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The Untold History of Ramen

How Political Crisis in Japan Spawned a Global Food Craze

George Solt

Publication Year: 2014

A rich, salty, and steaming bowl of ramen noodle soup climbed its way onto the international culinary scene and, from Tokyo to New York, is now a symbol of the cultural prowess of Japanese cuisine. In this highly original account of geopolitics and industrialization in Japan, George Solt traces the meteoric rise of ramen from humble fuel for the working poor to an international icon of Japanese culture.

Ramen’s popularity can be attributed to political and economic change on a global scale. Using declassified U.S. government documents and an array of Japanese sources, Solt reveals how the creation of a black market for American wheat imports during the U.S. Occupation of Japan (1945-1952), the reindustrialization of Japan’s labor force during the Cold War, and the elevation of working-class foods in redefining national identity during the past two decades of economic stagnation (1990s-2000s), all contributed to the formation of ramen as a national dish.

This book is essential reading for scholars, students in Japanese history and food studies, and anyone interested in gaining greater perspective into how international policy can influence everyday foods around the world.

Published by: University of California Press

Title Page, Series Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-x


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pp. xi-xii

List of Illustrations

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pp. xiii-xiv

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pp. xv-xviii

The book began as a doctoral dissertation at the University of California San Diego, where the late Masao Miyoshi was kind enough to allow me to pursue this topic while working toward a degree in history. My advisors at UCSD, Stefan Tanaka and Takashi Fujitani, were supportive and generous...

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Introduction. National Food

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pp. 1-14

Ōsaki Hiroshi, fifty-four, eats approximately eight hundred bowls of ramen per year and writes about ramen for a living. In his book The Secret History of Ramen in Japan (Nihon rāmen hishi), he claims to have ingested more than twenty thousand bowls over his lifetime at 9,500...

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1. Street Life: Chinese Noodles for Japanese Workers

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pp. 15-42

Was ramen first introduced to Japan in 1665, 1884, or 1910? Is its precursor a dish known as ūshin udon, Nankin soba, or Shina soba? Depending on the answer, one arrives at a different dish with its own origin story and a distinct historical trajectory producing a particular view of Japan. None...

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2. Not an Easy Road: Black Market Ramen and the U.S. Occupation

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pp. 43-71

The Pacific War came to an end with Emperor Shōwa’s announcement of Japan’s surrender on August 15, 1945, but the food shortages set off by the war continued in Japan for years. The crisis in government authority that resulted from defeat produced a volatile situation with respect to food-related...

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3. Move On Up: Fuel for Rapid Growth

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pp. 72-121

Ramen became the staple lunch of construction workers and students during Japan’s era of rapid economic growth, 1955–73, when immense building projects and a teeming population of young people from the countryside reshaped life in Tokyo and other major cities. Not only did the...

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4. Like It Is, Like It Was: Rebranding Ramen

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pp. 122-162

In the 1980s ramen entered a new phase as a trendy food among a new generation of fashion-inclined youths of Japan. As a result, ramen evolved into a mechanism to sell goods and services other than the food itself. Tour packages, television specials, guidebooks, history books, graphic novels...

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5. Flavor of the Month: American Ramen and “Cool Japan”

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pp. 163-178

Restaurant-made ramen was unknown to most people in the United States until the 2000s. Americans not residing in a city with a substantial population of Japanese residents would probably still have difficulty finding a bowl in 2013, and those over forty might be reluctant to try it even if...

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Conclusion. Time Will Tell: A Food of Opposition

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pp. 179-188

Two decades of stagnant growth and weak employment prospects for young people have changed the meanings of work and job security for Japanese brought up during the prolonged recession and the growth of the Chinese and South Korean economies. As the unlikely heroes of the...


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pp. 189-206

Works Cited

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pp. 207-214


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pp. 215-222

E-ISBN-13: 9780520958371
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520277564

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2014

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Ramen (Cooking) -- Japan -- History.
  • Japan -- Social life and customs -- History.
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