If you ever go to Yokohama, you’ll see them EVERYWHERE…those plastic bubbles tied up with red string, encasing custom Cup Noodles. They’re dangling off of kids and adults alike. That’s because the Cup Noodle museum is ‘the bee’s knees’! In fact, it is rated one of the most popular tourist attractions in Yokohama—which was a surprise to me. I just couldn’t imagine how or why Cup Noodle even had a museum?! To me, instant noodles, like Cup Noodle, were only eaten if you were in complete despair. For instance, being so broke that your food budget consisted entirely of the change you could dig up from between your couch cushions. I mean, instant noodles were not something I could imagine someone happily seeking out.
After living in Japan for a while, I now see instant noodles in a whole new light. Although they’re still a cheap option, instant noodles aren’t viewed as a desperate attempt for a meal. They are convenient and beloved by so many people. This is why there are hundreds of varieties and brands, sold everywhere from supermarkets, to 7/11’s, and even vending machines!
And that’s where the Cup Noodle museum comes in….to share the importance of instant noodle history and technology with the world! (I’m not being sarcastic here, it really IS important food history!) In case you never get to visit the Cup Noodle museum, please, allow me to break it down for you….
In 1958, this guy named Momofuku Ando invented the world’s first instant ramen, Chicken Ramen (they came in little packs like Top Ramen). This idea of instant ramen that could be made quickly and easily by just adding boiling water was groundbreaking in the world of noodles (and remember, this is Japan, so noodles were a big deal). His technique for creating those dried noodles that so magically became soft and delicious again after just a few minutes in hot water caused them to be known as “magic ramen”. Being the noodle novice that I am, I always assumed that they were freeze-dried—I was wrong. Momofuku’s patented technique was actually to fry the noodles in hot oil. Of course shortly after his invention of instant ramen, many companies tried to copy his product with less success. Momofuku, knowing what an important discovery he had made, did hold a patent for his product. And like any good businessman, he wanted to sue these other companies for ripping off his idea….that’s when things get crazy….
The government actually came to Momofuku and convinced him to NOT sue the other companies, but instead, share his techniques so that ALL instant noodles could be as good as his. AND HE DID IT! He became the chairman of the Japan Instant Food Industry Association and World Instant Noodle Association. Blows my mind….What a guy!
And in fact, as you walk thru the museum it is evident that Momofuku was quite a guy. There is an overall theme of creativity and inspiration throughout. The place was designed to inspire creative thinking and remind us all that knowledge inspires invention. These ideas are reinforced with the interactive parts of the museum like the ramen factory (where kids get to make their own chicken ramen) and the My Cup Noodle Factory (where you decorate and create your own Cup Noodle).
Momofuku never stopped thinking of creative ways to impact instant noodle history by continuing to invent new products throughout his life. In 1971, he began packaging his instant noodles in the famous “cup”. On a trip to America, he discovered that people would break up the noodles into a cup then add hot water, and eat them with a fork. He wanted instant ramen to become a global food and the innovation of the Cup Noodle did just that. Then in 2005, just two years before his death at age 95, he created new techniques and packaging that led to the creation of Space Ramen. That’s right, instant ramen for astronauts! ‘Noodles that are out of this world’—literally!
It’s a cool museum, it’s a happy place, and makes you feel inspired. I can see why there are so many kids here and so many school trips to the ramen factory—there is a positive message being presented here. With that being said though, it is packed….mostly with kids….keep that in mind. Weekends are crazy busy and tickets for the custom Cup Noodle making can sell out, so plan ahead. It’s fun to do and for only 300 yen I recommend it, plus it’s a good deal for a personalized souvenir. And if you’re inclined to or in a desperate time, you can actually eat them (recommended within 30 days of their date of creation). I think I’ll be saving mine for the zombie apocalypse! I won’t care if they’re old, because they’ll remind me of that one glorious day when I created them at the Cup Noodle museum—a day when I felt happy and was encouraged to “Never Give Up”.