The “fortunate” way to get along with ramen by Naru Narumi, author of “Ms. Koizumi Loves Ramen Noodles”
An animation called “Ms. Koizumi Loves Ramen Noodles” which is shown on TOKYO Ippudo and other related stations since January 2018 is becoming the talk of the town. As the title suggests, this is a story of a high school girl, Koizumi san, who happens to love ramen dearly and she would visit ramen shops which actually exist and shows off her knowledge and passion for ramen like a fanatic. In the fourth episode titled “Red or White”, Ippudo appeared. The author of this animation is Naru Narumi, a cartoonist. This time we asked her for an interview and we also wanted to thank her for the great response we’ve received after the broadcast and she gracefully accepted! We asked her various questions such as how she came to like ramen so much and how important ramen is in her daily life which surely must be very busy with all the writing work.
©Naru Narumi・Takeshobo/”Ms. Koizumi Loves Ramen Noodles” production committee
WORDS BY KOU MAESONO
It all started when I ate Hakata tonkotsu as a primary school student.
Before we get into the interview, I would like for everyone to have a look at this graph. After the broadcast of the fourth episode in which Ippudo was featured, the keyword of “Ippudo” on Twitter rose sharply.
An obvious sharp rise. We had great response on the official Twitter of Ippudo as well.
We’ve received many tweets such as “God, I want to go to Ippudo” and “I came to Ippudo after watching Koizumi san”. This animation surely wets the ramen appetite of those who watch the show. Wanting to find out what it is that makes this show so appealing, firstly, we asked her what was it that made Narumi san such a ramen fanatic.
When did you become fond of ramen, Narumi san?
Narumi: Actually, when I was in my lower grade at primary school I used to live in Fukuoka and one day I ate a Hakata tonkotsu ramen and that is how I fell in love with ramen. At the time I was still little, so I would have my mother cook “Umakachan (instant noodle)” or have my parents take me out occasionally to a ramen shop. When I was in high school that is when I began to frequent many ramen shops. A mock exam at a Juku (cram school) I went to would be held at unknown regional universities and at private cramming schools. Every time after the exam finished I would find ramen shops near the examination venue and treat myself to a ramen.
Going to various ramen shops and eating ramen as a high school student! Was she a high school student living the life of Koizumi san in real life?
Narumi: No, not at all. Koizumi san would not worry about money and go to far away places and eat ramen (laugh). In my case, I ate ramen when my allowance allowed me, and I was not fanatically seeking ramen shops but little by little my sixth sense would tell me which ramen shops to go to. So, even now I don’t think of myself as a ramen fanatic.
Why did you decide to write a ramen comic?
Narumi: There was this urge to write a comic about food. Before Koizumi san, I wrote a comic about agriculture (note: “JA~Agriculture by a girl”) but while I was doing that I began to think about food. Just when I was thinking of writing a comic with the theme of food and leaving it for future generations before I die, the current staff from Takeshobo said that it was interesting.
One scene from the TV animation. It featured Ippudo Kichijyoji shop and after it went on air, there were many people coming to the store as a pilgrimage.
In the animation, many actually existing shops appear but how often do you go to a ramen shop? If there is something that you look for in a shop, please tell us.
Narumi: I would eat at least 365 bowls of ramen a year. Of course, there are days I would not eat but if I visit regional towns I would sometimes eat 5 bowls of ramen a day. How I choose a ramen shop is all by feel and recently because I am writing this animation series staff and followers of Twitter tell me which ramen shops are nice. The other day I went to a ramen shop deep in the mountains in Okinawa.
I write about what I thought was delicious and what excited me.
After visiting so many ramen shops, do you have a definition of what a good ramen shop is?
Narumi: Yes, I’ve thought about that but there isn’t really. The ramen staff serve you a bowl, of course thinking that it is delicious and even the service and the interior has some meaning and an aim. It is fun discovering those things afterwards, whether it be new shops or those I’ve visited before. For example, the other day I went to “Kujira Shokudo” in Higashi Koganei. The last time I went there was about 6 month ago but the lighting had changed. If my memory serves me correct, the lighting was a little softer and that was really nice. The reason is, it is difficult to see make-up smeer at night with warm lighting than a fluorescent lighting. I don’t know if this is the reason, but I noticed much more couples and women customers at the shop. I think it made it easier for women who are working to come to the shop at night.
Koizumi san’s style is to take on a ramen tying her long hair into a ponytail.
I see, it is interesting seeing it in that way. You’re right, the way Koizumi san is written, it does seem to provide useful information for young women when they go to a ramen shop next time. She does draw list of things to take with you like hair clips.
