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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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06/07/2006 Archived Entry: "Nonfiction manga review: Project X Cup Noodle"

Project X Cup Noodle
by Tadashi Katoh
Digital Manga Publishing

Review by Tom Good

If you've ever eaten a serving of Nissin Cup Noodle instant ramen, you must have wondered about how all the designs, technologies, and ingredients in this product came about, and what kind of heroic corporate workers contributed to its creation. Well, OK, actually you probably didn't -- but you should have, because the story is interesting. This nonfiction manga dishes out all the behind-the-scenes facts about the development of the Cup Noodle. It would be easy to make fun of how seriously these businessmen take instant ramen, and laugh at lines like "No food so convenient! No food so indispensable!" But it's hard to argue with the number: 8.2 billion served per year. Creating something so colossally successful really is a fantastic achievement.

In a time when the industry had become "a war zone with over 360 companies competing for profits," Nissin cut salaries and jobs amidst price cuts and declining consumer demand. The Cup Noodle project, begun in 1970, was considered a huge risk on a product that might not be marketable, especially at the target price, which was higher than that of competing products. The man who had to design the container became so stressed out that he had nightmares about being crushed under giant ramen containers. Another team member's wife worried that he had lost his appetite for her cooking, but he was really just taste-testing too many noodles at work. The team encountered obstacles in finding and preparing ingredients, and in finding ways to capture the public's interest, but they persevered and eventually succeeded.

Director Momofuku Andou's original inspiration for the Cup Noodle was his visit to America. He found that American families did not own Japanese-style bowls for eating ramen, so he started to think about a product that could be prepared and eaten using the same container it came in. Even the name "Cup Noodle" was chosen with international sales in mind, based on the fact that the word ramen would be unfamiliar to consumers in other countries.

Project X Cup Noodle has such an unusual subject that it is worth checking out just to see a new twist on what manga can accomplish. The story, though mundane compared to most manga, is still inspirational. In 1971 these guys saved their jobs, turned around their company's fortunes, and created a product that is still enjoyed today. I still can't quite grasp the 8.2 billion figure (stacked up, would those containers reach the moon?) but I do know this manga was fun to read.

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