Inventive Ingenuity: The Ramen King
It's a food you are sure to have eaten and perhaps fallen in love with. Do you know how that ingenious packet of instant ramen came about?
Mention Japanese innovation and ingenuity and several names come readily to mind. Names like Mitsubishi; or Kawasaki, a city located between Tokyo and Yokohama that lent its name to a make of motorcycle; or Soichiro Honda, the mechanic who founded Honda Motor Company; or Masaru Ibuka and Ikio Morita of Sony Corporation; or Momofuku Ando of Nissin Food Products Co.
Mr. Ando was best known as a fast-food pioneer. He died in January after experiencing heart failure at the ripe old age of 96 in 2007.
Affectionately known as "The Ramen King," Ando invented instant ramen noodles; a food product more commonly identified with starving college students than haute cuisine in this part of the world. He ate ramen nearly every day of his life, up to and including his last. His longevity almost seems a rebuke of critics who condemned his signature food products for being full of trans-fat, salt, and monosodium glutamate.
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In Ando's adopted homeland of Japan his instant noodles were voted the most important Japanese invention of the 20th Century, more significant even than personal robots, heated toilets, Nintendo, and a host of other loudly-trumpeted consumer gadgetry. Kei Kizugawa of the publication Kamigata Geino compared him to Konosuke Matsushita, considered the father of consumer electronics in Japan.
Nissin Food Products Co. - the company Ando founded in 1948 - realized profits of $131 million last year from sales of his instant noodle products.
In 2002, he was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star, Second Class. Established in 1875 by Emperor Meiji, the Order of the Rising Sun is the second most-prestigious decoration that can be given to a citizen of Japan. The most prestigious, the Order of the Chrysanthemum (also established by Emperor Meiji) is reserved for the Emperor and visiting heads of state. Generally, it is only awarded posthumously to regular citizens.
Inspiration from Deprivation
Momofuku Ando discovered the path that would lead him to fortune and fame, while walking home from work at his family-run salt-making factory, on a chilly night in Osaka, Japan in 1957. He came upon a crowd of people standing around, waiting. Nearby were steaming vats of boiling water filled with noodles being cooked in a black market stall. In a scene reminiscent of diehard fans waiting for tickets to go on sale outside a concert venue, the people were prepared to wait for as long as necessary.