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Ramen museum? Thoughts instantly conjure up 1000 year old petrified noodles and perhaps a fossilised bowl fashioned from half a coconut. While there certainly are elements of a history lesson involved here, there’s also so much more to enjoy… and we’re not just talking about the ramen!

Getting there:
It’s only a few blocks from the station but it takes a little longer due to having to take the spaghetti of overpasses to cross the large intersections. It’s a rather uneventful walk but nothing too strenuous.

Outside its rather unassuming, pretty much a corporate looking building tucked away in a business district, the giveaway however is ticket box office. Inside, its kind of what you’d expect, a reasonably spacious art gallery style layout of items and history relating to the past, present and future of the delicious noodle and broth combo. Accompanying plaques are all in Japanese but there is still plenty of visual stimuli and a gift shop section selling a wide variety of ramen related souvenirs and cooking utensils if you’re so inclined.

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What you wouldn’t expect is a mini coin op games arcade, a sizable slot car race track and a shop selling a huge range of scale model kits (mostly cars, vehicles). But that was quite alright with us! Ok, so maybe you were expecting some side entertainment Japanese style but take a trip downstairs for the real wow factor and to get your slurp on.

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Travel Tip:
This shop and the race track operate under shortened hours, best to check with the venue if you want to add it to your day.

What we discovered was some kind of time warp! Teleporting us back to 1958, the year instant noodles hit the shelves and paved the way of the future. Views from the mezzanine level show a perfectly recreated Tokyo street scene complete with authentic hustle and bustle of busy chefs and hungry customers to grimey walls and signs and even props like old coke machines and stores. Some of the stores are actually functioning businesses selling vintage items like old film cameras.

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The ambient sunrise to dusk mood lighting across the painted ceiling seals the deal and sets the mood for eating regardless of the weather or time of day outside.

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To the stores, there are about a dozen famous ramen restaurants from all over Japan and to help with your choices, most sell a snack sized version of their meals so you can try a few rather than filling up at one place. If you’re travelling in a group that wants to try a bit of everything, there’s a central common courtyard area so you don’t need to all buy and eat at one place. The space also plays host to entertainers and musicians, during our visit a magician had the crowd in stitches. I’m sure it would’ve been even funnier if we knew what he was saying!

After a brief assessment of the selection on offer we locked in our choice at Ikemen Hollywood, not just for its American 50’s diner decor but for its infamous “Dip Ramen”. That’s right, the noodles and ingredients are separate, have as much or as little of the broth as you like! Verdict? An ear deafening slurp, will eat again! …except you cant. As of June this year they have closed that store! No idea why but perhaps it was drawing in too many greasers and Elvis impersonators who disrupted other guests? :p

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Travel Tip: Placing your order – all orders are placed via vending machines at the front of each shop. Simply punch in the code or press the button associated with your meal, insert cash and take your receipt. Don’t worry if you get confused, the friendly staff/host(ess) will be more than happy to help you.

Next up, we stop in at Nissan HQ and do a quick run through Yokohama’s bay area.

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If you have any questions on our travels, where to buy, what to do, hit us up on the Soulbridge media facebook page.

Japan 2013 part #1 – Arrival
Japan 2013 part #2 – Tokyo International Toy Expo
Japan 2013 part #3 – Gotemba – Premium Outlets mall
Japan 2013 part #4 – Tokyo – Studio Ghibli Museum
Japan 2013 part #5 – Tokyo – Kichijoji and Nakano
Japan 2013 part #6 – Tokyo – Akihabara
Japan 2013 part #7 – Tokyo – Tamiya HQ, Diver City
Japan 2013 part #8 – Yokohama – Zoorasia
Japan 2013 part #9 – Yokohama – Ramen Museum
Japan 2013 part #10 – Nissan HQ and Yokohama
Japan 2013 part #11 – Osaka – Nanba Shopping
Japan 2013 part #12 – Kyoto
Japan 2013 part #13 – Tokyo – Harajuku, Shibuya
Japan 2013 part #14 – Osaka castle, Umeda Sky building
Japan 2013 part #15 – Osaka Aquarium and Tempozan wheel
Japan 2013 part #16 – Osaka Universal Studios

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If you don’t know what Studio Ghibli is, stop reading and head down to your video store and at the VERY least hire out Ponyo. Its one of the most readily available works and is easily digestable with some big name Hollywood actors lending their voices to the characters. For the uninitiated it’s a good place to start for a peak into the world of the creations from co founder, animator and director, Hayao Miyazaki and Japanese anime in general (that doesn’t involve Mecha or demon tentacle rape).

