The Cup Noodles Museum is a tribute to one of Japan's most recognizable exports to the world: instant ramen.
Located in the heart of Yokohama's bustling Minato Mirai district, the Cup Noodles Museum has a lot going on. It contains art exhibits, a comprehensive history of the product, workshops, a food court, a playground, and best of all, the opportunity to design, create and package your very own Cup Noodle, which can be taken home and eaten.
The museum's visual style may take visitors back a bit at first. Its stark white walls, high ceilings and wood-paneled floors are striking and announce that it is a bona fide museum, not just some tourist trap.
Visitors first are treated to the Instant Noodles History Cube, a stylish and eye-catching display of every package and type of instant noodle since their inception in 1958. Ramen packages are organized by year, and show off the interesting evolution of a not-so-simple product. There are also special displays for instant noodles from foreign countries.
The 3rd floor is the most interactive. There, guests who have made previous reservations are taken on a behind-the-scenes look at the production of Cup Noodles from scratch, and are then able to make some themselves. People are taken step-by-step through the process of creating their own unique artwork for the Styrofoam container, choosing from 5,460 combinations of instant ramen types and ingredients, being able to watch the sealing and packaging, and finally inserting their products into an air-tight package to take home and eat. Participating in the "Chicken Ramen Factory" as well as the "My Cup Noodles Factory" workshops come with an additional cost (¥300-¥500) and require reservations, which can be made in person or by telephone, but calling ahead is recommended because spots are limited and cannot be guaranteed if guests arrive unannounced.
Much of the museum is devoted to propagating the inspirational creation story behind cup noodles. Momofuku Ando, the inventor behind it all, was an older gentleman with little more than an idea who managed to overcome his limited resources and late start in life to invent a product that would be recognized worldwide for generations to come. Ando's great success from humble beginnings is attributed to his creativity, perseverance, and ability to find inspiration from unusual sources, and these are the themes the museum hopes to pass on. Many exhibits are devoted to these "thinking outside the box" ideals without having anything to do with instant noodles at all. Further comprehensive exhibits include a short movie about Ando's story, a model of the shack in which instant noodles were first invented, and a comprehensive history of the product, its many incarnations (including a special product made for astronauts to eat in outer space) and a tribute to Ando, who passed away in 2007.
The Cup Noodles Museum is certainly family friendly. While children may be bored with some of the background history exhibits, there are plenty of hands-on activities and silly photo opportunities to keep them entertained. Kids can also enter the 4th floor's Cup Noodles Park, a playground area designed to give kids a unique perspective of the manufacturing process from the perspective of a noodle. The Park can be experienced in 30 minute sessions for an additional ¥300.
Of course, a trip to the museum wouldn't be complete without a stop at the Noodles Bazaar, a food court made to look like an Asian night market featuring small portions of instant noodles from around the world available for purchase. If you've ever wondered what kind of instant noodles Malaysians eat, this is the place for you.
The museum's gift shop is also full of unexpected treasures. Included among the expected T-shirts and cell phone straps are gems like a candle built into an instant ramen cup replica and stationery folders in the shape of Cup Noodle containers.
At times the Cup Noodles Museum takes itself a bit too seriously, but that is also part of its charm. It is open every day except Tuesdays, and when Tuesdays are national holidays the museum will close the next day instead. English audio guides are available and are particularly recommended for the short film, which is in Japanese only.