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“Ramen” original speech ラーメン ― 弁論大会優勝作品

July 1, 2012

English translation below. I produced this original speech for a contest in 2012 with the help of my advisor Dr Masaki Mori. The historical speculation feels highly amateurish to me now, but it was with this speech that I won a solo trip to Japan that enabled me to produce the travelogues I’ve also included on my site.







Benron Taikai
Kieran Maynard

Among the Japanese foods enjoyed in America, ramen is especially familiar to Americans. Ramen has long been known in America as “cup noodles.” However, I was surprised to find that, in Japan, “ramen” is not only cup noodles, but takes many forms and flavors in different places and restaurants. I lived in Fukuoka, famous for “Hakata ramen.” Hakata ramen’s special characteristic is that the soup base is made with pork bones.

The name ramen is Chinese (lāmiàn), and refers to noodles that have been stretched and shaped by hand. The most general Chinese ramen is a beef ramen called Lánzhōu lāmiàn. Most restaurants that sell Lánzhōu lāmiàn are operated by Muslims and do not use pork. Also, at ramen restaurants in China the process of making noodles by hand can be seen, and the price is around 10% of ramen in Japan.

So, how did ramen cross over to Japan, and how did it transform? According to legend, wheat noodles came from China, traveled the Silk Road, and took various forms in different places. In Italy, they became pasta, and in Japan became udon. About 1,300 years ago, during China’s Tang dynasty, exchange developed between the Chinese mainland and the island of Kyushu, and Chinese people came to the northern part of the island. Starting with udon, Fukuoka is the birthplace of Chinese culture in Japan. Ramen, called “Chinese soba” and sold in Chinatowns, became commonplace in Japan during the early 20th century as ramen food stands became ramen specialty restaurants. However, Hakata ramen became famous because of the later “local ramen” craze. In the 1970s, ramen came to occupy a special place in Japanese culture as a product that expresses the characteristic of a locality.

“Sense of place,” or the character of a place, is very important. To extoll the characteristics of a place (and to attract tourists), people make up and emphasize various things, claiming, “Here the cherry blossoms are the most beautiful in the nation,” or, “Here udon is the most delicious.” The way I see it, this tendency to emphasize sense of place began after World War II, due to the fact that Japan’s cities came to look mostly the same. As residents moved to other places and buildings were destroyed and rebuilt in ferroconcrete, the things that express the characteristics of places disappeared, and thus from the latter half of the 1960s, ramen came to be used as something to give character to the towns that had become indistinguishable.

As I said in the beginning, when we say ramen in America, we usually mean the cheaply available cup noodles, but even so, there is the Hakata ramen restaurant Ippūdō in New York and Umaidō here in Georgia. In the future, perhaps Japanese ramen will become more widely known!

One Comment leave one →
  1. July 29, 2022 5:09 am

    Kieran interesting article about noodles. I knew none of this, Keep writing.

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