50 Famous People – Momofuku Ando

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.)

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

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.

TCG cards this time are for: Tchaikovsky, Cezanne, Liliuokalani, Renoir, Sir Henry Stanley, Auguste Rodan, Thomas Edison, Wilhelm Rontgen and Nietzsche.

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.


50 Famous People – Souichirou Honda

The 50 Famous People series doesn’t dwell much on Japan’s scientific community. 10 of the 50 are Japanese, and of those, 3 are writers or artists, 2 are warlords or statesmen, 3 are inventor/scientist businessmen, 1 is a solo explorer and the last is the director of the Godzilla movies.  Because I started this blog initially as a review site for the Gakken science kits (and I have an interest in various business practices), I wish that the Famous People series would spend more time on their scientific “local heroes”. We can see a little of them in the textbook sections of these mooks, but not enough to really learn anything about their accomplishments.  And somehow, I’m not expecting a whole lot of scientific theory in the book on Andou Momofuku, inventor of cup ramen.

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Souichirou Honda is the founder of Honda Motors, makers of motorcycles, cars, jets and robots. Born in 1906 in Shizuoka (about 100 miles southwest from Tokyo), Soichiro grew up helping his blacksmith father. After finishing school, he went to Tokyo and got an apprenticeship at a garage repairing cars. After a few years, he returned to Shizuoka and opened his own branch of the repair chain, establishing a reputation for being able to repair anything and getting the name “the Edison of Shizuoka”.  He continued working during WW II, but an earthquake destroyed one parts plant and a second was bombed. After the war, the American GHQ had a proscription against Japanese companies making cars, and Honda refused to do work that anyone else could do just as well. After a year, he started making gas engines for powering bicycles. After saturating the market, he and his group, now with 50 people, created Japan’s first real motorcycle. Unfortunately, Honda had no head for business and the company was losing money.  He was introduced to Takeo Fujisawa, who then went on to handle the financial side of Honda Technical Research Institute. Eventually, Honda got to the “big fish in a small pond” stage and wanted to be known as the maker of the world’s fastest bikes. He set his sights on the Isle of Man TT, taking first place in its weightclass after a few years. Afterward, he moved into the automobile and airplane industries (he and his wife both owned pilot’s licenses). He died in 1991 at age 84 from liver disease.

The intro manga starts with Yoichiro, Mami and Merrino visiting Yutako’s family’s go cart track. Daichi is preparing for a race at the track, but he’s so nervous he throws up. Yoichi attempts to enter the race as well, but his bicycle doesn’t qualify as a go cart. Merrino breaks out his giant ladybug, but it’s disqualified for not having tires. Suddenly Yoichi and Daichi get inspired and start welding parts together. In the wrap-up, the ladybug now has a steering bar and a tire on the bottom. The race begins and Yochi is off to a flying start. Literally. Later, when the ladybug lands, Yoichi returns home to discover that Mami and Merrino are watching TV and eating snacks without him.

The main manga is unusual in that there are no flashbacks this time. Drawn by Kusa Shirotsume (Tears to Tiara), the artwork is simple yet detailed. Again, though, the faces have been westernized, with thinner noses, larger eyes and square chins.  It’s not as bad as the Galileo mook, but Honda doesn’t look much like the photos at the time.  The story picks up with Soichiro at age 40, talking to a friend just after WW II. He hasn’t decided what to do next, since his factories were destroyed and the U.S. Army won’t let the Japanese make their own cars again. He flat-out refuses to get back into machine repair because anyone can do that. He spies a piece of metal on the floor of the guy’s house – it’s a heat sink from an American wireless radio and looks like part of a motorcycle engine. This inspires him to start making engines for powering bicycles. A few months later, he’s founded Honda Technical Research and hired a few extra hands. When one of the men states that there aren’t any new customers and suggests making a new product copying the designs of the current one, Honda yells at him. Instead, he draws the design for a new engine on the floor and they go to work on making their first real motorcycle. Soon after, though, yet another customer goes belly up and is unable to pay for their order. Soichiro is in danger of going out of business as well, but a friend introduces him to Fujisawa and the two hit it off immediately. Honda decides that he’s going to put a bike in the Isle of Man TT, but once he’s actually at the race he gets cold feet because of the level of the competition.  This does inspires him, though, and the team spends a few years testing designs on the track. After they do win, Soichiro tries to do the same thing for Formula 1, except that the Japanese government is about to pass a law protecting its existing car manufacturers by preventing any new entrants to the market. Honda goes into a rage and the company works to get a car on the streets before the law takes effect. The manga ends with Honda triumphant with a series of successful products behind him.

