Three-Thirty AM Ramen

Here’s a twist on what to do when life gives you lemons. If you’re woken up at three am by a husband being noisy downstairs and you can’t go back to sleep, you go grab some ramen.

There’s this super popular ramen shop one town over that is only open from 3:15 am until 5:30 am (or until the soup runs out) on weekends. It’s called Marugen.  And it’s delicious. The only problem: the opening time. And the lines.

Hard to see, but this is the line. About ten high school kids behind me, too. People arriving all the time. Quite a few see the line and go back home. To sleep probably.


It’s a tiny shack of a place. No parking (you just park anywhere and hope the police to ticket you). Not exactly clean. And I’m guessing maybe ten people can fit inside at once.

Here’s the noren-curtain. Blood splattered by some rogue samurai, I guess. Forty minutes after we arrive and we’re almost in!

Noren 1


Here’s the view from my stool. Chashu-meat, menma-flavored bamboo, stack of bowls.

kitchen dirty

Everyone’s all nom-nom-nom. You can see the big vat of soup, too. It’s amazing how many people get extra noodles after they’ve finished the first bowl.

eating okyakusan


I couldn’t get a photo of the chef slinging the hot water from the noodles. It goes all over the floor which is really cool and gross at the same time. Here he is gently slipping the drained noodles into a bowl of soup.



Here’s the finished product. Marugen-chashu. It’s got loads of garlic in it!




The chef is the only one working. He doesn’t have time to wash dishes (huge stack on the side of his work space). And he doesn’t have time to collect money and give change. That last one’s up to you the customer. Everyone checks the wall to see how much their bowl was and pays by leaving their money on the table. If they need change they take from whatever is laying there. Honor system, FTW.

So if you’re ever in Fujieda and happen to wake up super early, I recommend a visit to Marugen. The customers are whacky, the atmosphere is distinctly blue collar, and the noodles are delicious.

Okuribi–Send Off Fire

August 16th is the last day of obon — a summer festival that honors the spirits of the dead. It’s the day everyone has to send back all those ancestors who have being hanging out at the family altar, feasting on fruit, sticky rice cakes, and sake’. Because, really, you don’t want them hoards of ghosties hanging around all year round. Especially that obnoxious Grandpa Hiro, right?

In order to send them peacefully back to the other side you have to perform what is called okuribi (送り火), translated more or less as “send off fire”. Everyone’s familiar with the lit paper lanterns floated down rivers. This is called toro nagashi. It’s a kind of send off fire, but  it’s a boring way to do it.

My favorite way is what  my town does at the beach every August 16th. Here, let me explain in photos.

First someone makes a bunch of these puppies. Back in the day there were fifteen to twenty all up and down the beach. This year only three. (#sad) I guess our town is spending all its budget on tsunami towers, no money left over to send the spirits back home in style.

Okuribi one

The first one is just for the kids. They teach a bunch of elementary aged children how to hold the fire, how to swing the torches, and then once it gets dark, they let them loose. The idea is to land one of those flaming ropes into the open top of the broom-looking thing.

It’s always crazy with the old men yelling at the kids and chastising them for trying to kill each other. Entertainment at its finest.

Okuribi kids

Once lit, the whole thing goes up in flames. Slowly. They pre-load them with fireworks, too. Because if it’s not dangerous enough having twenty people winging flaming ropes all around in the dark, you need to add more bottle rockets.

okuribi fireworks

The next two were reserved for adults. Anyone who wants to give it a try is invited down. No training needed. Let’s do this thing.

So most of the time this is going on a team of Buddhist monks are lined up with drums and chanting okyo to make the transition for the ancestors easier. My interpretation is that the spirits get woozy and ride the smoke back to heaven.

okuribi adult readying

Here’s the moment when the adult team actually landed one of the fires into the top. Woo hoo!


Here’s a neat long-shutter shot.

okuribi guruguru


And then at the end after all three are lit, the first one pretty much burned down, more fireworks in the back.


okuribi green


Because no matter what the culture there can never be enough things-that-blaze-and-blow-up.

There was even a short fireworks show after all this ended.

So long, Grandpa Hiro.


Summer Desserts

In Japan sweets are sublime.  Let me give you an example. The other day I was picking up some sticky rice cakes for my mother-in-law and I came across this.

dessert full turned

It’s a gelatin dessert, but there’s a goldfish floating there. And little red and white bean “rocks”. Seaweed even!

dessert one spoon out

And there,  minus one gelatin bite. Almost to the rocks.

Dessert big spoonful out

MMmmm, sweet red bean gravel and anko seaweed.

And the fish was delicious, too.