I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that Asahi Shimbun Publishing would shake up their 50 Famous People list a little. After all, they printed all fifty names in volume 1, and we’re now up to #41, 10 months later – there’s got to be some re-think along the way. Actually, the Martin Luther King, Jr. issue, which was supposed to be #41, came out as #21, which was supposed to be the Charlie Chaplin issue. Momofuku Ando moved from #46 to #41, and the new #46 is now slated to be Alfred Nobel. There’s no explanation for the changes, but I’m guessing that there were copyright issues for the photos Asahi wanted to use (or permission to profit off of Chaplin’s likeness.)
Momofuku Ando is the inventor of cup noodles, and founder of the Nisshin Foods conglomerate. The wiki entry is completely at odds with the biography details presented in the mook manga. The manga makes no mention of the deaths of his parents, or his belonging to a family-run textiles firm in Taiwan. According to the wiki, Ando moved to Osaka, gave loans to the students there, and was caught up in tax evasion charges, serving a 2-year sentence as a result. The article also states that he was making money selling salt at the time he began working on noodle production (supposedly in reaction to the Japanese government’s decision to focus on bread sales during the years immediately following WW II). Granted, the mook is aimed at children, and wiki has a reputation for containing more “opinion” than facts. But, the discrepancies between the two this time are huge.
The intro manga starts with Yoichi’s and Mami’s mother finishing up work on the family photo album. She gets ready to make dinner, only to discover that since Yoichi and Merrino were hungry, Mami and Mohea had destroyed ALL of the food in the house in an attempt to make some kind of a snack. Mom then resorts to “that” – her stock of cup noodle packages. Unfortunately, the kids like the cup ramen more than her regular cooking and she goes into a blue funk at the end.
The main manga is by Wataru Ofuji (Mini Pato! and Archeologic). The artwork’s not bad, but again, the faces have been westernized excessively, and Ando’s nose is maybe half the size shown in his photos. Anyway… The first page announces that cup noodle is one of the best known food products world-wide, having sold hundreds of millions of packages since its first appearance in the early ’70s. So, who created it? The story flashes back to the end of WW II, when Ando was a returning soldier. He notices that people have already started opening up small shops to revive a cash-based society. The city also has small cart vendors, and one particular cart has a very long line. Wondering why so many people would wait out in the cold like this, he discovers that they’re eating hot ramen (according to a sidebar, ramen was actually a Japanese dish, and didn’t come from China like is commonly believed). At the time, he’s struck by how happy the destitute people are while eating warm food. A few years go by and Ando is approached by someone representing a “neighborhood trade association”, who proposes to use Ando’s name and reputation while handling the actual money management for a group of merchants. The association folds and Ando is suddenly bankrupt. His wife tells him to not worry about having lost everything except their house and a small table. She serves dinner to him and their young son and daughter, and again Ando notices how happy they look while eating. So, he goes out to gather supplies to build a small research kitchen in a shed next to their garden and begins work on making his own easy-serve noodles. He places a list of 5 requirements on the wall as a incentive – delicious, easy to prepare, long shelf-life, can be enjoyed anywhere, inexpensive.
Over the next few months, he discovers how hard it is to hand-make soba noodles, and his family rejects the results when he taste tests it on them. Eventually he improves, and reaches stage 1 – tastes good. But the noodles go bad too quickly and he hits a wall until he sees his wife making tempura. The hot oil seals the surface of the tempura batter while creating little holes for water to enter through, and this leads him to experiment with flash frying. In 1958, a year after building the kitchen, Ando brings his dried “chicken ramen” noodles to market. Instructions include putting the noodles in a bowl, placing a raw egg on top, adding boiling water and waiting 3 minutes. The mook claims that the noodles are an immediate big hit, while the wiki article says that at 35 yen a package, they were resisted as unnecessary luxury goods. Ando creates Nisshin foods to meet demand for the product. In 1966, he prepares to market the noodles world-wide, and is told that people want something that comes in its own bowl. This results in Ando’s development of “cup ramen” in 1971. The mook skips ahead to January 17, 1995 and the Great Hanshin earthquake in the Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe region. Being located in Osaka, Ando is quick to dispatch food trucks throughout the disaster areas, where he again gets to see people in need enjoying warm food in the middle of the cold and snow. The story closes with his motto “Peace will come to the world when the people have enough to eat.”
The textbook section does get into more detail regarding Ando’s childhood. Born in Japan-controlled Taiwan roughly 100 years ago, his parents died early and he was raised by his grandparents. His grandfather had a textiles shop, and Momofuku liked spending time there. At age 14, he graduated from what was called an elementary school at the time, and started working in the shop himself, selling wool products. At age 22 he graduated from university and planned to focus on business. But, the war broke out and when it ended he moved to Osaka and got involved with the neighborhood association. (The thing about giving out student loans isn’t mentioned outside of the main manga, but apparently it was done to avoid paying taxes on the money.) After going bankrupt, he did make money producing salt, which helped finance his research kitchen. The government was promoting bread sales using U.S. wheat, and Ando felt that the Japanese would be happier eating their familiar noodles, which was one of the incentives for his research. After perfecting his flash fried chicken noodles, sales were slow because the price was higher than what people were paying for similar products for home and restaurant use. Eventually, though, it did catch on. In the 60’s, while researching the American market, he saw someone put the chicken noodles in a cup and eat them while working. This inspired Ando to develop cup ramen. One of the sidebar articles describes the innovations for cup ramen: the ingredients other than noodles are anything that freeze-dries well; the cup was styrofoam (now paper) that protected people from the boiling water inside; the lid was an aluminum-on-paper product inspired by the packaging for macadamia nuts served on airplanes; and the noodles are cooked upsidedown, making it easier to slide the cup on from the top, and then turned over. The last 2 pages are dedicated to the history of preserved Japanese foods, from smoked fish (2000 years ago) to sushi (raw fish was originally packed in discarded cooked rice as a preservative, 200 years ago). The idea of putting a fried pork cutlet on top of curry rice came from a Tokyo Giants baseball player 60 years ago, who was hungry and short on time before a big game. He ran into a restaurant, yelled out for a cutlet and a plate of curry, and he liked the result so much that he continued ordering it when he returned to the shop, so the restaurant put it on the regular menu.
Overall, there’s enough misdirection in this manga as to call into question its accuracy as a representation of Momofuku Ando as a person. Still, it is interesting to learn about the creator of something that is so commonly accepted in households worldwide. Recommended.