17m 32s

Tips for Travelers to Japan / Ramen Vending Machines

Living in Japan

Broadcast on October 1, 2023 Available until October 29, 2024

More than 10 million visitors from abroad came to Japan the first half of this year. That’s the first time in four years the number has risen that high, and the trend is likely to continue through the fall. British writer Kim Kahan offers advice on ways to get around, sights to see in autumn, and -- in particular -- places to enjoy art.

In the latter part of the program, Ruth introduces new forms of “food tech” in Japan. Ramen vending machines cook up authentic noodles anytime you like.

【Guest:Kim Kahan】
Guest Kim (right) with her friend in Yamanashi
The vending machine dispenses fresh ramen on demand.



Living in Japan!
Hello everyone! Glad to be back with you. I'm Ruth.
And I'm Stuart.
Living in Japan is a program for international residents in Japan, now or in the future.
We share hints and tips to make the most of your life here in Japan.

Lots of people from all over the world visited Japan this summer, and I'm sure we'll have plenty of visitors this autumn as well.
Autumn is an excellent time to travel and take in the scenery.
It's also the harvest season, so many seasonal foods start to appear.
I always tend to eat too much. My appetite livens up.
I feel lucky that I live here and have been able to enjoy the season many times. I always enjoy sharing some of that with friends who come for a visit.
Now our guest today has plenty of ideas about how to do just that. Travelers, listen up! This is for you!


It's time for Hints from Senpai.
Senpai is the Japanese word for someone who has more knowledge or experience than you do. Every single show we invite a different senpai that can give us tips and hints on how to do things better.
And today's guest is Kin Kan. She came to Japan from England in 2017 and initially intended to stay for only a year. Well, it's been six years now. She fell in love with the language and decided to stay. She's a freelance writer covering culture, music, and travel for domestic publications and international media. Introducing Japan to the world! Welcome, Kim!

Hello, thank you for having me.
It's a pleasure. Fantastic. Now I guess it wasn't easy for your family and friends to come to Japan in the last few years, but how about this year?
Well, since the border has reopened, I've had a personal group every month or so. Oh, excellent. Yeah, it's been busy.

Terrific. Now, what are some of the things you tell your guests?
Well, the first thing is, get to know the trains. Japan has a wonderful transport system. So, whether you're in a metropolis like Tokyo or Osaka or one of the regional cities, you can get to many places by train alone. But even convenient things can be inconvenient if you don't know how to use them. Exactly.
Yeah, that's done me. Like Shinjuku Station. Oh, yeah.
It's one of the biggest train hubs in Tokyo. But because it has so many different train lines, finding the one you need can be a real challenge. That's true.
Yeah, so my advice to travelers is to pay attention to the signs. So when you go to a station, look up. Overhead signs usually guide you to the train lines and they’ve all got color codes.

And they've all got English. Yes.
And Chinese and Korean and so on, but mostly just Japanese and English, right?
Exactly. So look for the colors. Find the name of the train you want to take and then just follow the signs. But stay focused or you may miss an important turn. If you do get confused, don't panic. Just go back to where you were before you lost your way and start one more time.

This is really helpful information. Also, I notice that when you go through the ticket gate, look at the electronic board where your platform number is displayed. Okay, this is super important. Listen carefully folks, come on!
That electronic board will show which way the train is headed and the departure time and the platform number. Yeah.
So even if you're sure you're in the right place, checking that board is really smart. Otherwise, you go down to the platform and you're like, oh my gosh, I'm on the wrong one. And you have to come back up and go back down. If you have a bag, it's hard. So make sure to check that electronic board before you go down to the platform. Absolutely.
Going up and down is good exercise though. That's great advice too, Ruth. Kim, what else should travelers know?

Well, as I mentioned, the trains are convenient, and you can get around the city on them quite well. So, some people do think that you can get anywhere in Japan by train. Yeah, but unfortunately, that's not always the case. Yeah, so many places in the countryside are only actually accessible by car or bus. So, if those sorts of spots are on your agenda, probably best to consider renting a car. Yeah, so for example, Hokkaido, which is Japan's northernmost island right at the top. The cities are quite far from each other, but there's so many sights to see along the way. True. Yeah.
So one of the unique pleasures of driving, as I really love this, even though I'm more a passenger princess, is visiting Michinoeki, which is a roadside station. So these places, they're run by the community, so you can buy local specialties and eat them right there if you like. Nice!

Yeah, so when I was driving through the southern part of Hokkaido, I stopped at a roadside station in a town called Shikabe. Shikabe is a place where seasonal seafood is available year-round. And the station there also had a foot bath. Nice!
It was so nice. So that in itself is pretty special, but there's even more. So, while you're in the foot bath, you can watch a geyser erupt.
A geyser? Like a huge fountain?
Yeah, exactly. It's completely natural and it's about 15 meters high. So they erupt every 10 or 15 minutes. So even if you know what's coming, it's always pretty surprising when it actually comes. It actually happens, yeah. Wow.
So actually the Shikabe Roadside Station can be reached by bus, but a car is pretty convenient for travelling at your own pace.

