By Dustin Perry, U.S. Army Garrison Japan Public AffairsApril 12, 2012
CAMP ZAMA, Japan (April 12, 2012) -- Third-graders at Arnn Elementary here visited the Cup Noodles Museum in Yokohama last week, where they were immersed in both the renowned history of instant ramen noodles, and the uplifting life story of the ubiquitous foodstuff's revered Japanese inventor.
The culmination of the students' field trip was a visit to the "My Cup Noodles Factory" on the museum's third floor, a do-it-yourself workshop where they decorated their own foam cups, chose their soup's flavor and toppings, and walked away with a one-of-a-kind edible souvenir.
The museum, which had its grand opening last September, pays tribute to Momofuku Ando and the vast, delicious industry that still thrives today as a result of his innovative spirit that began more than 50 years ago and continued until his death in 2007.
One of the museum's first exhibits is a 14-minute animated short film in which a CGI-rendered Ando tells the story of how, in 1958, after months of trial-and-error experimentation, he perfected the creation of the world's first instant ramen noodles, which were chicken-flavored. Marketed with the stylized spelling "Chikin Ramen," the noodles were an instant hit throughout Japan.
As Ando's empire grew, he visited the United States in 1971 to see if his product could become as popular there as it was in his home country. In Japan, Chikin Ramen was prepared in boiling water, served in a bowl, and eaten with chopsticks -- a utensil not widely used in America.
It was then that Ando came up with the idea to put the noodles in cups.
This modification allowed Western diners the convenience of being able to cook and eat the noodles, with a fork, from the same container. In the 40 years since the introduction of instant ramen to the U.S., the product has maintained widespread popularity due to its economical price and ease of preparation.
As the Arnn students explored the sleek, modern interior of the five-story museum, they were presented with an array of unique and eye-catching exhibits.
The second floor includes a to-scale replica of the backyard shed from which Ando worked to develop his revolutionary "flash-fry" method for drying the noodles. Also throughout the floor are optical-illusion art installations, sculptures and murals based around the theme of six "Creative Thinking Boxes" -- ideals Ando lived by that inspired him throughout his life.
Adjacent to the aforementioned My Cup Noodles Factory is the Chicken Ramen Factory, where visitors go through a step-by-step process of kneading, spreading and steaming wheat flour. The dough is then machine-sliced, flavored, flash-fried and packaged as yet another take-home memento that is available at the museum.
The fourth floor includes Cup Noodles Park, a sprawling playground with slides and rope bridges that resembles a factory. While playing, the children simultaneously learn about the manufacturing and shipping process of the noodles. There is also the Noodles Bazaar, a restaurant with a very appropriate menu: a variety of international noodle dishes such as pasta from Italy, Lanzhou beef ramen from China, Mie Goreng from Indonesia, and cold ramen from Korea.
The third-graders were the first group of Arnn students to visit the Cup Noodles Museum, teachers said, and positive feedback from the students made it likely that more field trips will be held there in the future.