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More Than Just Cup Noodles

As a student in Practical Japanese for Study Abroad Students, I have been able to learn more about the culture and language of Japan. It is interesting to see how the structure of language is often shaped by the culture. Japanese society is very systematic, which translates to a language with many grammar rules, but methodical structure. We’ve had several field trips throughout the semester to learn more about the culture and to give us a chance to use our Japanese. We went to the Cup Noodle Museum in Yokohama, which is Japan’s second largest city. It’s right outside of Tokyo and a great place to go if you want a change of scenery.

We got to make our own chicken instant noodles and decorate the packaging

The museum told the story of the creation of Cup Noodles, with a large focus on entrepreneurial innovation. I thought this was interesting because there isn’t much of an emphasis on that in Japanese society. The exhibits on the second floor praised the invention and talked about other similar business ventures. They also highlight the inventor, Momofuku Ando, and the qualities that made him a good businessman. Previously in the class, we had a conversation about the strict course that most Japanese people follow throughout their lives. This rigid path can make it difficult for people that want unconventional careers. It made me wonder if Momofuku Ando would be successful today if he tried to start an instant noodle business. 

Hikikomori is a phenomenon unique to Japan because the business and cultural climate here is different than anywhere else in the world. Hikikomori are people that do not regularly interact with anyone outside of their immediate family. There are multiple reasons why a person might choose to shut themselves off from society, but many cite Japan’s lack of opportunities for doing something outside the norm. They said it was not a very welcoming environment for starting a business or having an unconventional career. This idea is very difficult for many outsiders to understand because we take for granted the chances we have to pick our career paths and shape how we live our lives. To us, hikikomori might look like people who are just being lazy, but it is a complex problem that involves the cross roads between mental health and societal pressures. These social issues and the exhibits at the museum presented two versions of how Japanese society views entrepreneurship. I am curious if the Cup Noodle brand does anything to promote these ideals outside of the museum, such as through new business loans or scholarships for college students looking to start their own businesses.

Aside from the business aspect, the museum talked about the various versions of Cup Noodles and how it is intertwined with food culture. Tokyo is a very efficient, but expensive city. The popularity of Cup Noodles makes sense because they are a cheap alternative that are also very quick to make. The Cup Noodles don’t have a nice appearance, aside from the packaging. Japanese cuisine emphasizes both aesthetics and taste, so their appearance works against them. However, there are a lot of flavor options and, compared to other packaged foods, they still maintain a good taste. The variety of instant noodles available was visible in the first display room where there was a timeline of what year the different types were introduced. Most of these are not available in the United States. The instant noodles that recreate dishes from other cultures stuck out to me because I typically think of instant noodles as only Japanese food. 

After the museum, we explored Yokohama more. It’s history as a port city makes it an interesting mix of Eastern and Western cultures. After seeing the transformation of Western dishes into Japanese instant noodles, the same parallels in the city itself became more visible. The streets were much wider and less crowded than those in Tokyo and a lot of the architecture reminded me of older American cities, like Boston. However, there was still an order and cleanliness to everything that would not be seen abroad.

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