I was in Japan back in April and of course I had to visit the Cupnoodles Museum. What, did you expect anything less of me? The museum is located in Yokohama, about a 45 minute train ride south of Tokyo. The '!!!' affixed before the museum's name appropriately captured my sentiments indeed. The establishment exists as an homage to Momofuku Ando, the late inventor of instant noodles, which he did not bring to market until he was 48 years old. While it was certainly a museum geared toward young children - seeing as how there were certain exhibitions from which I was barred entrance because I was too old nor did I have any children accompanying me - it was still a delightful visit that provided more information than one could ever fathom to receive about instant noodles in one lifetime. Plus, with admission you get to create you own custom flavor of cup noodles, sealed in very on-brand packaging and all!
As Japan was suffering through food shortages after the end of World War II, the enterprising Ando experimented with flash frying noodles as a method to extend its shelf life. On August of 1958, after nearly a year of rigorous experimentation, the first package of chicken flavored instant noodles were marketed, making this basic food item available to the public en masse. It wasn't until 13 years later, at 61, that Ando invented the cylindrical, styrofoam-enveloped cup noodles as we know it today. And if you thought that wasn't enough ingenuity for one man, Ando continued on to invent a version of vacuum-sealed instant noodles to bring to space and feed astronauts with two years before he passed away in 2007! The spirit of Ando's creativity and innovation are captured in the many of the museums exhibitions and their accompanying activities. For example, one can visit an exact replica of Ando's shed where he toiled away perfecting his flash frying method and take inspiration from the fact that such a revolutionary product was birthed within such a humble site, lacking in sophisticated equipment. Additionally, creativity is highly encouraged in My CUPNOODLES Factory where you have the opportunity to customize your own flavor and packaging of instant noodles. The Factory features a workspace reminiscent of a kindergarten classroom where you're seated at a round table with other participants (mostly children), grabbing for markers and coloring away.
To say I was giddy upon arrival was an understatement. There was something to catch your eye on nearly every walled surface within the museum. Between the artistic renderings of cup noodles, the gallery which displays every package of instant noodles ever created, and the energy of shrieking, ecstatic Japanese children in my vicinity, I was thrilled. It wasn't long before I nearly morphed into a shrieking, ecstatic Japanese child myself.
To create your own cup noodles, you first line up on the third floor at your designated time. The cost to participate is 300 yen (~$2.89 USD). Your first step is purchasing an empty styrofoam cup from the vending machine. This will be the canvas upon which you'll unleash the artistic flourish and inspiration you've surely built up over the course of visiting the various Ando exhibits. At the next station, you are directed to a low, round table where you are encouraged to decorate to your heart's content. When you're ready, you then make your way to the 'factory' portion of this exhibit to create your own custom flavor of cup noodles. After passing your freshly pimped-out cup to the staff, it gets set down ready to receive one of the blocks of dried noodles steadily marching towards it on the conveyer belt. After the noodles are received, you may then choose your toppings and seasoning. Finally, your cup goes through its last step where the lid is pressed on, then it's yours! You aren't finished, however, until you visit the inflation station (rhyming completely intentional) where you must stick your new creation into a double layered plastic bag and inflate it with air... because how else are you going to protect your precious cargo?!
If you ever find yourself in Yokohama, do visit the CUPNOODLES MUSEUM. It's a delightful way to spend an afternoon. And while you may not be interested in cup noodles specifically, the spirit and energy of the museum alone makes it worthwhile. While I wholeheartedly accept that I may not achieve successes on the same caliber as Momofuku Ando in this lifetime, I will be carrying his teachings with me. Modern life makes it all too easy to chug along fulfilling obligations, working toward the next milestone that sometimes we lose sight of those personal passions or just need to hit a refresh. While the instant noodles I made have since been consumed and are no longer with us, the wisdom stays. It's never too late to start something new or rethink an approach from a different angle. Like Ando once said: "it's never too late to do anything in life." How grand is that!