The textbook section focuses mainly on Soichiro’s upbringing, work experience, and his teaming up with Fujisawa to make Honda Motors one of the most profitable car companies in the world. There are pictures of old bikes and stills from various races, a photo of Ayrton Senna after winning a race, and shots of Honda at different ages.  Sidebars describe the scars on Soichiro’s hand (from smashing it with a hammer or gouging it with a chisel), his friendship with Fujisawa, and some of Honda Motor’s other products such as a private jet and the Asimo robot. The last 2 pages highlight some of Japan’s other technological achievements, including a new process for making carbon tubes, the first realistic-looking female robot (HRP-4C), an anti-earthquake design where the house rides on an air cushion, the world’s smallest single-person helicopter and Hayabusa.

The TCG cards this time are for: Edmund Cartwright, Thomas Jefferson, Yemelyan Pugachev, Jeremy Bentham, Francisco Goya, Antoine Lavoisier, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Edward Jenner.

Summary: This mook for Souichirou Honda is a fairly well-drawn, simple overview of his life and the beginnings of Honda Motors. It doesn’t get into any of the details of his engine designs, and definitely ignores his personal and family life. The main impression I get is that he gets angry easily, yelling at people that don’t immediately see things from his point of view. The mook does repeat a couple of his more famous mottos, but there’s no description of his business philosophy (which may be for the best, since he was a better engineer than a businessman). If you’re not familiar with the person, this is as good a way as any to learn a little about him.

There’ll be a break until the next mook I want comes out in October.  There are 18 issues left in the series, but I only care about 6 of them. In the meantime, I hope to get more information to write about regarding the Gakken kits (the Edison wax recorder comes out on the 25th, and I may get it in my hands by the 28th).

50 Famous People – Steve Jobs

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Of the people included in the “50 Famous People” collection, Steve Jobs is one of the most current. (He passed away in 2011, while Michael Jackson died in 2009, and Momofuku Ando, creator of cup ramen, went in 2007).  So, Steve is one of the easiest people to learn about, and there are photos of him everywhere, making it simple to compare the manga designs against the real thing.  If you don’t know his story, I recommend that you find a good book on him and start reading.

The intro manga has Merrino inventing a new device that combines a music player with a cell phone, and Youichi tells the sheep prince that Apple has already made something like this.  Merrino makes the screen bigger, and Mami points to the iPad.  In desperation, he creates the “iTongue”, a new interface device that changes flavors every day.  Youichi and Mami are impressed, until the iTongue goes berserk and slaps Merrino silly.

(“You screwed up. Please take responsibility and step down.”)

The main manga, by Tatsuyoshi Kobayashi (artist and producer), isn’t that bad, character design-wise.  Tatsu’s supporting characters look like typical manga versions of westerners (meaning, not very close), but you can at least tell that the main character is supposed to be Jobs.  This story has obviously been tailored for Japanese children, and anyone that really knows Jobs is going to gag on some of the glossing over.  The first couple pages establish Steve as a child that grew up with adoptive parents, to continue on to make one of the most powerful companies in the world.  As a teenager, he asks questions that inconvenience his teachers, and he develops an interest in electronics that confounds his friends.  Some of them introduce him to Steve Wozniak, and the two of them work together to produce the Apple I.  They form Apple Computers, and Jobs pressures Woz to make a more complete system that anyone can use (not just hobbyists), resulting in the Apple II.  Jobs goes big with the Macintosh, but sales are weak and the company pushes him to quit to “take responsibility” for the bad product) (in fact, John Sculley had been trying to replace Jobs for years as part of a coup, and the weak sales of the Mac drove the board of directors to side with Sculley in completing the ouster).  Jobs then started up NeXT Computers and Pixar Films.  In partnership with Disney, Pixar released “Toy Story” in 1995 and in 1996, Apple’s board came crawling to ask him to come back.  The manga states that Jobs wowed the world with hit after hit, from the iPod, to the iPhone and then the iPad.  While he was able to “see into the future” of technology, with his goals of “make it simple to use and make it look good”, he was unable to overcome the cancer that finally claimed him.

The textbook section contains photos of various products produced by Apple, pictures of Jobs with Woz, and a more complete written biography.  There’s a mention of his interest in zen, and his decision to become vegetarian.  There’s a sidebar on Bill Gates, mentioning him as Job’s main friend and rival.  The last two pages talk about the use of computers for producing CG films, with a mention of “Brave” (“Merida and the Scary Forest”, in Japanese) and “Titanic”.

The TCG cards include: Francis Drake, Akbar the Great, Elizabeth I of England, Henry IV of France, Matteo Ricci, Cervantes, Xu Guangqi, Francis Bacon and Injo of Joseon.

Summary: This particular issue is fairly weak on the details of Jobs’ life, with various spins that make more sense within the Japanese culture, but are very insulting to western sensibilities.  However, it has some nice photos, and it is worth the price.