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.
The Untold History of Ramen How Political Crisis in Japan Spawned a Global Food Craze
Chinese Noodles for Japanese Workers
Was ramen first introduced to Japan in 1665, 1884, or 1910? Is its precursor a dish known as ūshin udon, Nankin soba, or Shina 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 questions about origins, the debate surrounding the roots of ramen reveals the difficulties arising from the open-ended search for the true beginning of any food practice.
The three distinct origin stories concerning the birth of ramen in Japan that have been established by various authors and institutions are as follows. The first and most imaginative originally appeared in food historian Kosuge Keiko's pioneering study of the history of ramen published in 1987. This version dates the introduction of the dish to the 1660s and designates Tokugawa Mitsukuni (a.k.a. Mito Kōmon, 1628-1701), a legendary feudal lord (daimyō) and second in line to the ruling shōgun, as the first person to eat ramen in Japan.
Tokugawa Mitsukuni is a popular historical figure in Japan due to a long-running period drama on television based on his exploits as a disguised defender of the weak who reveals his identity to wrongdoers near the end of each episode with a flash of his inrō (small decorative lacquer case) imprinted with his clan's crest, which serves to identify him as the daimyō of the province. The line "Do you not behold this clan crest?" (Kono mondokoro ga me ni hairanuka?) is repeated by Mitsukuni's guard, Kaku-san, at the culmination of each episode to restore order and hierarchy, leading to instant begging for forgiveness on the par