Narumi: There are many hardcore ramen lovers among my fans and some of them are saying that they do not want to be thought of as going to a ramen just because it is the “in” thing to do (laugh). But, I do wish it would turn out that way. Ippudo also, I feel is easy for women to go inside. When I was living in Fukuoka, my mother loved it and would go and eat quite often. Come to think of it, I don’t think I have gone to Ippudo by myself often. I would often go there with my friends. If I had a friend who wanted specially to eat Tonkotsu ramen, I would say something like “For starters, how about Ippudo?”. And also, aren’t you serving tofu at the moment (※ are you talking about “Shiromaru Tonkotsu Tofu” which is being offered for a limited period at some shops)? There is a friend who is on a carbohydrate restriction diet and I would take her to Ippudo by saying that there is also tofu. It comes in handy in those kinds of situations.
It became a hit among those on carbohydrate restriction diet and among women and “Shiromaru Tonkotsu Tofu” is also available at convenience stores.
Wow, you really are into ramen (laugh). Also, I was amazed to see that the ramen and the interior of the shops that were drawn were all true to real life and how observant you were.
Narumi: Since you are drawing something that actually exists and something that you ate and found delicious at the time and felt excited about, to hear you say that makes me feel really happy. In the animation the actual shop name is not clearly given but for those who know it would understand and if there is a person who would notice the slightest of details in the animation, that amazes me, and I am surprised by it.
From volume 2 of the comic version in which Ippudo appears. Of course, the ramen but also the interior is faithfully reproduced. There were scenes where even free bean sprouts, leaf mustard and rooibos tea appeared.
If you rank ramens, you will not be able to enjoy its essential qualities.
And, what I feel personally by reading it is that ramen is not “differentiated”. There are various ramens that appear from shops that have shops all over Japan, small privately-owned shops, ramens from family restaurants and sushi chain stores right through to even cup noodles. These are all equally respected and taken up and as a ramen lover this is what is so good about the animation.
Narumi: All of them are different, aren’t they? Each of them has appeal in their own distinct way and I want to enjoy each of them for what they are. Isn’t it more fun that way? If it comes to ranking them and giving a critique, you would have to think of them in one lump but if you do that that would be ranking them and then you would not be able to enjoy its essential qualities. That is why I try to enjoy the shop by being nonchalant, so to speak, or flat when I am in the shop. Today I had ramen at “Kane Kitchen Noodle” in East Nagasaki and the chopstick there was so easy to use. This is due to my profession but when your grip strength is weak from holding a ball point pen for too long, if it is a chopstick which is easy to pick up, that thoughtfulness makes me very happy. This is not limited to ramen, but I want to genuinely enjoy everything like this. When you start comparing it does not become enjoyable.
Have you had any experiences at a ramen shop that sticks in your mind?
Narumi: Yes, there are various experiences (smile) but last Christmas would be the most recent. I thought being Christmas, everyone would be eating chicken, so I went to a normally very crowded ramen shop. But there were many people who thought just like me and there was a very long queue. First, I went to “Benten” in Narimasu. I waited in line for two hours and ate their ramen. My friend happened to be in the neighborhood in the afternoon, so we went to “Tsuta” in Sugamo and surely enough there was a long queue. That is when I witnessed a customer in front of me talking about “Koizumi san” for the first time and I was listening to what they had to say, and my heart was pounding. They said that “the animation is a fiction so there is no way a woman like that who would eat many bowls of ramen in one day would exist”. My friend next to me was trying not to laugh because such a woman was right here (laugh). After that we wanted to eat ramen with chicken in it, so we went to “Maruson Shoten” in Kabe. We ended up having 3 bowls (laugh).
Your experience has been made into animation and into drama so what are your future plans?
Narumi: I didn’t expect it would turn out this way, so I thought there must be a lot of ramen lovers (laugh). But it is not that easy to have your work made into a comic like this. I think that it is the same with ramen but to serve one bowl of ramen is a painstaking task. First you must have all the ingredients and food ready and there must be someone to handle the distribution and then the person to make them and to serve them and, last but not least, customers who eat them. A book is like that in a way and to publish even one book is a miracle, so I hope to continue with my work in a humble way and in my own pace. I hope one day to write a story about Fukuoka ramen. Even with the same tonkotsu ramen there are many kinds, such as Nagahama and Kurume so I am constantly thinking how I can let my readers know of that fact.
I am looking forward to it! Finally, what message do you want to tell your readers through “Koizumi san”?
Narumi: What I am conscious about when writing “Koizumi san” is that I want people who do not like ramen that much to be interested in ramen. Which means I want to leave something passionate behind so that even if the ramen in my animation was to be replaced by something else it would still make do. I want to make my animation very passionate and I think that it is very important in life to find something that you can concentrate to the extent that you would not notice any noise around you. I would like to stress, or should I say, not forget the stance of probing thoroughly into what you love and continue hard doing so.
WORDS by KOU MAESONO
After working at a publishing company and in editing and production, joined Chikara-no-Moto Holdings in 2011, involved in Ippudo and other house brand promotion planning and advertising direction. Also handles SNS operations and editing of the IPPUDO OUTSIDE web magazine for Ippudo.