Friday, November 6, 2009

The Instant Ramen Museum

Duking it out with Yokohama's Raumen Museum for control of the definitive history of ramen is Osaka's Instant Ramen Museum. The Instant Ramen Museum takes the view that the invention of instant ramen was one of mankind's greatest achievements, and that its inventor, Momofuko Ando, has irreversibly changed the course of human civilization (really).

Momofuku Ando

A replica of the shack in Momofuko's backyard where instant ramen was invented

The Cup Noodle Drama Theatre

The museum is as much a homage to Momofuko Ando as it is to ramen. They've recreated the actual shack from Ando's backyard that he worked in when he invented instant ramen. They've made a cartoon movie—shown in a theater shaped like a cup of instant ramen—of the agonizing process Ando went through trying to figure out how to best make noodles that would respond well to boiling water, how to fit the noodles into a styrofoam cup and how Ando was inspired to make the lid for Cup Noodle while opening a can of nuts on a plane. All of this is of course nearly impossible to make sense of to your average foreigner, as the displays are all in Japanese. Luckily I'm fairly well versed in the life and times of Momofuku Ando, so was able to decipher most of the displays.

Space ramen

Ando's crowning, and final, achievement before his death in 2004 was to make space noodles, or ramen that could be brought into a zero-gravity environment. No small feat. There's a movie of a Japanese astronaut floating around, eating ramen in space.

Make your own cup noodle

The nice lady making my cup of 'ramen 4 lyfe'

There's an interactive portion to the museum as well, where you can make your very own instant ramen, picking the toppings and flavorings, decorating the cup and having it shrink-wrapped and made into a large floatation device cum necklace before your very eyes.

Demonstration of "middle suspension." The noodles are tightly packed to allow hot water to circulate from below and thus, cooking the noodles evenly. Note the inflatable ramen necklace.

Note to the wise—if you're interested in having schoolchildren stopping you in the street, try wearing a giant cup of ramen in an inflatable device around your neck for a day or two.

One of the first instant ramens to hit Japan - Chikin Ramen

My favorite part of the museum, though, both for its design sensibility and historical significance was the “Instant Ramen Tunnel” that maps, through displays of actual packages, the ramen sold every year since the first package of “chikin ramen” released in 1958.

Momofuko Ando memorial

Momofuko Ando's possessions

As if the rest of the museum weren't enough, there's a memorial to Ando at the end, where they display the many honorary degrees he's received as well as his actual fedora, watch and iPod Nano. This is the bit that's a little fuzzy to me, I'm not actually certain if there was some other significance to the iPod Nano or if his possessions are really being displayed in the likely event that the Nissan staff will one day petition for Ando's possible sainthood.