Originally a Chinese noodle dish, ramen made its way to Japan with the influx of Chinese people moving to Japan’s major port town after japan opened its ports to the rest of the world in 1859.
Soon, Chinese noodle shops began appearing in major port towns. There, Japanese locals began frequently eating this early form of ramen. In time, some began to set up their own independent operations, selling noodles from carts (or yatai) on the streets.
A variety of factors have contributed to the spread and diversification of ramen over the years throughout Japan. Post World War II Japan was a very poor country, and in December 1945 Japan recorded its worst rice harvest in 42 years. The occupying United States flooded the country with cheap wheat flour to deal with food shortages which led to a rise in popularity of noodle dishes. In addition to this, the invention of MSG in 1908 making the umami flavour of kombu very easily achievable and bones being a primary ingredient of ramen soup meant it was not only cheap but straightforward to make an early version of ramen.
This combination of factors caused ramen to spread quickly across the country. As Japan’s economy improved each region developed their own style of ramen according to regional pallets. In Kyushu they developed tonkostsu which is a silky thick broth made using mostly pork bones, and in Hokkaido they put their own spin on it with miso ramen. Nowadays in Japan, everyone has their own version of ramen and now ramen is different from region to region, city to city, and even shop to shop.
The key difference between the various ramens of japan and the original chinese noodle dish is in the soup. All of the ramen soups you find today in japan have been created with only the intention of only being used in ramen. Whereas, the original soup was used in many noodle dishes at the time. A ramen found in a ramen-ya today could contain as few as five or as many as forty ingredients in the soup. This ability to diversify ramen flavour
has played a vital part in its rise not only in Japan, but around the world.