Monday, July 19, 2010

The world's most delicious commercial.

This past weekend, I made a visit to the Instant Ramen Museum in Ikeda, where I take the train everyday. I had seen this place on TV, and it was often listed as a top destination for foreign visitors so I figured it was worth a visit.

Now, before you think this is a museum about all instant ramen as this sign might lead you to believe:

It is in fact an entire museum dedicated to and built by the company Nissin (日清) and their founder Ando Momofuku, making it one massive (and delicious) commercial for the company. Admittedly, these guys pretty much have cornered the market on instant ramen so the name is not a complete lie.

Here is a statue of Mr Ando holding a package of his original invention, "Chikin Ramen" (in case you though poor spelling of English was something new over here)

The museum is free and most of the displays are just terminals where you can watch old commercials, or look at massive models of Cup Noodle or noodle cutting machines or learn how the noodles are put into a cup (cup on the noodles, not noodles into the cup - and I'll understand if you need to sit down and have a break after hearing that).

There is also the "Instant Ramen Theater" featuring God-knows-what as I didn't really have any desire at all to see dancing cups of mono-sodium-glutamate, but next to it was the entralling "Instant Ramen Tunnel" showing all the products produced by Nissin since 1958:

There are also displays of overseas products such as this unfortunate entry from Brazil:

And of course for there is the savior of all college students:

However, the reason for any trip to the Instant Ramen Museum is to visit one of the "kitchens"

There are two kitchens - one where you can make your own pack of chicken - excuse me, 'chikin' ramen (however, this is booked up for the next 3 months), and another where you can make a custom Cup Noodle. (called Cup Noodles in the US since Japanese doesn't have plurals for nouns).

The wait for this was around 100 minutes but at 300 yen (around $3) per custom cup it was quite a deal.

First you buy your cup(s) and then go to a table where you can (to quote the literature "design your cup") which is really a long table with some markers where you can color them.

Here are the results of our decorating:

After decorating you get to wait in line and contemplate what flavor soup you want, and what ingredients you want to add (choose four).

The choices for soup are:
Original, Seafood, Curry, and Salt

The choices for ingredients are:

shrimp, pork, egg, scallion, fish-sausage slice, potato
asparagus, cheddar cheese, imitation crab, kimchi, (today's special - bacon)

First you add the noodles by turning a cranks that rotates a drum and pushes the noodles into the cup:

Then you choose your ingredients:

The cup then gets sealed:

And then shrink-wrapped

Then you put the cup into a plastic bag which you inflate with a hand pump

Tada! - your own custom Cup Noodle!

Worth all 100 minutes of waiting - although the proof of the noodle is in the tasting.

Yay Japanese Marketing Pt. III

As gambling is illegal in Japan (not including national lotteries, scratch tickets, and horse racing) there is, for those with the urge to flush huge sums down a toilet without the damage to plumbing systems, pachinko, which provides endless hours of entertainment to those with the mental acuity of fruit (no offense meant to fruit). Pachinko is a game where a machine sucks up 10,000 yen notes like a vacuum on a late-night infomercial, and in return, it provides a small amount of ball bearings. These are fed into a large hole and are then shot out the top of what is always described as a pinball machine turned vertical. They then tumble down through a series of pegs, bouncing this way and that, until they eventually land in one of several holes. The player has some small amount of control over the speed at which the balls are shot out by means of a small doorknob-like device, but your choice of speed ranges from high speed to ever-so-slightly less than high speed (no doubt the quicker to separate you from your balls - make your own joke here). If you do manage (and by you I mean complex Newtonian physics beyond your calculation) manage to get a ball into certain holes, you are rewarded with even more silver balls.

Modern machines are similar to Vegas slot machines with the player having control over holding certain conditions etc., and these machines are called pachisuro, a portmanteau of pachinko and slot (pronounced, suroto). Pachinko parlors are usually deafeningly loud, smokey, and lit to induce seizures with blaring techno, pulsing lights, and seven lit cigarettes for each player. The balls can not be exchanged for money since gambling is illegal (aside from horse racing, the national lotto, scratch tickets, and boat racing which I previously forgot to mention). The balls can be traded for prizes and there are small storefronts, often little more than a literal hole-in-the-wall, that are desperate for such prizes and will pay money for them. These operations are located separate from, but conveniently next to, the parlor. So everything is clearly above the board.

Now where does the header of this post come into play?

Well, there are many parlors which call themselves pachisuro or sometimes Pachinko and Slot (because they have traditional slot machines that work on the same balls-prizes-cash triangular trade). One I pass everyday bears this awesome name:

Thank you for staying with me all the way for that punchline - hope it was worth it