Yeah, sure. Wow, that sounds great. Okay Kim, you're on a roll. This is fantastic. What's next?
Well, no pressure. Since we're getting ready for cooler weather, I recommend actually buying heating pads and hot drinks from the vending machines. You'll notice they start to appear all over when the weather starts to get colder. And I think that many travelers from overseas will actually be seeing them for the first time. Or at least, well, they might have found them really unusual. So, heating pads, they're normally about the size of your palm. They become warm when you rub them or shake them. And in Japan, you can buy them at drugstores, supermarkets, convenience stores, and train stations. So some other countries have them too. But I do think the Japanese ones are particularly easy to use. True.
So, there's a variety of types. So from simple ones, it can be placed in your pocket. So they have like an adhesive. And you can stick them to your stomach or your back or your shoes. Warm up those cold toes.
The bottom of your feet. That really warms you up.
Big tip. So, yeah, look around and you might find a mix pack that will even warm you up all over.

Yeah, I think that also being able to buy hot drinks from vending machines is pretty rare too. So when my friends, whenever they come to visit, they'll be like, “what is this?” So excited. Me too, actually. The machines, they serve up regulars like coffee, green and black tea, cocoa. But there's also, if you look hard, you can find corn soup.
The corn soup one is delicious! Well, there’s loads of them.
So yeah, just try as many as you like and warm yourself up too.
Literally, Japanese vending machines are rocket science. They're so advanced.
I love the capsule toy machines. They're really popular now. You can find dozens of them side by side. Now, for some visitors, they're among the main reasons for making the trip. So, whatever your interest may be, I'm sure you can find a machine that you like.

Today, we're picking the brain of our guest, Kim. Now, living in Japan, you've probably made a few cultural missteps as you learned your way around. So, what are some of the things you'd like to give tourists a heads-up about?
Well, I guess I often notice that travelers from other countries tend to talk loudly. And the Japanese people actually tend to be careful about not bothering others, especially in public places. And I've also noticed that they tend to spread out. So as you know, spaces can be rather confined, especially in metropolises such as Tokyo. So it's a good idea to watch the behavior of the local people around you and try to match it.

Yeah. Also in Japan, people do generally line up or queue up and stay in line on train platforms and entrances to crowded restaurants. So whether you’re accustomed to doing that or not, following the local custom will definitely make everyone love you. Yes. So cutting line is definitely not welcome.
OK, by the way, based on your travels, what's your favorite way to spend autumn in Japan, Kim?

Oh, good question. Well, as the heat of the summer recedes and wherever you go, it kind of seems like a relief. So cool. And the autumn leaves are, of course, beautiful. I do like to spend time in nature, camping in spaces like Okutama. It's actually still Tokyo. It's just the very western part. And the leaves there are stunning, and you can paddle in the river too. Aside from that, I also really like art. I've been really enjoying a space called Gasbon Metabolism. Gasbon Metabolism?
Yeah, crazy name. But yeah, it was established just last year in Hokuto, Yamanashi. It hosts artists’ residencies and exhibitions. It's quite off . . . the location is off the beaten path, which adds to the charm, I think. The complex appears kind of in the midst of greenery, but it's repurposed. Yeah, so it doesn't really feel like an encroachment on the nature around it. So yeah, the space is huge and open, and it's pretty rare in Tokyo. So, it's great to experience that, I think, in Yamanashi.

I like travelers to enjoy Japan's traditions and historic places, but I also want them to experience the modern aspects of the country. Art is one way of putting all that together, right?
Yeah, for sure. I write art articles, difficult to say. I write art articles. And the curation layout of art spaces in Japan is interesting. So, in the Tokyo area, I recommend the Museum of Contemporary Art and SCAI the Bathhouse. The Museum of Contemporary Art, the MOT, is really fantastically curated. And then SCAI... SCAI the Bathhouse. Do you know it? Yes, I do. I love it.
Yeah, it's really, really great. It's modern and contemporary art in an art gallery space in Yanaka. It was once a public bath house. It's really, oh, it's awesome. You can go . . . from the outside, it just looks like a bathhouse. You come inside, and it's just a really cool art gallery.
That's Yanaka, near Ueno Park, right? Yeah, exactly.
Yeah, great little spot to appreciate Edo period architecture and art simultaneously.

Okay Kim, last chance. What's one more thing visitors to Japan should know?
Well okay, don't be afraid to try new things. When I first came to Japan it was on a working holiday visa just for one year, and I didn't understand any Japanese. There was a line, a restaurant. I didn't know what it was, but I just joined it and not only did I encounter delicious soba, I even ended up with a part-time job there. Oh.
Yeah, yes serendipity. But if you come all the way to Japan, definitely try things you could only find in Japan and enjoy your trip to the fullest.
Absolutely, that's so right. Kim, it's been wonderful to have you. Thank you so much for your time.
Thank you very much for having me. Thank you.
I enjoyed it.


