Until about 9 months ago, I don’t think I’d ever eaten a ramen. Then quite suddenly it became a big part of my life.
The weekend the Nintendo Switch came out, I was staying with my parents (who had kindly pre-ordered it as my Christmas present) and talking to my dad about my interest in Japan and my attempt to learn the language. He suggested the best thing I could do would be to go to Japan, and the idea took root in my head.
In the next month or two I had quit my job, settled up my flat and moved across the country to live with my parents and save money. I had the incredible luck to find a job very soon after I moved, opening and then working in wagama, an Asian-inspired restaurant popular for its ramen.
It was working there that I had my first experience of the noodle soup, and it quickly became a firm favourite and a weekly fixture of my lunch breaks.
While all of this was happening, I was also getting pretty into Nintendo’s fighting game ARMS, wherein I found myself primarily playing as Min Min, the daughter of a ramen shop owner with noodles for arms.
By the time I flew to Japan, by a series of happy accidents, I had become “the ramen guy”.
You can imagine how keen I was when I heard people mention the Ramen Museum. The highlight, when people talk about the place, is always the downstairs section where they recreate a historical Japanese town square, with classic ramen shops lining the streets to sell you varieties of ramen from across the country.
When I arrived, I was actually a little surprised at how interesting I found the upper section. In a concise little journey, it showed and taught me the history of “Chinese noodles” coming to Japan, catching the attention of Japanese food culture and transforming into the ramen we know and love today.
There were examples of every kind of ramen, ramen ingredient, ramen discussion and ramen advert you could think of. At the back was a collection of retro toys and an enormous slot car track. It was an eclectic mix, but I’m sure it captures a certain nostalgia for those who grew up eating ramen after school.
Downstairs though, even I was transported back in time. Movie posters showing samurai, boys’ own adventures and Moguera line the walls, which are realistically dusted with dirt and smoke. The smells of delicious ramens waft through the air, stalls sell classic sweeties and ice creams. Old songs gently lull you into relaxation.
There were nine ramen shops, each exhibiting the speciality of a particular region. The smells assaulted me unbearably, they all smelled incredible and the write-ups in the guide map really sold me on each variety. I was even treated to a performance by a talented and entertaining juggler, plate spinner and tight rope walker.
I tried one of the more local ramens, hailing from the Komurasaki restaurant situated right there near the museum itself. It had a flavourful broth, crunchy garlic and succulent pork. The atmosphere was like a 50s American diner, albeit with that textbook Japanese service.
I didn’t feel the need to flick through twitter as I ate; I just enjoyed the noodles and enjoyed the vibes.