There are very few pre-packaged meals that are as simple as cup noodles. You just peel back the foil-lined lid, pour in hot water, cover and wait. Within a few short minutes, you have a hot meal ready to go. But have you ever wondered who invented this quick meal-in-a-cup or how the idea came about? You can learn all about it – and more – at the Cup Noodles Museum in Yokohama, Japan!
I know the building itself may not look like much from the outside. But trust me, there is a lot of fun awaiting you once you walk through the entrance!
Be sure to pick up an audio guide at the main desk when you purchase your tickets. It’s a great introduction to the history of cup noodles and their inventor.
The Man Behind the Product
Cup noodles are an instant snack made up of ramen noodles and powdered bouillon, often with some other freeze-dried flavour ingredients mixed in. A man named Momofuku Ando came up with the concept in 1958.
Momofuku was born into a wealthy Taiwanese family in 1910, when Taiwan was under Japanese rule. After his parents passed away, Momofuku was raised by his grandparents, who owned a modest textile shop. Following in their footsteps, he opened his own textile company at the young age of 22. He moved to Osaka for university, where he also opened a clothing company.
After World War II, Japan lost Taiwan as its territory. Momofuku, like all other Taiwanese people, had to choose whether to remain as a Japanese citizen, or to become a Chinese citizen. In order to keep his family’s properties in Taiwan, he became a Chinese citizen. However, he chose to remain living in Japan.
Momofuku gave out scholarships to needy students, which at the time was considered a form of tax evasion. So, in 1948, a case of tax evasion was brought against him and he spent almost two years in jail.
Not long afterward, Momofuku lost his clothing company to bankruptcy. So he opened a new family business producing salt. This business later became Nissin Food Products.
So how did Momofuku come up with the idea for cup noodles? After the war, Japan experienced a serious food shortage. The Ministry of Health tried to get people to eat bread made of wheat flour from the United States. But bread wasn’t really a Japanese food staple, so it wasn’t well received. Momofuku felt that the Ministry of Health should have been encouraging people to eat noodles instead, which was a familiar and preferred product in Japanese cooking. But the Ministry of Health determined that the noodle factories were too small and unstable to support demand. So Momofuku took on the challenge himself.
After several months of experimenting, Momofuku marketed his first run of pre-cooked instant noodles in 1958. (He was 48 years old at the time.) But a visit to the United States in 1966 sparked another idea with Momofuku. He noticed Americans breaking noodles into cups, pouring hot water over them and eating them with a fork instead of chopsticks. In 1971 he invented Cup Noodles – the world’s first instant ramen in a cup. You could say that the rest is history, but there’s much more of the story to tell.
The Cup Noodles Museum
The Cup Noodles Museum is an interactive experience. And you’ll see what I mean in a minute. But first when you enter, you’ll notice the grand staircase. This is where you’ll begin your journey.
The Instant Noodles History Cube
The first exhibit is dedicated to the history of Cup Noodles, mostly its packaging over the decades. This is the Instant Noodles History Cube. As you can see, there were only a few kinds of instant ramen at the beginning. Chicken ramen was the very first product made and marketed to the public.
In 1971, the first instant ramen noodles in a styrofoam cup were sold. (This packaging should look more familiar to you!)
Into the late 1970s, more cup noodles products hit the market:
As you walk around the room, the variety and volume of cup noodles products increases through the years:
Once you reach present day, the wall is filled to the brim with cup noodles packages:
As you can see, cup noodles are now available across many countries, each with their own flavours and packaging:
The Momofuku Theater
After admiring all of the cup noodles packages, head to the Momofuku Theater.
Here, you will watch a CG animated movie about the history of instant ramen and Momofuku’s innovative products.
Momofuku’s Work Shed
After the movie, you’ll see a recreation of Momofuku’s work shed. Here, he invented Chicken Ramen, the world’s first instant ramen noodles.
Here is the interior:
The Momofuku Ando Story and Creative Thinking Boxes
Further on in the museum, you will discover a 58-meter wall panorama. This wall walks you through all of the key moments in Momofuku’s life, and his pursuit of creating inexpensive, quick meals.
Momofuku didn’t just make instant noodles. He revolutionized the entire industry. In 1964, he founded the “Instant Food Industry Association”. This association set guidelines and standards for ramen production to ensure quality and consistency across manufacturers. This included tackling issues such as fair competition and printing the production dates on packaging.
In the “Creative Thinking Boxes” section of the museum, you’ll find some cool representations of Momofuku’s 6 Key Ideas for creative thinking. The projection below is part of #1 – Discover Something Completely New.
I rather liked #4, “Look at Things From Every Angle”. It’s cup noodles art!
Momofuku was an innovator his entire life. In 2005 he developed Space Ramen – vacuum-packed instant noodles that could be enjoyed in space. And by the way, he was 94 years old at the time.
Which is a nice segue to Momofuku’s 6th key idea:
Momofuku passed away in 2007, at the age of 96. But his products and philosophy live on in the company he created.
!!! My CupNoodles Factory
Now we get into the interactive portion of the museum, and my personal favourite. Make your own, personalized cup noodles! This is a timed endeavor, so you have to show up at the time designated on your ticket.
You start out by choosing your cup from the vending machine for 300 Yen (about $3 CDN). Don’t worry, the cups are all the same. Actually it would be cool if they had different designs to choose from right off the hop, but it’s ok. You’ll be personalizing it in a few minutes!
You’re instructed to sanitize your hands, and the noodles factory helpers give you a lid to put on your cup. Then you’re ushered to a table where you’ll customize your cup.
Here’s where the magic begins. Our blank canvases await our artistic endeavors:
Ok, so I’m not artistic when it comes to drawing. I’m more of a knitter/crocheter. Oooh maybe I can knit a cup noodles cozy?
Once you’ve decorated your cup, you get into the factory line. The line staff take your cup and put the dehydrated noodles into it for you. Then, you shuffle on over to the ingredients line. This is where you get to choose your flavour additions.
First you choose your bouillon from four options – original, curry, seafood, or chili tomato. Then, you can choose up to four ingredients from twelve different options.
I used garlic chips, mozzarella cheese, green beans and roast pork.
All of the ingredients are in!
The cup moves to the next station to get the foil-lined lid attached.
Now it’s time for the plastic wrap!
Now you’re on your own to finish packaging your souvenir. Head to the bagging station, where you pick up a plastic bag and string:
The bag design is quite clever. It has a space in the center where you put your cup. Then you inflate the plastic bag around it for protection!
It makes for a very fetching purse – the transparent look is currently all the rage:
The Chicken Ramen Factory and Beyond
As if making your own cup noodles isn’t fun enough, you can also make your own chicken ramen. This required advanced reservations though, so we didn’t partake. But here, you learn how to make ramen from scratch. This includes kneading, steaming the noodles, and drying it with the hot oil drying method used by Momofuku himself.
The fourth floor has a CupNoodles park for the kids and the Noodles Bazaar – a food bazaar designed to look like an authentic Japanese street market. It was closed by the time we got there, but we still took a peek inside:
The Cup Noodles Museum was way more fun than either of us expected. I would totally go back just to make my own cup noodles, but I would also try and advance-book the ramen factory experience next time too!
Museum hours: 10:00 – 18:00 (Last admission is at 17:00)
2-3-4 Shinko, Naka-ku, Yokohama 231-0001 Japan
(Reception time 10:00 – 18:00 museum holidays excluded)