Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum

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Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum is approximately five to ten minutes by foot from Shin-Yokohama Station.

Ramen, which consists of noodle and rich soup, has continued to evolve uniquely in Japan although it was originally introduced from China. It has now earned as much popularity as another traditional Japanese dish - sushi, that is widely loved not only by the locals, but also non-Japanese all around the world. The ramen flavour and toppings varies from region to region. In the northern part of Japan, especially Hokkaido, clear chicken and vegetable based broth flavoured with salt and often with some butted added is predominant. In the south, namely Kyushu, pork bone or tonkotsu broth is favoured and it is widely known as Hakata ramen.

There are personal preferences too; some people prefer a soy sauce based soup, some like a miso base, some a salt-flavored base. In recent years, spicy flavors influenced by Korean and Thai noodle soups have come into vogue too. Then there are different things that can be added to the ramen, such as wonton dumplings, char siu (roast pork), menma (dried bamboo shoots) and so on. You can almost not find two ramen shops which serve the same bowl of ramen, as it is common for them to compete with each other over their individuality.

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The main entrance to the museum on the first floor.

A ramen amusement park is where the renowned ramen shops across the country are brought together. Now, it is said there are over 20 of them nationwide. Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum (The "u" in "Raumen", referring to ramen, is intentionally spelled that way) was the first of this kind and was opened in August 1993. This unique ramen museum consists of three floors, the ground floor and two basement floors.

On the ground floor, there is a ramen gallery, where the history of ramen and its transition in Japan, the variety of noodles, soups, toppings and items such as the bowls and the cookware of ramen shops across Japan are exhibited. Well, to be honest, they are mostly boring stuff encased in glass.

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A replica of a counter at a ramen restaurant.

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Here are some of the implements used to strain the broth. Different sizes of bowls used for ramen are also displayed.

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Basic ingredients used as the topping for a bowl of ramen.

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The process of producing the ramen noodles, and there are several types of noodles, with various thickness.

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Two huge steel pot, which are used to cook the broth.

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A map that shows the quantity in a bowl of ramen, which differs according to regions.

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My personal favourite ramen of all - Hakata style tonkotsu ramen.

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A corner in the souvenir shop where visitors can mix and match the various ingredients to create their original ramen recipe.

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猫ラーメンクッキー (Neko ramen kukki), which translates Cat ramen cookie. If you have never heard of Neko Ramen, it is comedy manga that centers 
around a cat (Taisho) and his encounters while running a ramen shop (check out its Youtube video). Apparently, this museum is the only place 
that sells official Neko Ramen merchandises.

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The statue of "Uncle Charumera", a famous ramen trademark in Japan.

Uncle Charumera is a typical workman who pulls portable food stalls, selling ramen noodles. By the mid 1900's, these stalls used a type of a musical horn called "charumera" to advertise their presence. Uncle Charumera was born in 1966 as an advertising character of instant noodles company, Myojo Food Company (明星食品株式会社). Nostalgic melodies of "charumera" is said to have given Japanese people an appetite of ramen noodles.

Up to this section, this place seems to be just like another typical museum. The fun and exciting part however, exists on the two basement floors, that it made me putting this museum as one of the best spots I have ever visited in Japan.

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A classic vending machine of Coca Cola; believe it or not, this machine is still working and each bottle of Coke is sold at ¥200.

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A signboard, typically seen in train stations, which shows the Narutobashi (成戸橋) direction.

Upon getting down the staircase, visitors will get to travel to the past century.

A slightly seedy night time scene around a train station neighbourhood has been recreated to bring back the look and feel of the good old days of Showa era in the late 50's. It was the period when Japan was booming economically, yet many people still lived in small, friendly neighborhoods, children took care of their parents in their old age and kids grew up with their grandparents, and all that kind of thing, which is becoming something very uncommon in Japan nowadays.

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A fake train ticket counter, with has a board listing the train ticket price from as cheap as 10 yen!

The train station neighborhood setting makes sense, since small ramen restaurants used to, and still do, like to set up shop near a train station to catch commuters passing through.

The streets and houses of Shitamachi, the old town of Tokyo of around the year 1958, looks a bit like the Forum at Caesar's Palace, or the Venetian fantasy version of Venice, except that it is late 1950's to '60s urban Japan rather than ancient Rome and so on, which pays a homage to the Showa era and ramen as well.

