To many, instant ramen is synonymous with stories of college all-nighters, shoestring budgets and burnt tongues. What’s often lost with these cultural associations is the story of instant ramen’s invention and expansion. It’s a story of technological innovation, cultural modernization and one of the most successful Japanese exports of all time.
The Cup Noodles Museum in Ikeda, Osaka Prefecture, sets the story straight with an engaging (and delicious) tour through the history of this world-famous fast food staple.
At the heart of instant ramen’s story is its inventor, Ando Momofuku. A food scientist and innovator, Momofuku created the first instant chicken ramen in 1958. Working in a shed behind his home in Ikeda, he toiled away trying to perfect the chemistry, flavor and ingredients needed to make the preparation of a bowl of ramen as simple as “add water.” The product was wildly successful in Japan and soon nicknamed “magic ramen.”
In 1971, Momofuku founded Cup Noodles, the brand that has become synonymous with instant ramen worldwide. Taking the principles of “magic ramen,” he adapted the product for a growing global market for food that could not only be cooked conveniently, but could be eaten conveniently.
Today, over 45 years later, an estimated 40 billion packages of Cup Noodles have been sold worldwide, and a cup of Cup Noodles has even been consumed in space. To many, Momofuku’s innovative eye and entrepreneurship is responsible for making Japan’s instant ramen a global industry.
Slurping Your Way Through the Museum
The Cup Noodles Museum exhibit begins with an impressive sight—a wall documenting every flavor and version of Cup Noodles that has ever been sold. The colorful display captures the popularity and scale of this product.
From there the museum takes you on a delightful tour of instant ramen’s history, from a shed in Osaka (there is a full-size replica) to space. The museum is very family friendly, managing to avoid getting bogged down in details and finding interactive ways to present the science of instant ramen.
From there the fun continues with the Cup Noodles Factory. For 300 yen, visitors get the chance to create a customized Cup Noodles, choosing everything from flavoring and ingredients to package design. It’s a great chance to see the production process up close and ends with a tasty souvenir. If all the talk of instant ramen has you hungry there is a cafeteria area with several vending machines housing a variety of instant ramen flavors. As you slurp away, you’ll not only find a Cup Noodles brand you’ve never tried before, but also a newfound appreciation for the magic of instant ramen.
The Cup Noodles Museum is located in the home of instant ramen and Ando Momofuku, Ikeda, Osaka Prefecture. Ikeda Station is only a 20 minutes ride from Osaka Umeda Station via the Hankyu Line. The museum itself is a short walk from Ikeda Station.
I’m an American journalist and editor based in Tokyo. After nearly 20 years living in Japan, I’m still discovering new and exciting places in Japan outside of Tokyo and off the beaten path, such as the ancient “Kumano Kodo" pilgrimage trails and the charming seaside fishing village, Kada.