A rather unconventional Christmas Eve15 April, 2014 by Chad
Christmas is a particularly big deal in Japan, thought not exactly for the right reasons. In past trips, we’d often barely miss the Christmas season. This time round however we had planned specifically to spend Christmas in Japan since the last visit. Randy and I were keen to experience Christmas here and I was looking forward to their famous illuminations.
Christmas and Christmas Eve aren’t public holidays in Japan. Randy had an appointment with a particularly famous Japanese game developer in the morning, so we headed over to Shibuya for the Shibuya Hikarie in the morning for him to settle his business. Shibuya Hikarie is a relatively new mall that we’d haven’t had the chance to visit before, so we took a look around while waiting for Randy.
Keeping in mind that the viewing gallery at Shibuya Hikarie is also the entrance to their offices I have mixed feelings about sharing this next tidbit. But between the transparent elevators and Shibuya Hikarie being one of the tallest buildings in Shibuya, you can get a nice view of the popular district from the top floor. While pretty much empty back in 2008 when we first wrote about it, these days, hordes of tourists actually flood the Starbucks at the crossing so much that there’s a perpetual long queue of foreigners eager to enter the establishment.
Randy ended up taking longer than expected, such that Gage and myself would meet up with Chisaki first. The shops at Shibuya Hikarie are mostly targeted towards the adult women demographic, but we did find a small corner tucked away on one floor which sold some men’s clothing. There were some nice gloves for sale but thinking it still early in the trip, we opted to try our luck elsewhere.
Spent a good amount of time looking through the snack and other food items for sale at the basement, where we were constantly being offered samples at every turn. One of the sales persons that even struck a long conversation with us while offering us cheese samples. They were being sold at uncharacteristically affordable prices for Japan, which only made us feel bad for not being able to buy any, on account that we would be out for the rest of the day.
We’d finally meet up with Randy again past noon. Originally, the plan for the day was to beat the seasonal crowds by visiting Tama Zoo this Christmas Eve. We opted to visit Yokohama instead on account that Chisa’s friend wasn’t keen on the former (however she didn’t turn up in the end). Fighting our way through the crowds at Shibuya, we’d catch a train over to Yokohama.
By the time we had arrived at Yokohama’s Minato Mirai, regular lunch hours were over. So while a Kushikatsu buffet caught the attention of the rest, we had to pass since the restaurant had already stopped taking reservations. Instead, we grabbed our lunch at a Tsukiji seafood chain restaurant called Genchan.
The prices at Genchan were really cheap and the servings generous. The individual meals that you see cost between 1,000 to 1,200 yen (or approximately $12 to $15 Singapore dollars). Quite the deal. Allan would end up tagging along this afternoon too. Thankfully, for those not too keen on seafood, the restaurant also serves up other Japanese dishes.
Weather was particularly chilly today, especially with the seaside winds at Yokohama. Attempting to stay out of the open as much as possible, we passed through the long Queen’s Square complex at Minato Mirai and emerged on the other side at the popular Cosmo World amusement park. Our destination was located just past the theme park so we wouldn’t have to stay outside for long. There’s a particularly nausea inducing ride at Cosmo World that looks straight out of NASA called the Super Planet.
It was already nearing 4 PM by the time we’d visit this inconspicuous brown building at the edge of Yokohama. Fortunately, we made it just in time for the last entry. The Cup Noodle Museum is a popular tourist destination we had heard about many times before, but this would be the first time any of us would visit the museum.
Japan is pretty big on museums. While a cup noodle museum might seem a little unconventional, it starts to make a lot more sense when compared to other stranger museums around Japan.
There are 3 floors to Nissin’s Cup Noodle Museum, the first being the ticketing area. The other two floors are dedicated to exhibits and an activity zone respectively. The entrance fee of 500 yen might seem a little steep when considering how small the museum is and what other attractions cost 500 yen in Japan, but the prime estate has got to pay itself and it’s certainly worth the novelty.
The first exhibit is a room showcasing the history of instant noodles. The world’s first instant noodles, cup noodles and all of Nissin’s products since then are showcased in this single gallery. It’s interesting how little the products packaging has changed since their inception. The gallery also dedicates some space to instant noodles from around the world, including foreign exclusive Nissin products, as well as local specialities.
The Cup Noodle Museum is as much about instant noodles as it is its founder. The rest of the exhibits actually tell the story of Ando Momofuku, the invention of instant noodles and his other achievements. Just past the cup noodle gallery, there was a small theater. We managed to arrive in time for the last screening. Inside the small theater (which was colored entirely red), we were treated to an animated life story of the instant noodle’s inventor.
Ironically, the whole experience was very Disney-like. The video attempted to convince (perhaps successfully) of the greatness of Ando Momofuku much in the same way Walt Disney is credited as the founder of the magical kingdom. The video ran through the reasons behind Ando’s invention of instant noodles, the troubles he faced from imitators, how he invented cup noodles in a stroke of genius to cater to foreign market, and his final gift of noodles that could be brought to space. The only thing that could had added to the experience is if they pumped a cup noodle scent into the room.
Apart from inventing the affordable form of sustenance, it seems like the Taiwanese-Japanese businessman was also an all round nice guy who was actively involved in charity work. But while Disney gets his name in front of every cartoon to this date, little credit is given to the man who ensured the survival of the countless penny pinched students and overtime employees around the world.
