Field Report: Tōkyō and Yokohama (14 April 2013) – Part 2/2

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Where Diego watches a tea ceremony, pokes around in an old house, and learns more than he really needs to know about the history of instant ramen.

Second part of two.

I had a great time at the garden, but studies have shown that too much exposure to nature can be deadly to a lad who’s spent most of his life in the city. (Well, maybe not “studies” as such. More like the voices in one’s head. But I digress.)

Time for a healthy dose of urban scenery. As Japan’s second largest city (by population) after metropolitan Tōkyō, Yokohama certainly has no shortage of that.

From Bashamichi Station on the Minato Mirai Line, I headed northeast along Bankokubashi-dōri in the direction of the Minato Mirai 21 district.

Along the way, one of the side streets gave me an open line of sight towards the Yokohama Landmark Tower, which at just over 296 metres in height is the tallest building in Japan.

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Note that the Tōkyō Skytree and Tōkyō Tower are both taller – in fact the Skytree is more than twice as tall (whoa) – but neither of those is a fully habitable building.

I remember reading somewhere (can’t recall the exact source) that the Landmark Tower’s profile was inspired by the shape of Mount Fuji’s elegantly sloping cone. It might be a bit of a stretch, but I suppose I can see the resemblance.

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Picture that, my friends: two of these, one stacked on top of the other, won’t even match the Skytree in height. But let’s save the Skytree for another day – we’re in Yokohama and let’s keep things local.

The tower is quite likely the most prominent piece of architecture in Yokohama’s skyline, and certainly the most recognisable part of the city’s Minato Mirai 21 development: a modern commercial district built upon prime bayside land once occupied by wharves and a former shipyard. It certainly seems like a flourishing area, although still looking a little empty in places.

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After crossing Bankokubashi, I walked east and eventually arrived at the so-called akarenga sōko, a complex of attractive red brick buildings built in the 1910s as customs warehouses for the city harbour. They’ve now been converted into shops and exhibition spaces.

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In spite of the lead-grey clouds and the occasional burst of (thankfully very light) rain, an Indian food festival that was taking place on the day of my visit added a lot of life and colour to the area.

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From here, I walked northwest beyond the main intersection, past the large circular overhead walkway called the Circle Walk (mm, what a creative name), eventually stopping at a cube-shaped building very near the Cosmo World amusement park. No need to check my watch for the time: the digital display on the park’s massive Ferris wheel was kind enough to oblige.

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Mm, running short of time and daylight. Last stop of the day.

I headed inside the plain-looking building on the street corner. If you haven’t been here before (if you have or know what place this is, keep your lips sealed ^_^ ), I’d like to offer a puzzler: what’s so special about this cube? Here’s a hint – it’s a museum.

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A museum of what, you might ask? Let’s take a look at the lobby; perhaps it can offer a clue.

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Simple, sterile, featureless architecture – perhaps a modern art museum? Not quite. After all, Diego has, shall we say, a not particularly high opinion of modern art and generally wouldn’t squander his money on a ticket to see random paint splotches or towers made of rubber ducks.

Last hint. This one’s a dead giveaway: the oldest artefact in the museum’s collection (or at least a replica thereof).

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Welcome to the Cupnoodles Museum, a magical wonderland for fans of all things, well, instant.

A 500 yen ticket brought me past the ushers and up the stairs to the first of the museum’s regular exhibits: the Instant Noodles History Cube. This room has walls lined with a collection of packages and tubs that form an attractively presented timeline charting the development of instant ramen, starting with the very first instant noodle product ever devised, Chikin Rāmen (which we saw earlier).

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In an adjacent room is a small theatre, where I watched a short film that described how Andō Momofuku (founder of Nissin Food Products) invented instant ramen and cup noodles. Like so many other things in this museum, the film seemed to be oriented towards a younger crowd (perhaps below high school age), and was concerned less about history and more about encouraging visitors to exercise creativity and problem-solving skills, just as the famed inventor himself did when overcoming the various issues he encountered whilst developing his products. There wasn’t all that much – in the theatre or elsewhere – about the technical side of things, such as a detailed description of the manufacturing process. Not that teenagers and adults wouldn’t appreciate the place, far from it. It’s a very worthwhile and fun stop in Yokohama, so long as you manage your expectations; in fact I’d be quite happy to return on a future visit to Japan.

Another interesting exhibit is a full-sized replica of the work shed where Andō Momofuku developed his first (and perhaps most significant) invention, Chikin Rāmen.

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There’s also a detailed timeline of Andō Momofuku’s life and work, with facts and figures describing the spread of his company’s products throughout the globe.

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So how does your corner of the world stack up against the rest?

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If you fancy a quick break from exhibit hopping, there’s an outdoor deck with views of the harbour.

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The museum’s highlight for kids and adults alike may well be the special hands-on workshops where, for an additional fee, visitors can try their hand at making instant noodles. Best to arrive early, though, as tickets can sell out. In fact I’d arrived too late in the day to join the fun and will need to put this one on the to-do list for a return visit. (Lesson learned: cup noodles museum first, garden after.)

