it turns out, this wasn’t the first time for lunch packs to take centre stage at a big sporting event. Back in 2019, they became something of a “cult classic” amongst international media covering the Rugby World Cup, hosted in Japan that year.

▼ Peanut Butter ‘Cream’ might be as divisive as Marmite, but it won everyone over in the end.

Given the positive response they received from foreign journalists at the Rugby World Cup, it’s no wonder the lunch packs made a triumphant return for the Olympics this year. And once word got out that foreign reporters had developed a soft spot for the lunch packs at the Olympics, people in Japan were delighted by the news.

“Japanese bread is fluffy and delicious – so glad foreigners like it!”
“Local media has been highlighting all the bad aspects of the Olympics so it’s nice to finally read some good news!”

“These are perfect for photographers and reporters because they’re light and easy to carry for a snack when you’re hungry and don’t have a lot of time.”
“A German friend of mine said they loved the peanut cream too!”
“Lunch packs and convenience stores do more to help Japanese diplomacy than politicians!”

The common love for lunch packs and convenience stores shared by both Japanese and foreigners really has created a bond between locals and visitors from around the world. Like this story of the Canadian journalist who fell in love with a 7-Eleven, these touching tales of connection across cultures are really turning out to be the surprise hit of the Olympics!

Source: Hachima Kikou
Featured image: Twitter/@frankgunnphoto
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