These are the 5 most important things NOT TO DO in a ramen shop in Japan. Some of these might surprise you!
1. Don't Cut the Line
Famous ramen shops in Japan can attract big lines. While it's rather obvious, don't cut these lines. This sort of amusement park etiquette isn't exactly unique to Japan. But an extension of this might be less obvious - don't save a spot in line for other people.
Let's say you arrive at a Tokyo ramen shop with a long line. You get in line and three of your friends arrive 15 minutes later, joining you in line. This is a no-no in Japan. If everyone behaved like this, the very fabric of Japanese society would unravel.
Dramatization aside, respecting these rules isn't hard. It's also important to stay relatively quiet in line. This is because a lot of Japan ramen shops are located in residential neighborhoods. Lastly, ramen shops might have a diagram outside showing everyone how to line up (e.g. a snake pattern or L pattern).
2. Don't Linger
Ramen is almost treated like fast food in Japan. I'm not talking about the calorie count or how fast it's prepared. I'm talking about how ramen is not a dining experience. That is, you're meant to eat your ramen and then leave.
Japan ramen shops are not like Japanese restaurants overseas, where there might be sake, sushi, and ramen all on the same menu. Ramen shops in Japan serve ramen. Furthermore, they rely on a quick turnover of customers.
This quick turnover is one reason why ramen in Japan is cheap. To summarize, it's not cool if you're hanging out at a ramen shop 15 minutes after you've finished eating.
3. Don't Wait to Eat
Ramen is best enjoyed immediately after it's served. A hot soup tastes fresher and isn't congealed. Furthermore, the noodles are more springy. There's nothing worse than soggy noodles. This happens when you wait too long to dive in.
Taking your time to the point where your ramen becomes lukewarm is a fat faux pas. You're doing yourself and the ramen shop a disservice. This one's even challenging for me, as I'm normally documenting the ramen!
If there's a line out the door, I'm extra quick in getting footage. I also eat ramen like a Tokyoite (vacuum cleaner speed).
4. Don't Order One Ramen and Share
This is related to the quick turnover. Basically, every individual should order one bowl of ramen. It would be frowned upon if two people shared one bowl. It's kind of like parking two cars in one parking spot.
Maybe that's not the best analogy. But I'm sure you get my drift. If you're worried about not being able to finish a whole bowl, ask for "hanmen" (half portion of noodles) or "men sukuname" (less noodles). Just note that the price won't change.
This is where it can get tricky with kids. Some ramen shops, especially bigger ones with tables, are kid friendly. At others with only counter seating there's a rule of one ramen per person.
5. Don't Take Photos of Everything
Almost all ramen shops are OK with you taking photos of the food (ramen). But since I use a big camera, I ask permission just to be safe. This isn't absolutely necessary but I'm just giving them a heads up that - I'm about to take photos of your ramen.
However, permission would be most necessary for photos of the kitchen. Some ramen shops are sensitive about their staff being in photos or revealing what goes on in the kitchen. In the same regard, some places don't want you taking photos inside at all. This is because other customers can be in the shots.
But it can really depend on the ramen shop or even where you are in the country . In Osaka, ramen shop staff usually end up amusingly posing for a photo (after I've asked to take photos inside). They're a lot of fun down there. In Tokyo, people tend to be a little more serious.
There you have it! Don't do these 5 things in a ramen shop and you're bound to have a more memorable experience in Japan.