Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum: One of my favorite places in Japan

Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum - Yokohama, Japan

Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum – Yokohama, Japan

Walking into the nondescript building near Shin-Yokohama station, you have no idea about the special world that lies deep within. At street level, you see ordinary exhibits that talk about Ramen, the Chinese noodle that’s made a big impact in Japan and who’s popularity has now spread to the U.S. It’s a museum dedicated to Ramen, how interesting can it be? Down a set of unassuming stairs, however, get ready to be transported through time.

This was my second visit. I loved it so much that I needed to go again, a couple of years later, this time armed with a tripod and wide-angle lens. Yup, I wanted to create detailed HDRs.

Truth be told, I’m not even a devoted Ramen fan, though not surprisingly, this will be an excellent place for Ramen aficionados. Sure I like the noodles well enough but I can equally be happy with a bowl of Vietnamese Pho. Instead, what I really like are rich urban environments. How strange that this place, more than many places in Japan, gave me a visual feast.

Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum - Yokohama, Japan
Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum - Yokohama, Japan

Walk down those ordinary stairs from street level and time begins to warp. You hear faint music and the rumble of trains. You notice that the walls become dingy and the posters, old. You realize that you’ve walked out of a train station and right into 1958 Japan. Shops line the streets — an Ice Cream Parlor, a camera store, bath houses and restaurants. All vaguely familiar but old. An alternate universe from nearly 60 years ago.

Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum - Yokohama, Japan
Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum - Yokohama, Japan

It feels like being in an episode of Star Trek where a hidden portal or holodeck has morphed the world around you. The glittering 21st century suddenly and unexpected yanked and replaced with an early modern society. You recognize the gadgets and the lifestyle but it’s distinctly pre-digital. Yes, you’re in an elaborate “amusement park” but one that Disney’s Imagineers would be proud. The detailing is fantastic and for an urban photographer, paradise.

Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum - Yokohama, Japan
Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum - Yokohama, Japan

Hidden within the faux-store fronts are real Ramen restaurants. Many from all over the country. The world is unexpectedly large, on two levels. Stairs lead from the “time portal”, down to a courtyard which resembles the typical shopping districts that surround train stations. It’s easy to forget that you’re actually in a basement, several levels deep under modern Japan.

Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum - Yokohama, Japan

It was only hours after I got my new wide-angle lens for the Pentax Q7, used in conjunction with an ultra light but slightly rickety tripod. Luckily, it was adequate for creating HDRs, in my realistic style. I wasn’t sure if tripods were allowed so I purposely used the most unassuming setup possible — nobody said anything.

Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum - Yokohama, Japan

A few years ago, on my first visit, I shot standard photos with my Olympus. While satisfying for most, I came here again to use my full HDR treatment. This place deserved it. Admittedly, my appreciation for cities and the man-made may be unconventional but for anyone with a similar interest, it’s a must.

Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum - Yokohama, Japan
Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum - Yokohama, Japan

I wonder what the Japanese think of this museum and of the late 50s in general. Was it a happy and heady time? It was a mere 6 years before the Tokyo Olympics, when Japan rapidly grew into a superpower. Ironically, when I shot these photos in 2014, it was also 6 years before the next Tokyo Olympics. Modern, bustling Japan, while vibrant, has clearly peaked. Its economy, stuck in an on and off recession for 25 years.

Perhaps more than just a museum, maybe it’s a feel good illusion where the Japanese can be optimistic. A far away time when the economy and the country’s prospects looked limitless. For me, it’s a set where I can experience the romance of made up history wrapped in a controlled and convenient urban veneer. Not a bad way to spend a cold and rainy afternoon.

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10 thoughts on “Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum: One of my favorite places in Japan

  1. I wanted to ask you specifically what you like about the Q7. I find the camera intriguing. I also would like to know which of its lenses you like best and find the most useful. Yes, I’m thinking of buying one. Even though I really can’t afford it. I think I’m looking for justification 🙂

    1. I’ll will write more about the camera and eventually review it but here it is in a nutshell. The camera is very small but has nice, photographer oriented controls. It’s an incredibly fun camera for a few reasons. 1. The dial in the front allows you to select different effects very quickly. I shoot everything in JPEG and use my contrasty black and white and the other looks extensively. 2. I just love the custom black and white I setup in the camera, I easily get that really dark and contrasty look that I like. 3. I can make HDRs with an ultra small camera. 4. I can have all my lenses with me in a small camera bag. 5. Almost, completely silent shutter. 6. Great camera for unobtrusive street shooting.

      Keep in mind that a current generation Olympus micro 4/3 cameras will easily beat it for image quality. That includes the E-PM2 that we both use. The Olympus also focuses and shoots faster too. What the Pentax has is the fun factor, for all the reasons I mentioned above. And for most people, especially in decent light, the Q7 image quality is more than good enough. The video is not very good and I really haven’t used it.

      My most used Pentax Q7 lenses, the 01 Standard Prime and 08 Wide Zoom. I don’t use it as much but 06 Telephoto zoom is also an optically excellent lens. The 02 standard zoom it lens is OK but has very nice wide range. I would start with just the basic kit and see if I like the camera.

      1. Thanks. I was thinking of picking up the basic kit with the 02 lens and making sure it suits me before investing more. I appreciate the input. I’m about to get a PL5 from a friend who just bought the OMD-10, so he took my P-3 and I’m getting his PL5. I wanted the tilt view screen and he likes the solidity of the P-3. I can afford a lens — OR a camera. I can’t get both. I was thinking of the Oly 25mm 1.8, but I think it may be not much different than the 20mm panny I already have. So I’m being kind of cautious … I love new cameras. I just don’t have much spare money to spend … and I can’t spend it twice 🙂 I am looking forward to your review.

        I’ve heard a lot of people say the Q7 puts the fun back into photography. It does seem to make people smile.

    1. Thank you for your kind words. The Olympus Pens are a bit better and the Canon 6D better still for image quality but it’s something that you won’t see, for the most part, unless you view the images at 100%. The Pentax Q7 does plenty good. It’s also ultra light and really fun.

  2. I’m way behind on my blog following even though I follow only a few.

    I really enjoy your photographs but these in this post really blow me away, and I hate the cliche “blow me away”, but that’s exactly what these pics do. Having to travel so often for business reasons can really become a drag but if you weren’t forced to do it then the rest of us would be a lot worse off without seeing your unique photographs of places we never get to go. Thank you so much for sharing.

    I’m going to try and catch up with your posts over the next few days.

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