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Japan 2014 — Day 17: Yokohama — Sakuragicho

This is our last prop­er day in Japan. Right across from our hotel was a Mister Donut.

I’d semi-joked to D that we should eat at Mister Donut before we left Japan the pre­vi­ous night and this morn­ing D insisted on a pit stop. I pro­tested that donuts were hardly a break­fast food but D assured me that we’d just buy them and eat them later. Breakfast first!

We found a Cafe Pronto where we indulged in pasta one last time. D had a bacon cabon­ara with a soft boiled egg, while I had a mush­room and bacon pasta. We’d both wanted the mush­room and bacon pasta but D was averse to order­ing the same thing (usu­ally in case it sucks!) and I has ordered first. The mush­room and bacon pasta is def­in­itely one of my favour­ites!

And it’s donut time! I chose the ori­gin­al glazed donut. I’m bor­ing and wanted to com­pare it to the ori­gin­al glazed Krispy Kreme. They taste much the same, although a Krispy Kreme has a thick­er glaze mak­ing it more tasty.

D chose what we thought was a dough­nut with chocol­ate icing. Except when D bites into it, I real­ise it’s actu­ally a cronut! All those fluffy lay­ers! D had no idea what a cronut was but I did and had lamen­ted that they cost upwards of $3 in Sydney. and here, they sell them just like any oth­er dough­nut for ~$2! D’s fancy cronut put my ori­gin­al dough­nut to shame!

Stuffed with pasta and finis, we make our way to the Cup Noodle Museum once again. But not before we walk past the vend­ing machine selling a mel­on soda spider that we’d spot­ted the pre­vi­ous day before real­ising we were out of cash. ¥100 for a 500 ml can is a bar­gain!

The Cup Noodle Museum is one of the very few places that could pull off the use of not only one, but three exclam­a­tion marks in their logo and still man­age to be classy.

The inside of the museum makes gen­er­ous use of space like you’d expect in a con­tem­por­ary art gal­lery. The ceil­ings are high and there’s ample white walls. And there’s a giant blow up rep­lica of a Cup Noodle con­tain­er with the cute chick­en mas­cot sit­ting atop.

We’re inter­ested in mak­ing chick­en ramen from scratch, so after pay­ing for gen­er­al admis­sion we head upstairs to level three to pay for our tick­ets (¥500 per per­son). The chick­en ramen class takes 90 minutes and all par­ti­cipants must be in pairs, so this isn’t some­thing a single trav­el­ler can enjoy unless you befriend a stranger before­hand.

There’s a ded­ic­ated area where they hold the chick­en ramen classes. It’s divided into three sec­tions with each hav­ing enough equip­ment (mainly a pasta maker) for 20 stu­dents. Before you start they take you through hand wash­ing (of course!) and don­ning a bandana and apron.

The staff are used to hav­ing for­eign vis­it­ors (of our group of 10 people, over half were English speak­ing) so they have the instruc­tions ready in English for us. There’s a staff nev­er who gives the gen­er­al over­view of what’s hap­pen­ing and after­wards there’s anoth­er staff mem­ber assist­ing each group (usu­ally two groups to each staff mem­ber, but we were lucky and got one all to ourselves!) through each of the steps.

The flour mix­ture is pre­pared earli­er so all we need to so is add liquid and knead the dough. After knead­ing and rest­ing the dough for about 10 minutes we put the dough through the pasta maker mul­tiple times to achieve increas­ing thin­ness.

Once the dough is the right thin­ness, the staff mem­ber changed the set­tings on the pasta maker so that it would slice the dough into thing strips that we’d cut with scis­sors every 20 cm. We then weighed two 100g por­tions of the noodles, before toss­ing it around in the liquid season­ing provided. Once that’s done the staff mem­ber takes it behind to the com­mer­cial kit­chen and pre­pares it for deep fry­ing.

The kit­chen area where all the deep fry­ers are kept is restric­ted to staff. But they’re keen on assur­ing their vis­it­ors that noth­ing funny is hap­pen­ing with their noodles — glass win­dows front­ing the kit­chen extend from the waist up to the ceil­ing, and the con­tain­ers used to deep fry the noodles are numbered to cor­res­pond with the num­ber you received when sign­ing up (so 13 and 14) and they take note to show you the num­ber when put­ting them into and tak­ing them out of the deep fry­er. You can be sure you don’t have someone else’s noodles!

