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The Untold History of Ramen

The Untold History of Ramen: How Political Crisis in Japan Spawned a Global Food Craze

George Solt
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    The Untold History of Ramen
    Book Description:

    A rich, salty, and steaming bowl of noodle soup, ramen has become an international symbol of the cultural prowess of Japanese cuisine. In this highly original account of geopolitics and industrialization in Japan, George Solt traces the meteoric rise of ramen from humble fuel for the working poor to international icon of Japanese culture.Ramen's popularity can be attributed to political and economic change on a global scale. Using declassified U.S. government documents and an array of Japanese sources, Solt reveals how the creation of a black market for American wheat imports during the U.S. occupation of Japan (1945-1952), the reindustrialization of Japan's labor force during the Cold War, and the elevation of working-class foods in redefining national identity during the past two decades of economic stagnation (1990s-2000s), all contributed to the establishment of ramen as a national dish.This book is essential reading for scholars, students of Japanese history and food studies, and anyone interested in gaining greater perspective on how international policy can influence everyday foods around the world.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95837-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-x)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-xii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. Introduction. NATIONAL FOOD
    (pp. 1-14)

    Ōsaki Hiroshi, fifty-four, eats approximately eight hundred bowls of ramen per year and writes about ramen for a living. In his bookThe Secret History of Ramen in Japan (Nihon rāmen hishi),he claims to have ingested more than twenty thousand bowls over his lifetime at 9,500 shops spread across the archipelago of Japan.¹ As the founder of the Ramen Bank, a website offering information on 35,330 ramen shops, he is part of a generation of ramen devotees who have worked to elevate the food from one associated with manual labor and night entertainment to an iconic component of Japanese...

    (pp. 15-42)

    Was ramen first introduced to Japan in 1665, 1884, or 1910? Is its precursor a dish known asūshin udon, Nankin soba,orShina soba? Depending on the answer, one arrives at a different dish with its own origin story and a distinct historical trajectory producing a particular view of Japan. None of the dish’s origin stories are mutually exclusive, but each is a different way of linking the past to the present. It is clear, then, that each story represents a contrast in emphasis rather than a set of fundamentally irreconcilable facts. This is worth noting because, like all...

    (pp. 43-71)

    The Pacific War came to an end with Emperor Shōwa’s announcement of Japan’s surrender on August 15, 1945, but the food shortages set off by the war continued in Japan for years. The crisis in government authority that resulted from defeat produced a volatile situation with respect to food-related crime. As the U.S. military formally occupied Japan and took over official command of its government (1945–52), the food supplies and basic goods that had been stockpiled by the Japanese military first disappeared, then reappeared at exorbitant rates on the black markets(yami ichi).

    By October 1945, one month after...

    (pp. 72-121)

    Ramen became the staple lunch of construction workers and students during Japan’s era of rapid economic growth, 1955–73, when immense building projects and a teeming population of young people from the countryside reshaped life in Tokyo and other major cities. Not only did the availability of ramen rise dramatically, but it developed an image as an affordable meal for people struggling on the margins of the rapidly growing economy. Films, short stories, and magazine articles from this era attest to the increasing availability of ramen and its frequent consumption by those with limited means.

    Ramen’s move from open-air black...

  9. 4 Like It Is, Like It Was: REBRANDING RAMEN
    (pp. 122-162)

    In the 1980s ramen entered a new phase as a trendy food among a new generation of fashion-inclined youths of Japan. As a result, ramen evolved into a mechanism to sell goods and services other than the food itself. Tour packages, television specials, guidebooks, history books, graphic novels, video games, and a full-length feature film devoted to ramen(Tampopo)materialized as the share of disposable income spent on entertainment and leisure expanded. Media productions devoted to the appreciation of ramen coincided with the gradual fading of pushcarts and small local eateries serving the noodle soup in Japanese cities. The overall...

  10. 5 Flavor of the Month: AMERICAN RAMEN AND “COOL JAPAN”
    (pp. 163-178)

    Restaurant-made ramen was unknown to most people in the United States until the 2000s. Americans not residing in a city with a substantial population of Japanese residents would probably still have difficulty finding a bowl in 2013, and those over forty might be reluctant to try it even if offered. Although American familiarity with instant ramen can be dated to the early 1970s with Nissin Foods’ release of the Top Ramen brand, the restaurant-made variety entered American public consciousness only in the last decade after a number of news stories featuring successful shops in New York and Los Angeles appeared....

    (pp. 179-188)

    Two decades of stagnant growth and weak employment prospects for young people have changed the meanings of work and job security for Japanese brought up during the prolonged recession and the growth of the Chinese and South Korean economies. As the unlikely heroes of the younger generation brought up in recession, the independent ramen shop owners have become celebrities who redefined not only Japanese popular culture, but the idea of Japan itself, both at home and abroad. Just as the founders of Sony, Honda, and Panasonic did for an earlier generation, the ramen shop owners born in the 1970s are...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 189-206)
  13. Works Cited
    (pp. 207-214)
  14. Index
    (pp. 215-222)