a bowl of tan tan men from a random shop in Urayasu-shi, Chiba-ken, near Urayasu station
You see, when I was a kid (or preteen), one of my all-time favorite activities was swimming. My entire summer break was largely centered around the wonderful (amazing, fantastic) pool we had in my grandfather's backyard. It was 13 feet deep! We had a diving board! My friends and I could spend hours playing make-believe, swimming laps in our private lagoon with our imaginations in overdrive. Of course, all that swimming would eventually make us ravenous, so we had to improvise a means of feeding ourselves without bothering the adults (because we were big kids, dang it). One of the first things I could make for myself was deep-fried taquitos- the Fry-Daddy was easy (plug it in, set the knob somewhere under 400 degrees, watch Digimon for awhile, dump taquitos into oil, wait 5 min, enjoy) but eventually other options were needed. One of the first things I discovered; Cup Noodles. The simplicity of pouring water into the foam cup, throwing in the microwave and having hot soup several minutes later- replete with freeze dried peas and carrots- was beautiful. And addicting! My grandpa would buy the large Costco flats and my friends and I could demolish them. It wasn't as greasy or filling as the taquitos, so we could return to swimming sooner! The curly noodles with their funny mouth-feel became a comforting, easy go-to meal. For several summers they were the stable food in my diet, providing sustenance through movie or swimming marathons. Shrimp! Oriental flavor! Beef! There was even a wonton soup flavor, with slippery little wontons floating in the broth- that we ate while pretending to be classy asian women, kneeling around my child-size table (that we'd long outgrown).
It was also around this time that I realized where my beloved Sailor Moon had originated, which sparked an obsessive interest in the land of the rising sun. I printed out large sheets with catch-phrases from anime (Abunai~! Daijoubu desuka? URUSENAIIII!!), started drawing with an anime inspired style, sought out new anime and manga on the internet, etc. We had a sweet little obasan come to my class and teach us a few phrases (Ohaiyo Gozaimasu. Onamae wa nandesuka? Ichi-ni-san-shi-go-roku-nana-hachi-kyuu-jyuu!) and a life goal came into realization; Someday I HAD to go to Japan. It didn't matter what it took, how many years of schooling or how much hard work.
In the meantime, I'd have to satisfy myself through food and the occasional encounter with someone from the country. There are actually several resources in the Las Vegas area, including anime clubs at the colleges to the Japan America Society of Nevada. Restaurants abound and are growing more plentiful, with a nice izakaya style one called Ichiza, Raku, a higher-end answer to the robata grill-style restaurant and Monta, a shop that specializes in the ramen I adore so much. While all these options are good, I have to admit I'm increasingly excited about the opportunity to sample a variety of ramen-yas in Tokyo. Monta is a decent hold over until I can really dig my teeth & chopsticks into some TRUE Japanese ramen (and yes, I do know 'la-mien' originated in China and was adopted by the Japanese sometime later on, check out Wikipedia's informative article). Each area in Japan has their own variation on the theme, which means that I'll be in slurp-heaven while travelling the length of the island, so I expect no two bowls to be exactly the same.
Going to Japan is like a pilgrimage and a going home, of sorts. While I know living there will be totally foreign and perhaps overwhelming, the simple beauty and comfort of a good bowl of ramen will help to ease any potential homesickness. The childhood associations I've gained means that every curly noodle to pass my lips will be a delicious hint of nostalgia in a land far from home while also encouraging further exploration. Ah, ramen, Aishiteru!