Yes it’s a kids cartoon but it and the Studio Ghibli philosophy of wide eye wonder and innocence is something many would say is missing from today’s society. Where Disney portrays a lot of things happen by magic, the SG way of things is much more whimsical in a simple acceptance that there are many worlds and realms within our own and characters from each interact freely.

This simplicity and untainted wonder can be traced directly back to what some might say “eccentricities” of Hayao Miyazaki. Very much a traditionalist in the art of animation with most bar a couple of his recent works being all drawn, coloured and animated by hand and he has on many occasions voiced his displeasure with technology, not owning a computer or DVD player and even going as far as saying people using iPads are making masturbation gestures (though isnt that just Apple users in general? 😉 ). This rejection of technology is imposed at the museum where absolutely no photos are permitted. Some (including myself at first) will think this is a bit of a jip feeling like you’re back in an 80’s theme park without film and stuck having to resort to buying your overpriced memories from the giftshop! As true as that may be it adds to the wonderment and for once in a long time (apart from those nights where you’re too drunk to take photos (or ones worth keeping)) many will not have a minute by minute running commentary of their outing and will have to rely on their other body’s sensors not the one in their camera. So this reduces our usual story by pictures account of events but it just means you’ll have to go experience it for yourself 😉

Travel Tip: All tickets are prepaid and are limited to a certain number each day to maximise your experience and comfort (if only all tourist spots did this!). For international tourists, the best way to secure a ticket is to purchase them through authorised dealers/travel agents in your home country, they are also available via some convenience stores in Japan but this choice would be for those with a flexible schedule. Tickets go on sale 3 months in advance so you have plenty of time to plan your stay if you’re on a tight schedule like we were. In Brisbane we used H.I.S. travel in the city.

Getting there:

The website suggests a couple different ways of getting there, namely shuttle bus, but we recommend leaving your hotel a little earlier, catching the train to Kichijoji station and walking. Head south out of the station, through some lanes of boutique stores and follow the signs to Inokashira park (a highlight from our previous visit, with a rather different look in the summer), then on to the museum. The walk takes about 30-45min which includes regular stopping for photos through out the park but once you hit the major road it’s a straight run to the unmissable destination.

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Unmissable in the sense that…well, it’s a castle! Despite this, with help from plenty of wall crawling natural follage, it blends well into the surrounding cityscape bar the pseudo ticket booth manned by everyone’s favourite keeper of the forest, Totoro. Its not until you head inside does it feel like you’re truly stepping into one of his films. Descending a grand stair case like royalty lands you on the ground floor which houses a cinema and an open floor where you can see up three stories to skylights and a ceiling fan made of airplane wings.

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Rooms branch off from the center with one housing a selection of basic animation techniques. A large carosel houses a fully detailed scene with Totoro figures sequenced like stop motion but more like a flip book where the preceding “frame” is a short distance behind the current. The characters come to life as the wheel spun and a strobe flickered. These types basic principles and methods used in animation are displayed in varying forms of timed live “shows” and hands on exhibits as you work your way up to the top level.

