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Ichiran Ramen: Eating Without a Word

The policy of the Ichiran ramen chain is to minimize the interaction with shop staff and customers as much as possible. A strange set up but how's the ramen?

By 3 min read

After getting off Tokyo’s packed rush hour train in the evening, you probably don’t want to look at another human being, much less talk to another. For the weary throughout Japan, the ramen shop Ichiran has created a brilliant albeit convoluted system to grant this wish.

Upon entering Ichiran, which serves only 豚骨ラーメン (pork bone/tonkotsu ramen), you are greeted by the standard ramen shop vending machine. You insert your money, press the button corresponding to your desired food item, and take the dispensed ticket to your seat.

At some of the larger Ichiran restaurants, an electronic seating chart is placed near the entrance showing which seats are empty. The Ichiran website explains that the seating chart was created as part of the system that “reduces interactions with shop staff as much as possible.”

Once at your seat, you’ll find that Ichiran has done as much as possible to reduce interactions among customers also. Each of the counter seats has a partition on either side so that the only indication that others may be in the shop is the slurping of noodles. Needless to say, Ichiran isn’t the ideal place for a date.

You then slide your ramen ticket to the staff through a small window in front of your seat. If seeing the mid-sections of the staff through this window bothers you, don’t worry; after one of the staff members slips you a ramen customization sheet, the window will be shuttered. In complete solace, you are free to choose your ramen preferences at your own pace.

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In the style of Hakata ramen from Fukuoka Prefecture, you have the choice of noodle firmness (麺のかたさ, men no katasa) from very hard (at Ichiran called 超かた, chō kata) to very soft (超やわ, chō yawa). In addition, at Ichiran, you can choose the level of spiciness, richness and flavor, whether you want roasted pork included, and the amount of garlic, spicy red sauce and scallion.

After filling in your preferences, you press the call button in front of you, and one of the staff members open the shutter, take the sheet, and then close the shutter. While waiting for your noodles, you can get a glass of water from the dispenser at your seat or read the shop information above your seat.

Again, the window flies open and your ramen is placed in front of you. You can now fully experience your personally customized tonkotsu ramen with no distractions. If you find that one serving of noodles isn’t enough, you can order 替玉 (kaedama, second serving) at your seat in cash by circling the 替玉 space on your chopstick cover and handing the marked chopstick cover to the staff. The shop information sign at your seat explains that in Fukuoka both women and men normally order a second serving.

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After ordering, specifying your ramen preferences and getting a refill on noodles all without uttering a word, it’s hard to know whether upon leaving you should say ごちそうさま (gochisōsama, loosely “Thanks for the food!”). Personally, I left the shop in silence to complete the experience and consider this article my way of saying I enjoyed the ramen.

What do you think of the Ichiran system? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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  • Sluggh says:

    So intimidated by these ramen places.

  • Levina says:

    Hi… is there English menu? Or at least menu with pictures/instructions to order?

  • Lily says:

    It was raining and I went to Ichiran with my friend who I hadn’t met in
    several years… it wasn’t the optimal place for a good conversation but
    it was such an intriguing experience I even blogged about it myself once I got home!!

  • Bugra Arslaner says:

    Been to Ichiran in Tokyo myself. You can remove the walls if you want, but I saw most of the people just going there for a quick bite. I’d think it’s geared towards people who are in a bit of a hurry and by themselves. It was a bit weird since you don’t even see the faces of the people working there.
    I’d say it’s just an experience you’d have to try once.

    As for the ramen, it was pretty mediocre. Had better ones during my stay in Tokyo.

  • Tess de la Serna says:

    Interesting article. This is the sort of restaurant I would definitely visit!

  • Romar Baranda says:

    Is there an English version of the ramen slip?

  • Ichiran is for the people who don’t know what good ramen should taste like. I been there and it was not that great. I went with two others and you can collapse the wall,and be able to see one another.

  • SolidBro says:

    What the hell is the metal thing that looks like a soda dispenser or beer tap?

  • rogutore says:

    My friends works at Ichiran…he said that the only 調理器具(cooking utencil) they have in the entire store is a…..ハサミ(scissors) Do you know why?

    EVERYTHING, is precoocked and factory made….and can be served with only a pair scissors opening everything that’s packeged.

    Which made me think that PART of the reason they have the partition is actually to conceal the fact that they don’t make ANYTHING there…which if it were true, it’s kinda sad.

    I never really liked the place before I heard this from my friend, but plus the fact that it’s super expensive, I don’t think I will go there for a long time.