Now we move on to Good to Know. Insights for enjoying our lives in Japan even more.

Ramen, a Japanese staple that's now popular worldwide.

Stuart, ever heard that music?
As a matter of fact, I have. It's the theme song for a show about ramen.
Right. RAMEN JAPAN Japan is a brand-new program about everybody's favorite noodle, including mine. It takes you across the country on a quest for ever-evolving variations. And you can watch it right here on NHK WORLD-JAPAN.
You can. I know that eating ramen is high on the list of things to do for many visitors from overseas.
Yeah. Ramen shops have gone global, expanding throughout Asia and far-flung locations in Europe and the US. And now ramen has even become automated.

What? Automated? Automated? What do you mean by automated?
There are vending machines that offer authentic ramen with fresh noodles. You pay, you wait a couple of minutes, and voila! Hot ramen cooked just for you!
Hang on! Now I know about the Japanese love for vending machines, but I've never seen one with ramen. Where are they?
Well, for example, they're in Haneda Airport, and Ueno Station, one of the big train stations in Tokyo, as you know. And highway rest stop. All in all, there are about 20 machines in Japan. But listen to this. There are more than 100 in the US. In the US?
Yep, and that resulted from a collaboration between Japanese ramen shops and a Silicon Valley venture tech firm.

Wow, that's amazing! Okay, noodles in cups have been around for years. You can easily find them in supermarkets and convenience stores. Right.
So, what's the difference here?
There's a big difference!
What is it?
The vending machine is set up to get closer to the kind of ramen that you would get in a restaurant. Taste, flavor, and of course, all-important texture. Right? It includes a ramen egg, green leeks, and meat in a bowl. The freshness comes from making almost the whole thing together at the factory. All right. Then it's flash frozen in a bowl. And when you're ready to eat, the machine boils the noodles. And before you know it, you're holding in your hands the complete meal.
Now that's the kind of technology I can relate to. Fantastic.

Actually, you can. The machine displays the details of ingredients, along with information for people who have food allergies. So, people can not have to worry about any allergies happening after eating it. And those who prefer to go meatless, can order the vegan ramen. Vegan. Wow. Options galore.
Innovations like this are a part of a growing field called food tech. Modern technology is used to expand the possibilities of food through innovation. The idea got a boost during the pandemic when people started looking for new ways of cooking while they couldn't really move around as much. That makes sense.

Japanese companies have been entering the field, too. Actually, a big conference took place in Tokyo over the summer, the Smart Kitchen Summit. Isn't that the cutest name ever? And this is the sixth time that they've had it. And more than 1,000 people participated, including quite a few from overseas. One of the exhibits that got a lot of attention involved miso soup, you know, our favorite soup, right? You eat it every day. Every day, right? A company analyzed its composition from the perspective of nutritional science. That can be the starting point for your whole nutritional program. The company's putting together a website that asks questions like, are you working in an office or doing physical labor? It then can offer some estimates about what you may be lacking based on overall statistics. That would be so helpful.

It will also ask if you easily get tired, like me, or you can't sleep well, sometimes like me. Your taste preferences as well. And the ingredients can be tailored to what your body needs. Subscribers receive personalized dried miso soup. Is that the greatest thing ever or what?
That sounds fantastic and really convenient. I gotta give it a try, I think.
Yeah. I'm going to be paying attention to how food tech develops. It could become a way for people in other countries to get acquainted with Japanese food, right? ‘Cause they can send it all over the world. Then, when they come to Japan, they'll have a starting point for experiencing this amazing cuisine. Many ingredients pack a lot of nutrition into very small portions, and food sometimes really can be the best medicine. Absolutely. Now as for the program we were talking about at the beginning of this segment, RAMEN JAPAN, you can watch it on the NHK WORLD-JAPAN website. Click On-Demand and search for RAMEN JAPAN.


Ruth, is there any Japanese word you would like visitors to Japan to remember?
Yes, my favorite one, okawari. Okawari, I love it. It's so useful.
Okawari means once more or one more time. So next time when you go to a restaurant and you want another cup of miso soup, say “okawari kudasai,” and that sometimes you'll get one for free, another cup of miso soup.It's great.
Fantastic, you're entitled to as many servings of our program as you like. Okawari to your heart’s content!

We hope you will come back again and again. You can listen online too.
Go to the NHK WORLD-JAPAN website. Click On-Demand, choose Audio, and find Living in Japan. And also feel free to get in touch through the website. We'd be happy to hear what's on your mind.
We'll be back next month, so please join us then for another edition of Living in Japan.
Please do. Bye!

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