Momofuku’s son (now the president of Nissin) was nice enough to build this museum in honor of his father, during the 100th anniversary of his birth. Yokohama’s Cup Noodle Museum is actually the second museum dedicated to Ando Momofuku however, Momofuku opened the first himself over in Osaka where he lived. Those visiting Osaka might want to pay the original museum a visit.
Outside of the screening room, there was a life sized model of Ando’s original house, complete with mock tools he used to make noodles with. The rest of the floor was dedicated to information about instant noodles and even some nice noodle themed artworks. There was even a silver life sized statue of Ando in the middle of the hallway. I’m sure I wasn’t the first person to joke that perhaps they had preserved him too.
When purchasing our entrance tickets, we were also given an extra activity ticket for the last slot. The ticket entitled visitors to take part in activities on the third floor of the museum. Today we would be making our own custom cup noodles.
There were actually two activity zones upstairs, but the last session to make instant noodles had already ended before we arrived. There was a long queue of people waiting for their turn but it moved surprisingly fast. Maybe it was Christmas Eve, or just typical of any touristy spot in Japan, but apart from a few scattered tourists, it was filled with mostly local couples.
It was quite an amusing sight however, grown adults seated in tiny chairs taking part in some pre-school arts and craft activity. An activity we would soon partake in excitedly.
Unfortunately, making your own cup noodles is not part of the entry fee. Instead, a vending machine dispenses empty cups for 300 yen a piece. After purchasing a cup, you are advised to sanitise your hands before being escorted to a tiny table where you can draw on the cups with the provided markers.
We ended up taking far longer than anyone else such that we would be the last people before the museum closed. A little disappointed at my craft skills, despite spending years at art school. Once done drawing on the cups, we headed over to the counter area where noodle biscuits were inserted into the cups and we got to choose the toppings to put inside the cups. After picking 1 of 4 seasonings, you can choose from any 4 of the 12 different Nissin toppings, including the unusual kimchi pieces, and the museum exclusive fish cakes featuring Nissin’s Hiyoko-chan mascot.
With that done, the cups are sealed in front of you and the staff informed us of the limited shelf life of the noodles. Beside, inflatable bubble bags are provided to “seal” the cups in. Apart from completing the souvenir, it also proved an effective advertisement for the museum as we’d see many others around Yokohama with the same packages slung around them.
We were the last people to make it out of the museum. Across the road, an endless stream of people were headed toward the red brick warehouses at Yokohama Port. The pavements were filled to the brim with couples. We followed along in the direction to see what was going on. Police had to be stationed at the crossing just to keep the traffic moving.
At one crossing, a horse drawn carriage passed by. Turns out that in keeping with Yokohama’s history as an English port, visitors can rent them for guided tours. Kind of puts the overpriced rickshaws to shame. Got to try it out some day.
Over at the red brick warehouses a Christmas festival was being held. A skating rink was set up at the entrance and food stands had been set up selling Japanese interpretations of Christmas food. A large tree had also been placed at the center of the square where couples could have their photos taken for a fee.
Between the monetization of something as simple as taking photos with a tree, what passed as Christmas food and the hundred or so couples crammed into the overpriced skating rink. It’s easy to be bitter about how twisted Christmas is in Japan, though the same could be said for Singapore.
There was little semblance to anything really Christmas in the Christian sense in the Japanese simulation of the event. Like Valentine’s, Christmas is just another couple-centric holiday that ends in a hotel room. But even having spent a Valentine’s in Japan did not prepare me for the bastardisation of this holiday. We knew it was time to leave when the rest started getting depressed about being there too.
In the end, didn’t manage to check out the shops inside the warehouses or World Porters as had hoped for. Maybe it was the cold, maybe it was the need for comfort food after the experience but the rest urged to head for shelter and seek out food. Even though we had just had yakiniku yesterday, Allan and Randy were in agreement of having shabu shabu, so we sought out a nearby buffet restaurant called Syabu-yo.
Spent the next few hours at the restaurant. Dinner was affordable, just 3,000 yen, and there was a nice selection of drinks and desserts. But had a hard time eating much, considering we just finished lunch just 3 hours ago. It ended up feeling less like a holiday than a usual night out in Singapore though, as the rest discussed their romantic failures over the next 3 hours of dinner. It would seem like a waste to spend nearly as much time eating while on holiday, but I’ve learnt that it’s pretty much impossible to do anything else in most large groups.
By the time we were done, just about everything had closed, so it was time to return to Tokyo. On the way back, the amusement park was still operational so we stopped there for a while. I guess Chisa wanted to lighten up the mood a little, as she suggested playing some of the carnival games or at the arcade there. But Allan and Randy were still engrossed in their discussion. She also wanted to try out the haunted house there, but none of us were keen on that idea.
Managed to spend some time appreciating the Christmas illuminations around Cosmo World, before heading back for the night. A bit of a shame that we couldn’t do much today, but at least we got to visit the Cup Noodle Museum, which was a new experience, not a very Christmasy one, but nothing in Japan really is. Having finally gotten the chance to spend the seasonal holidays in Japan, it wasn’t quite what we’d expect. I would think that Christmas time in Japan is a lot more enjoyable as a couple, and if you buy into the whole J-drama rendition of the holiday.Planning your holiday? We recommend visiting Agoda for a full list of hotels with early bird specials.