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  • Frank Striegl

Ichiran Ramen - A Tourist Trap?

Ichiran Ramen is often towards the top of a tourist's "Japan things to do" list. But is this famous pork bone ramen chain a tourist trap? Let's weigh in!


Ichiran Ramen - A Little Background

Like a lot of pork bone (tonkotsu) ramen heavyweights, Ichiran hails from Fukuoka City, Fukuoka prefecture, Japan. It got it start as a humble food stall in the 1960s.

Ichiran Headquarters

Fast forward to present day - Ichiran has 80 restaurants worldwide and is one of the most recognized ramen brands out there.

Their massive flagship tower in Fukuoka is a testament to this success.


But let's dive right in. Is Ichiran Ramen a tourist trap?


Guilty of Three Things

I (Frank from 5 AM Ramen) have fond memories of eating Ichiran growing up. But I'm going to put aside my emotional connection to them.


This said, if anything, Ichiran is accused of these 3 things:

1) Creating a theme park-like environment

2) Mass producing its ramen

3) Charging more than other ramen restaurants

These 3 things naturally lead to a greater number of tourists.


But these 3 things are at the heart of a thriving business:

1) The theme park-like environment is what makes Ichiran fun

2) The mass production of ramen allows them to scale and serve more people

3) They simply charge more because they can

You can't knock them for having a successful business model. If anything, the capitalist in me admires what Ichiran Ramen has achieved.


But let's look at these three points in more detail.


Ramen Disneyland?

For those unaware, Ichiran uniquely has ramen booths. In each of them, staff serve ramen to individual customers through little windows with bamboo-woven curtains.

Customers even get to fill out order sheets to design their ramen. This is all undoubtedly fun and exciting...and "tourist friendly". But it wasn't all set up just for tourists.

Ichiran has been doing this from the beginning, well before Japan tourism took off. They were creative and were rewarded for this along the way.


When I visited the Irish Whiskey Museum in Dublin, I knew what I was getting into. Tourists often gravitate towards proven, worry-free activities. This describes Ichiran.


Factory Like Production?

Maybe you're thinking "ok, that's all well and good. What about the ramen quality and taste?" This ties into the second point...mass production.

Anytime you scale and mass produce, there's a risk of diminishing quality. For example, not all staff at Japan Ichiran restaurants will assemble ramen the same way. This is despite everything being formulaically prepared in a central kitchen ahead of time.