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From a modern world in the 21st century, you come to an amazing setting of a colourful neon-lights neighbourhood.

There are nine ramen shops dotted around Tsurukame-cho (鶴亀町), Renge-cho (蓮華町), and Naruto-cho (鳴戸町), the three mythical towns of this neighbourhood. Each restaurants features a ramen dish from a different region of Japan. For visitors who wish to try multiple ramen dishes, every shops offers "mini ramen", which is about two-third's portion of the feature dish.

Tickets for the meals are purchased at vending machines in front of each stores before entering. Once the meal tickets are purchased, you get into the line that leads to the shop. You hand the ticket to the shop assistant at the entrance as she will point to your seat.

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An unused post box as well as an astrology corner (usable) behind.

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One of the narrow lanes at the first basement floor.

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Does this traditional game remind you of your childhood days?

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Down a back alley, there is a dagashi (駄菓子) shop, literally a sweet shop, which is said to be found in every towns.

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Real candies, toys from the olden days, and other things such as bromides (pin-up photographic potraits) of bygone era celebrities are sold.

One interesting thing about this shop is the price. First you grab one of the plastic baskets piled up outside the shop and fill it with anything that catches your eye. You then hand the basket to the lady-in-construction (I say that because well, he is not a real lady anyway, if you get what I mean). Yuba-chan (ゆうばあちゃん) will calculate the items and you pay her the amount accordingly.

"Ichi-man-yen kudasai", or "Ten thousand yen, please". Two sweets will roughly cost you that price. That trick works most of the time as it usually gives a clueless look on the visitors' face haha! Nevertheless, Yuba-chan was obviously just trying to pull the legs of the visitors.

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There are also nostalgic old-style clubs and bars, with music from the oldies running through the streets.

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A telephone booth, which is no longer in use. I admire how they design the place to make it look so real.

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Opps, I ter-posted a 18SX photo, didn't I? Anyway, this is inside Renge-yu (銭湯), which is actually a staircase.

There are a few spots where they will lead visitors to something which is almost unrelated at all. Besides that public bath in Renge-yu, there is a police box or koban (交番), which is connected to an elevator behind it. After experiencing the life from the olden era, one may wonder, how does the toilet look like? Is it a wooden toilet where people have to squat when they do their big business?

My curiosity brought me to look for the toilet and to my surprise, it-was-something-I-didn't-expect-to-see!

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Walao-eh! The toilet looks like a toilet from a ten-star hotel man!

After going around the neighbourhood, it was time for me to feed my hungry stomach with some good ramen. Needless to say, I went for Hakata ramen. Taiho Ramen (大砲ラーメン) originated from Kurume in Fukuoka prefecture in southern Japan.

There are usually two types of seats available on every shops, namely table seats or seats at the counter. The good thing about choosing a counter seat is that you get a good view of the guys working at the kitchen behind, and perhaps learn a skill or two on the process of preparing a bowl of ramen.

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Taiho Ramen specialises on tonkotsu (pork bone) broth ramen.

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The broth is poured into the bowl through a strainer.

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One special thing about this shop is that they serve you cold green tea instead of plain water.

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I went for the set meal, which has a mini ramen (ミニ昔ラーメン), a bowl of char siu rice, and three pieces of gyoza.

The broth was indeed rich and thick, but honestly, I would not say it is the best bowl of ramen I have tasted. Probably the mayu (麻油), a blackish, aromatic oil made from either charred crushed garlic or sesame seeds added to the broth is something new to me, which I am still not used to taking. Besides, the broth had an odd fishy undertone, even though the shop claimed that they only use pork bones to make their broth. Also, the noodles were rather thick to my liking, because I personally prefer thin and firm noodles.

In a nutshell, this ramen museum is a great way to experience various types of ramen in one convenient place and to learn a bit about its history. Believe my word, it is worth your time to visit this place. After indulging myself to a satisfying bowl of Hakata ramen, it was time to return to the reality.

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Time to go back to mirai (未来), or the future.

Nevertheless, whenever I feel I am getting older, I know where to go now; by traveling back the time at Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum.

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