Tickets On Aichi 'oden' Hot Pot Tram Selling Like Hotcakes

Tickets on Aichi 'oden' hot pot tram selling like hotcakesCrowds of hungry passengers are feasting on a seasonal hot pot dish being offered on a special wintertime trolley here, leaving tickets in short supply.
Dubbed “Odensha,” the tram is part of the Toyohashi Railroad Co.’s Toyotetsu City Line connecting Toyohashi and Akaiwaguchi stations.

Essentially a restaurant on rails, the ride offers passengers the Japanese hot pot "oden," hence the name Odensha, which combines the name for the winter delicacy with the word “densha” (train).

The special train was devised to lure new riders to the relatively short line, which stretches a distance of about 5.4 kilometers, in 2007.

Taking a cue from other train lines in the nation, the operator had been running a “beer trolley” since 1993, but only during the summer.

When users asked the railway company to offer a similar ride in the winter as well, it considered what would be the perfect dish to serve in the coldest months of the year.

Naturally, railway officials settled on oden.

Oden is a popular hot pot dish made by cooking items such as daikon radishes, fish cakes, potatoes and boiled eggs in a soup made of broth, soy sauce and other ingredients. It is regarded by many Japanese as a hearty winter offering and is sold in restaurants and even convenience stores during the season.

The project more or less started for the sake of its "punny" name, but serious efforts were needed for it to come to fruition. The biggest obstacle for Toyohashi Railroad was solving how to serve customers hot oden on a moving trolley.

Along with his subordinates, Masahiro Toda, deputy manager of the company’s general affairs department who was working for the railway department at the time, took a cue from lunch boxes commonly sold in train stations that can be heated with just the pull of a string.

This action ruptures a water packet in a separate container inside the lunch box, bringing the liquid into contact with calcium oxide, or quicklime, triggering a chemical reaction that releases heat.

The team decided to serve prepackaged bags of oden that can be prepared using the same technique. The packets were initially pre-existing products manufactured by a large corporation, but bags specially made for the ride by local fish cake producer Yamasa Chikuwa Co. were introduced in 2012.

As suggested by the company, the oden packages include locally produced quail eggs as well as fish cakes containing shiso, or beefsteak plant leaves, that are also a specialty of Toyohashi. Fresh batches of the packets are delivered to the railway company every day.

As oden is typically associated with after-work drinking bouts, the tram ride could not forgo libations to wash it down with.

Fukui Shuzo, a local brewery, introduced a sake cup with a special label on the first year the ride began. A newly designed “masu” wooden sake cup is available every year as a souvenir.

The operator believed two cans of beer would be enough to tide passengers over on a winter ride, but this was expanded to an all-you-can-drink beer plan with jugs from the third year.

The trolley, originally produced in 1955, is decorated with illustrations drawn by Hikosada Ina, the head of the Toyohashi Shiden wo Aisurukai (Association to admire the Toyohashi city railway). The interiors are lined with red “chochin” paper lanterns, which are traditionally used to mark the entrance of drinking establishments, as requested by the then president of Toyohashi Railroad.

The ride has been extremely popular, and tickets over the New Year sold out almost entirely on the first day reservations became available.

“It has now become the breadwinner of Toyohashi Railroad, and I’m very happy about that,” Toda said.

Seeing such a success, the know-how of operating the oden-themed ride are being passed onto other railway operators as well.

Nagasaki Electric Tramway Co. introduced its version of the oden trolley in Nagasaki last year. The Keihan Electric Railway Co.’s Ishiyama-Sakamoto Line running through Otsu started a similar service called “Oden de Densha” in 2010.