The CUPNOODLES Factory allows patrons to create their very own cup noodles. Decorate the container, choose a soup base, mix and match from a selection of ingredients. The website says there are more than 5,000 possible flavour combinations, which gives you a decent chance of coming up with a fairly unique version.

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In a sealed room nearby is the Chicken Ramen Factory, an even more hands-on workshop where visitors prepare the actual noodles themselves using wheat flour.

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If the sight of wide-grinned museum patrons (mostly adults, I should point out) happily posing for friends’ cameras with their bags of custom-made noodles is anything to go by, the experience is definitely well worth the extra cost. Count me in for next time.

On the fourth floor is a food court designed to look like a street market at night, where visitors can sample different types of noodles from other parts of the world. Might be a good option for next time – but today, I’ve got something else in mind for dinner.

From the museum, I continued in a north-westerly direction, past some of the crown jewels of Yokohama’s iconic bayside skyline . . .

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. . . and boarded a Minato Mirai Line train bound for Yokohama Station. There, I used my JR Pass to book a seat on the fastest service to central Tōkyō, which turned out to be . . .

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. . . the Narita Express. An old friend, the N’EX: I’ve used it on all my previous trips to Japan as I normally fly in through Narita International Airport. In fact, this fourth visit was going to be the first time I didn’t use the service, as I’d arrived via Kansai and was going to depart from Haneda, but I suppose the old chap just wouldn’t let me go without saying hello.

Into the comfort of the Green Car now for the quick hop to Tōkyō.

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At Tōkyō Station, I transferred to the Yamanote Line bound for Ueno Station, where I immediately went on the hunt for something I’d been craving since Fukuoka: a bowl of freshly made Hakata ramen from Ichiran. I knew that they had a branch somewhere near here, but it was on the outer edge of the station complex so I had some difficulty tracking it down. Eventually, I spotted the familiar sign – and the familiar long queue outside the door.

I’ve already written in detail about the first time I tried this national culinary treasure back in its hometown (see my post about that experience), so I’ll stay quiet for this bit and let the pictures speak for themselves.

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Delicious. Much as I love instant ramen, the non-instant variety’s undoubtedly a darned sight better.

The sun was long gone by this hour, but I had enough time and energy left for one more brief stop on my way back to the hotel. Returning to Tōkyō Station, I lingered a bit instead of making my train connection right away, just long enough to browse through the new shops and snap a few images of the restored exterior.

Sorry for the lack of a clean shot covering the entire Marunouchi building. It’s a very long edifice, and the ongoing redevelopment works meant that the plaza in front of the station – which could have provided a better vantage point – was still a mess of temporary roads and barriers. Walking further away towards the Imperial Palace might have yielded the desired perspective but I was far too tired for that.

In any case, I’m very happy to see the station finally regain its magnificent pre-war appearance. (Search online for pictures taken before the recent restorations began and you’ll see just how massive the improvement is.)

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Look closely at the facade and you’ll notice a thin line in the brickwork marking the boundary between the second floor (which was as high as the building went after its “temporary” rebuilding post-WW2) and the newly reconstructed third floor (which marks the full restoration of the building’s pre-war elevation).

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I covered the interior earlier in the day (including one of the station’s two magnificent domes), but here are a few more architectural details not included in my previous post.

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Time for sleep; we’ve got quite a day ahead of us. Next on our itinerary: we’ll go on the last long-distance train journey of this trip for a daytime visit to Sendai.

6 responses to “Field Report: Tōkyō and Yokohama (14 April 2013) – Part 2/2

  1. I’ll be in Yokohama in October, I’m going to try and make it to the Cup Noodles museum! And I love Ichiran too, I had it at the Shinjuku branch on my last visit to Japan. Great post!

    • Have a great time. Remember to learn from my mistake and do the cup noodles museum first – you wouldn’t want to miss the workshops!

      Mm, Ichiran . . . missing it terribly even as I type this. I wish I’d bought their do-it-yourself ramen kit – probably won’t taste as good as the real deal but I’d expect it to be better than the usual instant variety from the local supermarket.

  2. Pingback: Field Report: Tōkyō (15 April 2013) | Within striking distance·

  3. Pingback: Food Report: Ichiran (Atré Ueno branch, Tōkyō) | Within striking distance·

  4. Do you know if they offer English instructions at the noodles workshops? My family will be visiting Tokyo in March, just wondering if my kids will be able to follow the instructions.

    • I’m not aware if English instructions are provided (I do wish they hadn’t run out of tickets whilst I was there, then I’d know for sure 🙂 ). For what it’s worth, I’ve read several accounts of foreign visitors attending the workshops – with children in tow – and all of them had a great time, so one might assume that either English guidance is available or the procedures are intuitive/visually-oriented enough that no detailed guidance is required.

      Either way, I hope you and your kids will have a great time. I’m planning to visit the museum a second time in March as well (with family members along) and I guess I’ll finally find out first hand!


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