A surprising lesson in innovation at CUPNOODLES Museum in Japan

I have a new appreciation for Cup Noodles. Yes, that’s right. The instant ramen noodles you most likely ate by the cup-full during your college days.

What brought about this new appreciation? I recently learned that there’s more to the product than it being a quick, convenient and inexpensive meal. There's a compelling story, too.

It's a story is steeped in creative thinking and determination. And, it all starts with the man behind the product, Momofuku Ando.

Not familiar with Momofuku Ando? Neither was I until I recently saw an animated version of him grace the screen of a small theater at the CUPNOODLES Museum in Yokohama, Japan.

The man behind Cup Noodles

CUPNOODLES Museum in Yokohama, Japan.

CUPNOODLES Museum in Yokohama, Japan.

Momofuku Ando was 48 years old when he discovered a way to quickly make ramen at home by just adding hot water. It took him a full year, practically working day and night, to invent the world’s first instant ramen noodle – Chicken Ramen.

His quest for innovation took place during post-war Japan when there was a shortage of food. According to Wikipedia, the Japanese Ministry of Health tried to encourage people to eat bread supplied by the US. Momofuku Ando had wondered why bread was being recommended as a primary food option to Japanese people who typically ate noodles. The response from the Japanese Ministry of Health was that local noodle companies were not properly equipped to meet the current supply. So, Momofuku Ando took it upon himself to produce precooked instant noodles for Japanese people to eat.

With that one discovery in 1958, Momofuku Ando altered the way people ate noodles – in Japan and around the world.

As told to us in the short, animated film shown at CUPNOODLES Museum, Momofuku Ando wasn’t one to let obstacles get in his way. When he failed, he didn’t give up.

He tried and tried again until he got it right. And, he did it all in a shed behind his home in Ikeda, Osaka, Japan.

Creativity spurs more creativity 

With his one invention, Momofuku Ando built a company, Nissin Food Products, and launched an industry. But, he didn’t stop there.

The large, sunny entry of the CUPNOODLES Museum.

The large, sunny entry of the CUPNOODLES Museum.

Innovation spurred him to do more and create more.

In 1971, at the age of 61, Momofuku Ando created the now famous Cup Noodle, a groundbreaking way to eat instant ramen noodles in one package. Yes, thanks to Momofuku Ando, you can now prepare, serve and eat noodles all in the same container.

He came up with the need for this idea when watching how Americans at Chicken Ramen. Momofuku Ando saw them break the noodles into pieces, put them in a cup, pour water over them, and then eat them with a fork. It showed him the cultural differences between how Japanese and American people eat instant ramen, spurring his desire to try to create an easier way for Americans to enjoy their noodles.

The key to his innovation was a styrofoam cup with a narrower bottom than top, which could hold the noodles and withstand the high temperature of boiling water. As told to us at CUPNOODLES Museum, Momofuku Ando also came up with a revolutionary way to package the actual noodles in the cup to have them sit upright without breaking.

He didn’t stop there either.  At an age most people are well into retirement, Momofuku Ando continued to innovate and make waves around the world – and the universe.

Momofuku Ando had always wanted to find a way for ramen to be eaten by astronauts in space. And, that he did. At the age of 95 years old, 47 years after he first invented Chicken Ramen, Momofuku Ando invented Space Ramen.

Yes, thanks to Momofuku Ando, instant ramen noodles can be eaten around the world – and in space.

An inspiration to us all 

When I stepped into the CUPNOODLES Museum with my family this past spring, I expected to learn about the product and check out how the packing has changed over the years. What I didn’t expect was to hear this remarkable story of the man behind the product.

I was glad my sons heard the same inspirational story, too. The CUPNOODLES Museum emphasizes the trials and tribulations Momofuku Ando endured, showing the blood, sweat and tears that goes into creating a brand, new product.

Instant Noodles History Cube Exhibit at CUPNOODLES Museum.

Instant Noodles History Cube Exhibit at CUPNOODLES Museum.

It was refreshing for me to have them understand that not everything is easy. And, that’s okay. In fact, that can be good – and spur you on to even greater things.

All you need to do is hang in there and keep trying to find new solutions – no matter what.

No matter where you live. No matter how old you are. And, no matter how many resources you have at your disposable.

Anything is possible – even when it comes to something as simple as noodles.

Inspirational lessons in child-sized bites  

When you buy tickets upon entry to the CUPNOODLES museum, you also can buy a ticket to create your own Cup Noodles. This is an absolute must-do – for everyone in your party.

The choices of what to add to our own personal Cup Noodles

The choices of what to add to our own personal Cup Noodles

My husband, my sons and I each had a great time decorating our own cups with our own designs.  Then, we actually got to create our own Cup Noodles variety, choosing from four soup flavors, four toppings, and 12 ingredients.

It was one of the coolest, most interactive souvenirs we’ve ever gotten from our travels. Not to mention, that it’s entirely edible, too.

Our sons’ immersion in the Cup Noodles manufacturing process continued with a trip to CUPNOODLES Park. The interactive play area, which requires a separate entry ticket, offers children a 30-minuted timed experience where they get to live the life of an instant ramen noodle.

Kids at play at CUPNOODLES Park.

Kids at play at CUPNOODLES Park.

The unique activity allows children to climb, jump and slide their way through the various stages of the manufacturing process, learning and playing all at the same time.

All in all, my family spent several hours at the museum - and my sons were in no hurry to leave at all.

Our visit ended up being one of the highlights of our trip to Tokyo - and a great way to gain a new appreciation for instant ramen and man behind it all. I, for one, will never look at Cup Noodles the same way ever again.

The Raising World Citizens Cup Noodles.

The Raising World Citizens Cup Noodles.

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