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Relax and Enjoy the Differences

2017.11.17

Noodle Harassment is one of the new words in Japan that has been increasingly popular on any discussion forum.  It is about the noise that Japanese people make when eating noodles with soup.  Though it is totally acceptable in Japan, it clearly is not if you are brought up elsewhere.

Cup Noodle Noise Cancelling Revolution


After Cup Noodle established itself as a world food, the authentic way to eat soup noodles became a talking point around the globe.  In many cultures, children are told not to make any noise while eating, and slurping would be the worst offence that they can commit.

The so-called manner of making a slurping noise when eating noodles seems to have quickly developed into an argument in Japan.  There are plenty of anecdotes and interviews to indicate that foreign visitors do not enjoy hearing it.

It has become such an issue in Japan that the manufacturer of Cup Noodle has invented a noise cancelling fork.  It is just a one-off production, to make sure that noodle slurping noise does not get in the way of cultural mutual understanding.  It is called Otohiko.

 

 

The mechanism is that Otohiko recognizes the noodle slurping noises, sends a message to the coupled smartphone, and it generates a camouflage sound.

What the clip shows is an example of these moments when different cultures meet and recognize the differences in small basic behaviours.  Otohiko does not pretend to totally diminish the noise.  It provides an opportunity to come together and focus on the positive side everyone enjoys, rather than on the confusing differences.

Why Making Such Noise? 


Since Noodle Harassment became an officially recognized term, many thoughts and discussions appeared on the internet.  Some people are adamant that the correct way to eat noodles is with as loud a noise as possible.  But why is that?

The basic etiquette even in Japan is that diners should not make much noise while eating.  In Kaiseki style formal cuisine, if the chef decides to serve noodles, they are cut and organized into a small bitesize bundle to make sure that eating it will not embarrass the guest for making awkward noise at the table.

But what about eating ramen and soba noodle?  It seems that there are three main reasons for making noise when slurping noodles.

The first one is simply because they are hot.  But this explanation does not apply to slurping cold soba noodles.

The second reason is that Ramen and soba are street food, almost fast food.  These thin noodles also lose texture very quickly, so they need to be consumed fast.  But although this may end up generating noise, it does not have to be so.  The diners can try to minimize making noise while eating fast.

The third reason is the constitution of the noodle dishes.  Noodle and soup must be consumed together.  To maximize the harmony of soba noodle and dashi broth soup, which are both crafted in the kitchen with care to strike the right balance, it is necessary to slurp noodle with soup and air.  It is only a natural sound generated by trying to enjoy as much as possible the soba’s fragrance.  The noise is not the purpose here but enjoying the taste is.

The problem starts when people forget the basic etiquette mentioned earlier:  There should be no unnecessary eating noise.

Knowing the Reason, Understanding the Customs


There is another unlikely occasion in which a slurping noise is accepted, and in fact, when it is necessary.  At the tea ceremony, strict procedures and rules are in place, and the guests are expected to know them all and follow them.  It is daunting for beginners, but the host and the first guest will guide the ceremony, so others just need copy all the actions.

The most significant rule is that there is no conversation allowed, apart from what is in the protocol, such as “thank you” and praises for the host’s tea and the ceramics.  As a result, the participants have to use certain noises as signals.  The last guest to enter the room, who is also a person with experience of a tea ceremony, shuts the sliding door with a slap to make sure that the host knows that everybody is in the room.

One of such noises is the slurping noise. The guest should make a short noise at the end to indicate to everyone else that it is finished.  Also, the bowl has to be totally clear of residue foams to make sure there is no spillage when looking at the art of the teacup, including the inscription of the manufacturer at the bottom of it.

Never Forget to Have Fun Elements


Having background knowledge makes the differences more acceptable.  The whole point of visiting different places is to see something new and to embrace and enjoy it. Insisting on the customs without explanation or rejecting new findings without understanding the background are simply killjoy for the experience.

What Otohiko does may look rather like a waste of technology.  But, by seriously taking on a cultural difference with a bit fun, it can be a great catalyst to get people to overcome differences and see the positive side.

 

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