Yokohama – from noodles to rockets

Have you ever looked into a steaming bowl of instant noodles, made by the simple addition of boiling water and a sachet of flavouring, and wondered how it came to be?

No, me neither, but today we were about to find out.

Gazing out the window at the eighteenth floor of our hotel we could see tiny white flecks swirling in the sky. Snow!

By the time it reached the ground the snow had turned to freezing cold rain droplets, but nonetheless it was still excitingly rare event for us. Funnily enough, a friend also posted photos of snow back in Australia, an example of the variability of these transition seasons.

It was definitely not the kind of day for long outdoor walks and scenic escapes.

Yokohama was once a sleepy village, but the arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry and his fleet of American warships demanding commercial access to closed Japan lead to its development as a major port. Today it has been incorporated into the urban conglomeration of greater Tokyo.

We have passed Yokohama many times on board the Tokaido Shinkansen, but never stopped there, though it is only half an hour away from Shinjuku on the Shonan Shinjuku Line. It’s very much an urban route, not particularly scenic, especially under these miserable skies.

At Yokohama Station we changed to the Minatomirai subway line for the station of that name, emerging into the giant Queens Park shopping mall.

It is fortunate that we had purchased some cheap but amazingly compact umbrellas that morning as the weather outside was very cold, windy and wet.

Prior to flying to Japan we had watched the Studio Ghibli film From Up On Poppy Hill, set in a romantically portrayed 1960’s Yokohama of old houses and streets of tiny shops. Where we were, in Minato Mirai, was a universe away.

Minato Mirai is a relatively recent seaside development with tall towers (the tallest 296 metres), shopping centres, museums and a large amusement park, Cosmo World. The giant ferris wheel turned slowly, the splash ride sprayed water, but no cars clattered over the winding rollercoaster and the park was empty of patrons. For once we had no trouble convincing Alex to pass it by.

The Cupnoodles Museum is devoted to the creations of Momofuku Ando, inventor of instant noodles, cup noodles and space ramen. The first floor is the entrance and shop, the second floor has a short film about his inventions (English audio available) along with a recreation of the tiny shack where he first made instant noodles and various static displays. There is also a room of instant noodles from across the world, including our favourites and some, err, strange entries.

The room of noodles

German instant noodles?

Men’s Spa noodles? WTF?

Inside Ando’s shed

Instant noodles are made by first steaming the noodles, then deep frying them, a process inspired by Ando’s observation of tempura cooking.

On the third floor are workshops where you can make instant noodles from scratch (advance reservation required) or make your own cup noodles from preprepared ingredients (reservation at museum entry required). We did the latter.

You are given an empty cardboard cup which you can decorate with coloured pens. Once finished you hand your cup over to be processed, winding a conveyor belt which drops the dried noodles into the cup, then selecting a seasoning from chicken, curry or tomato and four dried ingredients to be added into the cup. The cup is then sealed and you are handed it back.

Inflatable bags are provided to protect and store the finished cup noodles.

The activity centre on the fourth floor was for children between two and up to elementary school, which we believe excluded Alex, though again he didn’t make too much of a fuss. There is also the Noodles Bazaar with a tuk tuk out the front, featuring eight noodle dishes from around the world in a mock Asian night market. We gave the Malaysian laksa a go. It was okay, though not particularly authentic.

According to the English guidebook provided by the museum, the menu selection was the responsibility of a “leading member of the Noodle Genealogy Research Society.” See where your cheap student meals can take you?

The single bowl of noodles was not enough for us, so after leaving the museum we crossed over to the World Porters shopping mall and had some Japanese bakery snacks. Although Asian bakeries are becoming quite common in Sydney the Japanese still make some of the softest and sweetest buns.

There were pretty cherry blossoms and flowers outside the Queens Park mall, but the wind and rain discouraged us from lingering. We did a little more shopping for jeans, then went down and out towards the Mitsubishi Minatomirai Industrial Museum, which promised six sections of interactive technology exhibits.

The museum would rate as one of the best we’ve taken Alex to, with a load of really fun interactive rides and displays, showing some of the various technologies that Mitsubishi is involved with, not including cars.

We almost landed the Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ) simulator. Though it’s not equipped with motion gimbals and only has throttle, yoke and landing gear controls, the simulator feels rather realistic. There’s also a similarly simple tram simulator, complicated rocket engine static displays, astronaut tests, turbines, airflow and buoyancy exhibits and more. In the deep sea exploration exhibit I felt a touch of nationalistic pride when I realised that Australia deserved to be featured in the list of vehicles with the Australian designed and built Deepsea Challenger reaching the furthest depths of the sea for James Cameron’s expedition.

We stayed at the museum until closing time, accidentally leaving a bag of shopping there, so we’ll have to return to Yokohama to collect it.

A bit more shopping, then it was time to return back to Shinjuku, reversing our trip. We utilised the underground tunnels to mostly avoid the cold and dark, having dinner at a curry place we’ve been going to since our first or second trip to Japan. It’s a simple hole in the wall place, but from the many handwritten messages on the wall it looks like it has been operating longer than our visits. It’s the first time I’ve tried cheese curry though. Might order it again!

Cheese curry

The curry restaurant

 We had a few items to get, so we wandered through the PePe shopping centre attached to our hotel, discovering that the 100 Yen supermarket at the top was now a Can Do store looking curiously like Jetstar. The only Gokuri juice I could find was apple.

On the streets of Shinjuku

Outside the hotel

Can Do or Jetstar?

I was greatly impressed by the two museums we visited in Yokohama. Both educational and a lot of fun. Yokohama itself promises much more of interest and would be worthy of a return. But maybe in nicer weather and not just to pick up lost shopping.

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