Would you visit a museum for a bowl of ramen? That didn’t quite sound right, did it? Museums are (usually) places of high-culture—M.C. Escher lithographs, Rodin sculptures, Aztec pottery, Egyptian sarcophagi.
In the Japanese port city of Yokohama, one could even go to a museum dedicated to a popular snack. The Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum, a zany hybrid of a food court, a Ramen theme park, and a museum, is all about celebrating, well, ramen.
Built in 1994, it’s the world’s very first food amusement park. The museum is a three-storied structure, with a ground floor and two underground levels. As visitors enter the space, they are greeted by a smorgasbord of every conceivable—and inconceivable—ramen-related display that includes ramen-making utensils, 300-plus ramen bowls, chopstick wrappers, matchbooks, curtains, and aprons.
Brightly-colored packets of instant noodles from around the world crane their necks out from the walls. And, if that’s not ramen-y enough, there are overhead monitors broadcasting a stream of ramen commercials over the last quarter century or so. The history of the ramen and how it came to exist in its fast-food form—in Styrofoam cups—is chronicled as well.
The two-tier basement houses the pièce de résistance: a miniature model of a section of Tokyo as it was in the year 1958, the year of the birth of Nissin’s instant ramen. A time capsule of a bustling, working-class neighborhood, shitamachi, is hemmed in by a jumble of tiny shops, houses, restaurants. Vendors selling cotton candy, weather-beaten storefronts, vintage billboards, add a nostalgic note to the setting.
The other attraction, a gastronomic one, is a row of eight ramen stands, each serving its own distinctive variety of noodles from four of the world’s ramen capitals of Sapporo, Hakata, Kumamoto, and Kitakata.