While we waited for the dough to rise earli­er, we drew pic­tures on the pack­aging provided. The freshly fried noodles are placed in this pack­aging before heat sealed for fresh­ness. Perhaps a res­ult of the human labour involved in mak­ing the noodles, the time to expiry for the noodles is only one month.

At the end of the class, each per­son receives a bag with the pack­et of chick­en ramen they made and an ori­gin­al (mass pro­duced) pack­et of chick­en ramen. You also get to keep the cute bandana that you were giv­en to wear dur­ing the class.

If you can’t spare 90 minutes, there’s also a sec­tion of the museum that let’s you dec­or­ate your own cup noodles and choose the top­pings. Each cup of noodles is ¥300. We opted out of doing this after mak­ing chick­en ramen — even though they give you an awe­some air-filled bag (that you get to pump your­self) we were run­ning ser­i­ously low on lug­gage weight and the air pres­sure in the plane would do weird things to the bag.

We head upstairs and find the Noodle Bazaar, which is a space dec­or­ated to look like street mar­kets is South East Asia. There are stalls selling the most pop­u­lar noodle dishes, includ­ing spa­ghetti from Italy, instant ramen from Japan, pho from Vietnam, mi goreng from Indonesia.

Coming off the end of the mak­ing chick­en ramen class we tried the instant ramen. It’s the same chick­en ramen we made, and you get to choose two top­pings out of sev­er­al, for ¥150. We chose pork and corn. You can also get unlim­ited soft drink refills for ¥300.

And shaved ice for dessert! This is best shaved ice I’ve ever tasted. It’s sur­pris­ingly creamy. I don’t under­stand how that’s pos­sible but it’s so deli­cious I still crave it on hot sum­mer days in Sydney!

Directly oppos­ite the entrance to the Noodles Bazaar is a bal­cony with expans­ive views of Tokyo Bay. The cold front that came in just the day before meant it was abso­lutely freez­ing out here!

Back in the warmth of the museum, we head down­stairs to the main museum part (as opposed to the area with all the actit­iv­it­ies). The entrance is a room to a phys­ic­al timeline of the his­tory of instant noodles, both by Nissin and of brands around the world.

The room of instant noodles brings you to a bright red room show­ing a video explain­ing the ori­gins of Cup Noodle and the jour­ney the the founder took to make the brand the suc­cess that it is today. At the end of the video, a door opens at the oppos­ite side to the entrance to bring you to the start of the exhib­its. You can bor­row English (and Chinese and Korean) tracked head­sets from the staff at the entrance.

This is a rep­lica of the founder’s hut in his back­yard in which he dis­covered instant ramen. It even has light effects to sim­u­late the noodles being deep fried.

A cent­ral part of the suc­cess of Cup Noodle relies on the fact that it’s founder sought to share his exper­i­ence with people who wanted to copy his meth­ods rather than mono­pol­ising the idea. In this way, he was focused on the forest (that improved qual­ity in instant ramen in the mar­ket would be bene­fi­cial for the wider com­munity) rather than the trees (the fin­an­cial gain to be had from mono­pol­ising the meth­od of mak­ing instant ramen). This very simple shad­ow dis­play that uses only trees and a mov­ing light source illus­trate this idea with immense clar­ity.

Further through the exhib­its we encounter a sculp­ture fea­tur­ing a noodles spill­ing out of a Cup Noodle con­tain­er. The noodles near the roof spell out words like ‘love’, ‘cre­ativ­ity’, ‘inspir­a­tion’.

At the end of the exhib­it there is a life size mod­el of the founder hold­ing Cup Noodles.

It still sur­prises me that gift shops in Japan do sell their products at a huge mark up. Indeed you can get a souven­ir for as little as ¥100, which will get you a mini eraser Cup Noodle eraser, and ¥550 will get you four key chains fea­tur­ing mini Cup Noodle in four fla­vours (chick­en, curry, sea­food, chilli tomato).

