Meet the ambassadors

by Steve Trautlein

In these times of economic hardship and political tension, the Yahoo! Japan Ramen project proves that a humble noodle can help bring people together.

The project, launched this summer with the goal of promoting ramen around the world, has completed its first phase: selecting nine Japan-based foreigners who, over the coming months, will spread the joy of noodles by making videos, conducting tours and compiling a cooking guide for likeminded food-lovers overseas.

The diverse backgrounds of these “ambassadors” is a testament to ramen’s widespread appeal. Among their ranks are a Taiwanese college student, an American banker, a South Korean professional and a Chinese office worker. The North American love affair with ramen is on full display—six of the nine of the representatives are from the United States.

Despite their varying interests and occupations, all the ambassadors share a passion for ramen and a desire to promote the dish as widely as possible. “I want to tell everyone around the world about how delicious Japanese ramen is from a unique Korean point of view,” writes Lee Chan, a Tokyo-based office worker who hails from Suwon, near Seoul. Chan is an equal-opportunity noodle aficionado: His favorite styles are “Tsukemen, miso ramen, tonkotsu ramen, etc.”—basically, the entire ramen spectrum.

Meilin Chen, a native of the central Chinese province of Chongqing and a graduate of Nagoya University, voices a similar enthusiasm. “I would like to help the people in China understand the difference between Chinese and Japanese ramen,” she says. The resident of Tokyo’s Suginami Ward confesses to a weakness for the onikara ramen at her local noodle shop—”six times spicier than normal.”

The lineup of ambassadors includes some of the most influential figures in the expat ramen scene. San Francisco native Brian MacDuckston runs the Ramen Adventures blog, an essential English-language guide to noodle shops in Kanto and beyond. When a New York Times travel writer was planning a tour of Tokyo’s best ramen joints, he hit up MacDuckston for his local expertise.

Keizo Shimamoto is another ambassador who’s well-known to foreign noodle lovers. Developing a love of ramen during his boyhood in Los Angeles, Shimamoto grew so enamored of the dish that he ditched his job in the IT industry and came to Japan in 2009 to learn the craft of noodle-making. He’s now the manager of a well-regarded Tokyo noodle shop and the star of a short film, Ramen Dreams, which was recently featured at the NYC Food Film Festival.

The nine ambassadors are all busy with official duties at the moment, and very soon you’ll be able to see the fruits of their labors. You can keep track of them by joining the official Love Ramen Facebook page. And we have another treat in store for you, too. Yahoo! Japan and The Japan Times are also collaborating on a world first— an International Ramen White Paper Project . You’ll be able to check out the results in December.

For more information about the Yahoo! Japan promotion, see ramen.yahoo.co.jp/oversea/index02.html.