In the cosy, seaside village of Yokohama, you'll find the fabled Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum. Although it's dubbed a "museum", the experience you'll have is more in line with a trip to Epcot. The museum is almost like visiting a food-themed amusement park which sends you back in time in tastes and visuals.
Access to the Museum
Most people who visit the museum are coming from Tokyo on a day trip to Yokohama. The trip takes about 50 minutes. Take the JR Tokaido Line straight to Higashi-Kanagawa Station. Change lines to the Yokohama City Subway and take the green line to Shinyokohama station. From there it's an 8-minute walk to the museum.
Admission and Hours
To enter the museum, the fee is 310 yen ($3) for adults and 100 yen ($1) for children and seniors. The price to enter is very inexpensive, but you are asked to purchase at least two bowls of ramen when inside as a part of the admission. There is no way to monitor this; it's more of an honor system. But trust me, it's not difficult to want to try a lot more than just two varieties. The museum is open from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. every day except for holidays. The ramen shops inside stop serving 30 minutes before the museum closes.
What is Ramen?
Ramen is a Japanese noodle dish, originally from China, now one of the most popular things to eat in Japan. So much so that many people might even assume that Ramen is originally Japanese. The museum is dedicated to educating people about the flavours, traditions and specialities that different kinds of ramen from all of Japan possess.
About the Museum
The Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum was first opened in 1994 as a one-stop shop for people to sample all different varieties of Ramen, which has been dubbed the national dish of Japan. The interior of the museum is designed to replicate the streets of Japan in 1958. It was in 1958 that the first instant ramen was invented in Japan and so the year is of great significance to the museum.
The museum is made up of three floors. The first floor is the gallery where plaques on the walls detail the history of ramen noodles over the years. Along one wall there is a mosaic of instant ramen bowl designs sold in convenience stores all over the world and highlights the most attractive designs. The information and history is pretty bare bones, so if you're looking for something more in-depth, check out the Ramen Museum in Osaka which is much more thorough.
Street Replica Dining Room
After touring the gallery, you descend into the 2-storey basement where immediately you are awestruck upon walking into a scale replica of the town of Shitamachi, a small suburb of Tokyo set in 1985. The 1950s was a boom time for Tokyo, and it is looked back at with rose-tinted glasses by many older Japanese historians. This was the Showa era when young people still lived in small villages, took care of their parents and cherished the small town lifestyle. Now, those same towns are almost fading away because they are losing all their young people to major cities like Tokyo.
The details in the design of this faux-city are immaculate. The scene is set at dusk, and the twinkling lights of the city have started to shine. We see a variety of ramen shops surrounding the exterior of an old train station in the country. These ramen shops would catch commuters on their way home and were central to small-town life. There is a lived-in feeling to this place, a grittiness that helped the authenticity of the experience.
Along the walls are fake advertisements and retro signage — posters advertising rooms for rent, blockbuster movies and even the latest in electronics. Clothes hung out to dry, and a subtle breeze blew through the air.
The Ramen Varieties
There are nine different restaurants open throughout the two lower floors serving up all sorts of different variations of ramen, each specialising in a regional flavour profile. The small brochure you receive with your admission gives a little description of every shop and what they serve. But the best way to explore them is to give them all a try.
To distinguish the different types of ramen, the place to first look is at the broth. In the south they use pork bone (tonkatsu) broth, in the north, they use a clear chicken and vegetable broth which is seasoned with salt and a pad of butter, in other regions they prefer a soy sauce or miso broth to bring in some extra flavour. My favourite is the pork bone broth. The broth is thick and fatty, mixed with the noodles. This ramen is a perfect, hearty dish.
Other regional specialities include toppings and noodles. You can have wontons, roast pork, bamboo shoots and (due to the Korean influence) a massive helping of hot chilis. There is even a vegetarian option made without pork broth for those with that dietary restriction.
How to Order
There are usually two lines in front of each shop; one to line up to purchase a meal-ticket and the other to get your seat inside. You need to buy a ticket for your ramen from a small vending machine outside the shop before you can get seated. All the buttons are in both English, and Japanese so don't worry about having to translate. Once you've bought your ticket, you can line up and will be given a seat inside.
One important thing to note, you cannot sit inside the restaurant without purchasing ramen. So get ready to eat a lot, or you'll have to wait outside like a chump. I had to do this while my husband enjoyed more noodles on his lonesome. You do have the option of buying a "mini ramen" which is about 2/3 the size of a regular bowl but will allow you to fill up on more throughout your visit.
Once seated inside, these small shop fronts open up into regular sized ramen restaurants and you'd never even know you weren't on the streets of Tokyo. There are tables for groups, doubles and even single seats around the bar, so you won't have to wait too long to be seated. Weekends and holidays are the busier times to go, but on weekdays we barely had to wait at all. Find the shortest line and start there.
The Outdoor Bar
In the centre of the room are a few tables and an outdoor bar where you can order a variety of local alcoholic beverages. In the summertime, they also offer 'kakigori', which is shaved ice covered in sweet syrup flavoured to your preference. Sitting out under the twinkle lights and neon signs this is a great place to take a break in between ramen dishes.
Don't' Skip Exploring the rest of the Museum
After you've filled up on ramen, you can walk around the first basement level to check out the "dashi" or dime shops. These little shops sell penny candy, old retro toys and even pin-up photos of vintage Japanese film stars. Fill up a small plastic basket with all the sweets the little kid inside you desires.
The side street around the ramen shops weave around the museum, hidden alleys and dead ends make the entire place feel so real. See if you can find your way to the ice cream shops where you can cool down after all that hot ramen. There is also a small bar if you feel like a break between rounds of ramen.
Wandering the narrow alleyways, there are also fake storefront selling cigarettes, camera, cosmetics and more. Crawling up the wall are dozens upon dozens of ads written in Japanese. I wished I would have been able to read them as I'm sure they helped set the scene for the surroundings.
On the upper level, you'll find the gift shop. This shop has lots of ramen-themed trinkets, souvenirs and they even sell vacuumed packed ramen packages you can customise with your favourite ingredients to take home with you. They can also print a custom package design with your face imprinted on the packet. These were so cool but be sure you are allowed to bring it into your country before assuming you can bring it home as some customs might not let the meat products through. It's still a great thing to do and even eat back at your hotel before you head on the plane home.
While some people might not think the trip down to Yokohama is worth it to visit this museum, Yokohama is such an incredible city, and I highly recommend adding it to your itinerary. While you're exploring this seaside city, make some time to visit the Shinyokohama Ramen Museum and experience the entirety of Tokyo's ramen scene in one afternoon. Come hungry and leave happy!