Here you’ll see a re-creation of several of his work areas, which looked pretty much like a fair portion of his house. Anyone who’s dabbled in anything artistic in the way of painting or drawing would instantly recognise the chaotic yet “I know exactly where that is” layout of clutter over desks and shelves. An airbrush sits at the ready like a six shooter, sketches with annotations, scrawls and correction sit to the side of a current half completed work, piles of loose pages are on top of sketch books propped up on big jars full of pencils which have been sharpened down to a “roach” sized nubbin in amongst ash trays full of butts surrounded by shelves of coloured paints of all kinds of mediums while every last inch of wall and shelf space is covered with all matter of completed works, art, figures, toys and other kinds of inspiration. The room exhibit themselves being a work of art… in a haphazard Hoarders TV show kind of way. All that was missing was a framed “Bless this mess” cross-stitching to tie it all in together 😉

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Also on this level you’ll find the kids play room with a third scale Cat Bus and Soot sprites! (only for kids tho ): ). Before you get too bummed about that or embarrass yourself by yelling “My turn! My turn!” before pushing them out of the way, head out the door and climb the spiral stairs to the roof to visit another friend you might know from Castle in the Sky. Hes sneakily hiding amongst the trees (quite a feat considering his size) and is barely visible from the ground. Grab a photo of him by himself then get the person behind you to take one of you together. It was pretty much an unspoken production line for those waiting. People behind would shoot for those in front, it worked out quite well and the line moved quickly for the most part. Note: the path behind the sculpture goes no where.

Finally, if you’re chasing refreshments, there is a coffee shop and restaurant on site however the restaurant had a long queue the whole time we were there and getting a table inside or out was pretty much impossible. Better to just pack some snacks and pop into one of the restaurants back towards Kichijoji station.

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That pretty much wraps it up, though you could easily go here 10 times and spot something new each time in the restrooms alone! (seriously check them out) The best part is that its not just a collage or library of the studio’s work but a homage to the art of traditional animation, the man behind it and the inspiration he and his work has had on numerous movies and big Hollywood animators.

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Travel tip: Like most museums, your outing can take anywhere from a couple hours to the better part of a day if you choose to read all the info plaques and watch whatever is screening in the cinema but generally budgeting half a day including the walk out and back is enough time to get you back to Kichijoji station for a late lunch.

Travel tip: While there are literally hundreds of choices to eat, we found a chain store (only because we ended up seeing the same restaurant everywhere) that had the perfect balance of variety and value for money. Not having any skills in reading Japanese we aptly named the place “Rollertarg”. Why? Because the first symbol in its name looked like a rollerskate, very similar to the Chinese character “ma” for horse and about ¾ along there was a red target just like the logo for… Target. Ingenious! Yea we thought so too 😉 It was quite distinctive and made it easy for many last minute decision makings through out our trip. You want value? Try this on for size – 2x Miso soups, a meat and vegetable dish, a fried rice dish and a side of Gyozas …for around $14AU! Yep we were completely stuffed after that effort and no Cat Bus anywhere to be seen to chauffer us around! But it was welcoming to have the strain was on our bellies and not our wallets! Note: this particular restaurant (and many others in Japan) allow smoking. Its usually in a separate section or designated tables but this place had it after a certain time in the evening.

So with the extra Yen we saved burning a hole in our pockets we waddled off for a wander around Kichijoji.

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If you have any questions on our travels, where to buy, what to do or just want to share your own stories, hit us up on the Soulbridge media facebook page.

Japan 2013 part #1 – Arrival
Japan 2013 part #2 – Tokyo International Toy Expo
Japan 2013 part #3 – Gotemba – Premium Outlets mall
Japan 2013 part #4 – Tokyo – Studio Ghibli Museum
Japan 2013 part #5 – Tokyo – Kichijoji and Nakano
Japan 2013 part #6 – Tokyo – Akihabara
Japan 2013 part #7 – Tokyo – Tamiya HQ, Diver City
Japan 2013 part #8 – Yokohama – Zoorasia
Japan 2013 part #9 – Yokohama – Ramen Museum
Japan 2013 part #10 – Nissan HQ and Yokohama
Japan 2013 part #11 – Osaka – Nanba Shopping
Japan 2013 part #12 – Kyoto
Japan 2013 part #13 – Tokyo – Harajuku, Shibuya
Japan 2013 part #14 – Osaka castle, Umeda Sky building
Japan 2013 part #15 – Osaka Aquarium and Tempozan wheel
Japan 2013 part #16 – Osaka Universal Studios