Man, I’m so busy. I’ve been very absorbed these days in preparing the contents for the paid side “Kita-Aoyama Image Redevelopment” (which opens on August 20th), writing articles and selecting photos for those contents. I’m currently writing this column in the middle of all that workload. That’s why I’m really glad that I took time off to visit Vietnam three weeks ago. Still, speaking for myself, I was never the type to make orderly arrangements weeks ahead of time. And although I usually don’t consider writing for this column disruptive to my break time after the tour, at the moment, for some reason, I’ve become more sensitive to my situation, probably because I don’t have much time to rest at all, so my head has become filled with all kinds of strange ideas. “Please tell me what’s the point of this work? It’s not like anyone will read it, or rather, just who do you think I am?!” Ahh, I’m so glad I took that break, since life, from beginning to end, doesn’t seem to have any special meaning anyway. You’re probably thinking, “by the way, KAN-san, how’re those songs that you’re quietly working on coming along?” And I agree with you. “You are right. Yes, I do.” But you see, in regards to this site project, I don’t think work like this is really fitting to the glamorous and prideful activities of a true artist. Like I said already, it’s pointless.
So while I’m at it, wasting text on pointless excuses, I’ll try to merge the last week’s topic about “noodles” with this week’s entry.
Now, I can’t emphasize enough how exciting this historic “Ramen Boom” is. It has already reached Tokyo, and you can smell it in the air. So last week I happened to drop by some “mass produce” ramen shops, called so because the actual creators of the food aren’t present there. Common flavor with common style. Each shop displayed a menu on a wall scribbled in a calligraphic font, focusing on the items like noodles and soups, and all of these shops had the same atmosphere. The way the servers looked after customers felt as if it was done by the manual. “Hello, please come in～. Do you have any special request for your meal～? Your seat is over here, please～. We have two types of noodles, thick and thin, which one shall we prepare for you～? How firm would you like your noodles～? Right now, we are offering a free small portion of rice with every meal, or would you like soup instead～? Please wait a moment～. Here you go, the thin noodles as requested～! Thank you very much～!” You can tell they rush these phrases out forcefully, like for example: “Uhh, yes, the noodles…They’re made like usual. No, it’s fine.” It’s as if they’re threatened to be speedy.
It’s difficult to tell apart the ambience during this kind of reception at “mass produce” ramen shops from that of convenience stores or McDonalds. If I were to make a really radical comparison, they look after customers like bus guides, JAL stewardesses, and Tokyo taxi drivers, with everyone expressing themselves in the same manner and smiling in the same manner, and the way they greet you upon your arrival is exactly the same. It makes me extremely uncomfortable. And for the second half of the time I spent eating ramen at these shops, the overall mood grew gradually lifeless. But you know, they say that this is merely a trend of the times, and that people support these changes. As a nostalgist, however, I want to see this evolution stopped for the good of others.
Well, as for me being a “ramen detective”, it seems nowadays that before I even enter a restaurant to sniff out its “mass-produce-ness”, I’ve noticed that none of them give off that lifeless vibe anymore. Or perhaps I should say, I made a huge mistake the other day. So I decided to go into this new restaurant in Shibuyaku while passing it on the street. “Alrighty, here I go“, I came in and sat by the counter thinking: “Crikes, could this be a ‘mass produce’ shop?“, and before I know it, the water and the napkin were placed before me and the ramen ordered. There was no turning back now. The eating counter stood surrounding the cooking table by which several young male and female employees stood cheerfully whispering to each other while preparing the ramen. As I had feared, the first sip came with a sharp impactful flavor, while the rest of the dish was plain salty. I clearly made a mistake here. I guess it couldn’t have been helped, since it was certainly a unique eating experience. The real problem occurred after that. There was a female employee making ramen for the next customer and she was boiling the noodles in the middle of a telephone conversation. As she inclined her head, the handless phone extension hung over her left shoulder to her left ear, while she was having fun talking with someone on the phone. She fried the noodles in that state, sizzling them boastfully, and then dished up some pork fillet and green onion.
Right there, I witnessed the end of that historic “Ramen Boom”. Yes, the Ramen Boom has already ended. Obviously by the process of natural selection, through which the bad shops were weeded out, and the only ones that I’ll be visiting from now on will be the good ones, just as I had wished. This is not some nostalgist’s prediction either. It’s the law of big cities. Yeah, I’m really glad that the burden that’s been torturing me all this time has been lifted off my shoulders. That mysterious sense of freedom.
So, although this topic has finally grown into its fruitfulness and I’ve made myself clear, I have to postpone the next part until another week due to present time constraints. In the meantime, how about trying out a bowl of this “mass produced ramen” that I talked about in this entry? When you have time, that is.
※ “Mass produce” is a neologism I used according to my intuitions. Other people may interpret it differently.