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Once you know it, you’ll love it even more! The History of Japanese Ramen

Ramen is a dish beloved by Japanese people and is also quite popular with foreign tourists. Here is an explanation of the little-known history of this delicious meal.

1. The Beginning

The first time a Japanese person ate Chinese noodles was around 1665 in the domain of Hitachi Mito (the northern and central areas of modern-day Ibaraki), and it was the 2nd daimyo of the area, Tokugawa Mitsukuni. There are records that the Chinese Confucius scholar Zhu Zhiyu, who was friends with Mitsukuni, brought back soup and noodles from his own country. (That dish was also recorded and was recreated as Mito-han ramen and it can be eaten in ramen restaurants throughout Mito-shi in Ibaraki.) However, those Chinese noodles did not become popular among the commoners.

2. Development

Around 1872, a number of Chinese restaurants began operating in Nankinmachi, Yokohama (now Chinatown). In 1884, Hakodate's Yowaken placed an ad in the Hakodate newspaper about a dish called Nankin soba, and it's possible that this was the first time that Chinese noodles were advertised in Japan. However, it is uncertain whether this dish is connected to modern-day ramen. After that, street stalls advertising Nankin soba began popping up throughout Yokohama's Chinatown.
In 1910, the very first ramen specialty restaurant in Japan that wasn't a street stall opened in Asakusa, Tokyo, called Rairaiken (no longer in operation). After that, from the early 1920s to 1937, ramen restaurants began opening all around the country, and it's said that this is when many restaurants that created regional ramen specialties opened.

*Photo is of the current Yokohama Chinatown.

3. Establishment

After WWII (1945), returnees from China began opening ramen stalls throughout the whole country. Ramen was cheap, delicious, and nutritious, so it became beloved for fulfilling the needs of a poor, needy era.
After that, ramen restaurants continued to spread throughout the country, and in 1947 the first cloudy tonkotsu (pork bone) soup was created in Fukuoka. In 1955, in Sapporo, the first owner of Aji no Sanpei created the first miso ramen. Around the same time, the owner of Tokyo's Taishoken developed tsukemen, a style of ramen where you dip the noodles into the soup.

*Photo is for illustration purposes.

4. Expansion

In 1958, the origin of instant ramen, Nissin Chicken Ramen, went on sale for the first time, and the name "ramen" became used throughout the country, instead of the original name "Chuuka soba." After that, instant ramen continued to be sold one after the other, and in 1971, the epoch-making Nissin Cup Noodles first went on sale. In 1992, Nissin Raoh went on sale as the first to use raw noodles.
On the other hand, in shops during the 60s, Sapporo miso ramen became a fad, while tonkotsu ramen was huge in the 80s. These variations on flavor became known throughout society.

*Photo is of current Nissin Cup Noodles

5. Innovation and Diversification

In the later half of the 90s, regional ramen such as those from Asahikawa, Hokkaido, and Wakayama, became hot topics. Until the 2000s, ramen made by owners experimenting and creating their own flavors like those of Kujiraken in Yokohama and Zenya in Saitama were popular.
Until then, most of the flavors were thick and rich, but refreshing flavors like salt ramen and broths made from seafood or boiled chicken became popular. Also, cup noodles developed with supervision from famous restaurants as well as fashionable restaurants with impeccable interior design became quite popular. Currently, ramen and ramen restaurants continue to evolve as time goes on.

*Photo is for illustration purposes.

Once you know the history of ramen, you'll definitely be able to feel the flavors more deeply! Please try a variety of restaurants and flavors to find your favorite.

*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.

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