What was most intriguing though was matroska doll like con­fig­ur­a­tion in the form of Cup Noodles. Each smal­ler cup rep­res­ents an ingredi­ent that goes into the mak­ing of a con­tain­er of Cup Noodle (e.g. flour, season­ing, oil etc.).

After spend­ing a good three to four hours in the Cup Noodle Museum, we head across the street to World Porters. I’d lamen­ted that we’d not eaten any taiyaki this time in Japan earli­er. So we stopped by this taiyaki place attached to a ramen res­taur­ant.

Unlike nor­mal takoy­aki, which is filled wjth red bean paste, this one had the red bean paste com­ing out of its mouth as well as ice cream and matcha paste. It was tasty!

While the dif­fer­ent filling was some­thing I ordered expect­ing, to be abso­lute delight, they had used mochi bat­ter instead of the typ­ic­al pancake/​waffle bat­ter to make the taiyaki! Before Hana Hana closed down in Sydney, it used to sell mochi waffles that were deli­ciously crispy on the out­side but chewy on the inside. I was so dis­ap­poin­ted when they closed down, so it was delight­ful to find it in taiyaki form in Yokohama!

We explore the upper levels of World Porters (many of the middle floors sell home­ware) and bump into a Sylvabian Family themed res­taur­ant. I love the playsets as a child (and still do!) so I spent some time admir­ing the dis­plays out­side! The res­taur­ant itself is a buf­fet, but we weren’t too inter­ested in the food (we were being the end of our trip so more inter­ested in Japanese, rather than Western, food at the time.

Japanese food seemed hard to come by in Sakuragicho. But they did have their very Japanese take on desserts that com­bined cakes with the crane machines that you usu­ally see in arcades for win­ning plush toys. If I recall cor­rectly, ¥100 will get you one try to move the cake off the shelf. I assume they don’t make it too hard, ’cause oth­er­wise they’d lose too much money from hav­ing to throw the old cakes out (cakes, unlike plush toys, do go off!). We didn’t try, but we did was much two school girls try without suc­cess.

After explor­ing World Porters from top to bot­tom, we headed back to the hotel for a break. Earlier in the morn­ing we’d vis­ited the Andersen’s Bakery bear Sakuragicho sta­tion but didn’t end up eat­ing our pur­chases as we stumbled upon a Cafe Pronto.

I pur­chased this corn bread, which was ridicu­lously unspec­tac­u­lar.

But D got a jagabata in bread form! The but­ter was cold so it prob­ably wasn’t as tasty as it could have been but it was so nov­el!

A while later, we head back out to explore the Minato Mirai area some more. We’d left our hotel with our nor­mal jack­ets but had to go back for our thick­er winter jack­ets. It was really just that cold! And amaz­ingly windy which makes it all the colder.

The walk from Sakuragicho to Queens Square is really quite long but there’s a long series of trav­el­let­ors. Along the walk we see this boat sit­ting in the bay.

There’s a super neat curved escal­at­or in Queens Square, which amused is enough to travel on it a couple of times. Queens Square has also partnered with Disney for Christmas. On the whole though, I found Christmas dec­or­a­tions to be lack­ing in Yokohama. There prob­ably aren’t enough people around to appre­ci­ate them in Yokohama.

We pass by a train afi­cion­ado store, selling clocks themed using train lines like the Yamanote Line in Tokyo for ¥76,000 or ~$76. The same store has a mod­el of Sakuragicho in its win­dow! It didn’t have mov­ing mod­el trains, alas.

It’s our last prop­er meal in Japan, so we had a good look around for some Japanese food before decid­ing on this tonkatsu res­taur­ant. Our pre­vi­ous exper­i­ence with a tonkatsu res­taur­ant was the dark miso tonkatsu from Yabuton in Nagoya.

The tonkatsu might have drawn me in but D and I both ended up order­ing dishes with prawn in them. Mine had three fried prawns, while D’s had two fried prawns and a piece of fried chick­en. Each meal came with a cab­bage (free refills!), rice, and miso soup.

The miso soup had tiny clams in it! And yuzu fla­voured soy sauce was avail­able at each table. I quite like the taste of yuzu (its both sweet, tangy, and a little bit­ter) and the sauce on the fried prawns was just deli­cious!

And we’re back to our hotel to enjoy this amaz­ing view one last time!