  • Jim Gottlieb says:

    I ate at one of the ¥90 はま寿司 conveyor belt sushi places, where you have no interaction at all with the sushi chefs, and I didn’t like it at all. I like shouting my order, having the 板前さん acknowledge it, and then have him hand me the plate. That’s all part of the fun. When you order by touchscreen, and then it beeps when your order is about to appear on the belt, from the chefs hidden in the back, it’s just not the same.

    • greggman says:

      I have been to 30 or so 回転寿司 places in Japan and you can almost always yell out an order even there. The only one I’ve been to where you can’t is 東山回転寿司 in Diver City in Odaiba. In that one you order specials on iPads and a computer controlled Shinkansen brings out your custom order 😛

    • Lynn says:

      Friendly interaction with the staff is definitely a draw at a lot of places! I’m cursed with a small voice and sometimes have trouble hearing, so for noisy places, I prefer the check-sheet system. Smaller, quieter places can be super personal (plus easier to hold a conversation!), so it’s fun to make small talk and order from the chefs. I can see the draw of the shouted ordering system at sushi restaurants, though; the casualness can really put you at home.
      Although the city can be impersonal, it’s nice to have so many restaurant options in Tokyo.

  • Nick Parisi says:

    I’ve been to Ichiran a couple times- one in Tokyo and one in Fukuoka. For a “chain” ramen restaurant, Ichiran is very good. The concept of having no eye-contact/talking is a refreshing concept at the restaurant. After all, during a ramen meal you’re not supposed to have a conversation anyway, really… it’s meant to be enjoyed relatively fast, just you and the bowl… and slurping.

    • Lynn says:

      Ichiran does seem to emphasize that when eating ramen, you should concentrate only on the ramen. I bet it does wonders for seat turnover.

      • Anthony Joh says:

        Never thought about that. I hate walking into a cafe in Tokyo and not finding a seat because a bunch of people are sleeping at their table.

  • Ian Campbell says:

    Did one in Kitakyushu….delicious! Extra garlic, extra noodles (very firm), yum!

  • Sarah Wellstood says:

    What a great idea for when you just want some peace and quiet and a good meal.Time out, listen to some music in your lunch break before you have to go back to the stress of work.

  • Alwyn Chan says:

    I don’t really like the idea cos dinner for me is a time to interact with friends and family…..

  • Saburo says:

    I went to a branch in Hiroshima a couple years ago. No hassles, no fuss. Really good product.

    Recommended!

  • 8675309 says:

    Don’t bother me — can’t you see that I’m eating my f***ing ramen??!!

  • Andrea Fraga Serebrovich says:

    The Best ramen I’ve ever eaten! The system is perfect if you go there alone! But if you go with someone else you can seat together and open the partition besides you.

    • Lynn says:

      Excellent! I didn’t know this. I think the salary men beside me didn’t realize this either; they kept leaning back in their seats to chat with each other across the partition.
      I’ll have to rethink this place as a date spot.

  • ailina says:

    some ichirans have “collapsible” partitions!

  • JOkoth says:

    Perfect!

  • Mai says:

    This was definitely one of my favorite ramen spots because of the lack of human interaction and the customizable ramen! I’m not a fan of super fatty, heavy, oily ramen, so this always hit the spot 🙂

    • Lynn says:

      I’m completely the opposite with ramen; I adore the heavy, oily kind. Very cool to have a restaurant that can cater to both tastes!

  • Miamiron says:

    For a nation notorious for its social-distancing and awkwardness, I think its kind of a terrible idea to even further eliminate social interactions of any kind.

  • miruza annas says:

    weird ! 😀

    but thats is japan, a place where a weird things come from :v

  • Leszek says:

    That was the first place where I had ramen!
    Unfortunately, the usual “see what other people eat and point at pictures in the menu” survival method didn’t work there at all. The flavor of my ramen was a direct result of my poor ability to read Japanese and the silent treatment and isolation only added to me feeling like I was being punished for something. I’m sure it’s great for ramen-savvy customers, but for a social eater like me, it made me prejudiced against ramen in general. I’m sure if I had an article like this beforehand, it would have been a totally different experience.

    • Lynn says:

      Unfortunately for many travelers/residents, Ichiran restaurants don’t seem to have English option sheets at all of their restaurants. A randomly filled-out option sheet could turn into a super garlicy, spicy mess of rock-hard noodles (which I suppose some might like). I hope that another ramen place can win you over!

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