The next day was Monday. Sometime on Sunday, we had stopped by the travel center so that I could turn in the exchange order for my JR Rail Pass, which I was going to start using this day. First order of business to take care of: we went to the travel office to get our Shinkansen tickets to Kyoto for the next day. It wasn’t difficult, and we were out of there quickly.
The next item on the agenda was a suggestion from Nate - we were going to eat at Ramen Jiro. Eating there is an adventure, because this is no ordinary ramen, as anyone familiar with the place can tell you. The ramen there has noodles at least three times as thick as regular ramen, and the portions are bigger as well. It’s also a lot oilier and saltier.
Despite all that, Jiro has generated quite a following. It appears to have developed its own culture and a community of Jiro addicts, complete with its own lore throughout the decades of Jiro history. There are at least ten Jiro shops throughout Tokyo, though the original is found in Mita, near Keio University. That particular shop was our destination this morning.
We got off the train at Mita Station, but we soon realized we had forgotten to write down exact directions. Well, we figured we could just ask around - people there should know about Jiro, right? Not quite. We stopped at a few convenience stores to ask where it was, and none of the clerks knew. We kept walking in the general direction we thought it was, and we were finally rewarded when Chuck asked at a lottery stand, and the two women in there told us to just keep walking down the street several blocks. And so we were on our way.
It wasn’t quite what I expected. The shop was on the bottom floor of a tall, narrow, nondescript building, with none of the exterior decor typically associated with ramen shops. I would have completely missed it if it hadn’t been for the two kanji at the top of the building that said “Jiro.”
The Mita shop is small - it’s basically a small central kitchen (enough for the three employees, at least, perhaps a 7′ x 9′ space?) surrounded on 3 sides by a counter. There are maybe about 15 stools at the counter, with the walls almost right behind the stools. In fact, for those sitting at the front side, the walls are less than half a foot behind you, leaving barely enough room to squeeze behind someone to get to one of the middle seats. There are actually two doors for the customers, one on either side of that front part of the counter (so you cross to the other side of the room by going outside).
Fortunately, we got there before the rush. There were only three people in line in front of us, and by the time we left, there were at least fifteen waiting. Anyway, even before you get seated, you have to make your choice. There’s a vending machine that gives you a plastic ticket, which you then place on the counter when you finally get a seat. There are only 6 choices on the menu: you choose either a small bowl or a large one, and then you choose how much chashu pork you want (none, normal, or double). Being foolishly ambitious, Chuck and I both selected the large with double pork.
By the time I sat down (and I ended up in one of those front seats), I had realized my mistake. Looking at the bowls next to me, I knew this was going to be a challenge. I patiently waited, drinking my water, and in the meantime Chuck sat down two stools away. Eventually, my bowl came, with an intimidating mountain of cabbage, bean sprouts, and chashu staring me in the face. I mentally prepared myself for battle.
A few mouthfuls in, I already knew I was beat. I did my best, trying to pace myself and pausing when necessary. But in the end, there was no way I could handle the entire bowl. Looking over at Chuck, I saw he did much better than I did. But I had to admit defeat, finishing maybe only 80-85% (and that’s ignoring the soup!). I left the shop in shame, but with a much heavier stomach and a feeling of being covered in grease. Needless to say, Jiro is a ramen I will never forget.
Coincidentally, we saw the finals of “The King of Gluttony” on TV the night before, where Nobuyuki “The Giant” Shirota ate 20 bowls of ramen (normal ramen, not Jiro) in an hour, defeating Takuya Yamamoto (18 bowls) and Natsuko “Gal” Sone (14 bowls). After having had the Jiro, I couldn’t bear the thought of ever eating that much ramen, and I didn’t even want to think of ramen for the next few days.
We took our time walking back to the station, but not before stopping at a nearby conbini to get some cold tea (and for Chuck, some Coolish) to help wash down the oily feeling.