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To slurp or not to slurp: Tourists’ reactions spark online debate on noodle manners

31 Comments
By Ben K, grape Japan

As Japan approaches the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the number of foreign visitors continues to increase year by year. A record 31 million foreign tourists visited the country in 2018. Naturally, this has created more opportunities for foreigners and Japanese people to become aware of both the similarities and the differences of their respective cultures.

Noodle Slurping

In many countries of the world, purposefully making noise while eating or drinking is considered to be bad manners. However, as we've seen before, slurping audibly has traditionally been considered a standard model of behavior in Japan when eating noodle dishes such as ramen and especially buckwheat soba noodles. Therefore, tourists unaccustomed to hearing slurping noises at a restaurant may understandably be surprised or even feel uncomfortable when they visit a noodle shop and hear people slurping around them.

In recent years, the issue has periodically been debated in Japanese media, with foreign tourists often expressing negative views. However, there may also be reasons for the debate which are intrinsic to Japanese society, such as a growing sensitivity to various forms of harassment. In the two decades since the enforcement of the Equal Employment Opportunities Act, which did much to combat sexual harassment in Japan, a whole glossary of terms such as maternity harassment, power harassment, smell harassment and sound harassment have entered public debate. In fact, at one point, instant noodle maker Nissin even sold a fork-like gadget equipped with noise-canceling technology specifically designed to combat "noodle harassment."

Noodle wars revisited

Recently, the debate flared up again on Japanese social media after a television news variety show did a feature on sound harassment (in other words "noodle harassment") in which they interviewed foreign visitors at a soba shop, including a French tourist who said: "When someone eats soba while slurping next to me, I get distracted and feel irritated."

Twitter user Haruka (@Kg5GhATZPPA1WKx), who has experience living in France, launched the first volley from the "anti-slurping" camp when she posted a screen cap of the show along with the following tweet which has nearly 15,000 likes at the time of writing: "French tourist: 'Soba slurping sound is unpleasant' | This is something I also felt when I returned to Japan from France. | Of course, I understand that it's common to eat like this and considered a part of food culture in Japan, but I personally feel awkward about it. | I think hardly any young women slurp these days. | Food culture should change."

Enter Tatsumasa Murasame (@MurasameTatsu), the handsome landscape artist, bodybuilder and TV personality who was scouted for NHK's workout program “Minna de Kinniku Taiso” after being noticed for his muscular physique and his deep appreciation for Japanese culture. The Swedish born Murasame, a naturalized Japanese citizen since 2015, galvanized the "pro-slurp" camp with a short but effective rebuttal of Haruka's tweet: "No need to change."

With over 137,000 likes and 48,000 retweets, Murasame's message in favor of preserving his adoptive country's "food culture" clearly resonated with many Twitter users.

Some of the reactions included:

-- "I'm a woman and I slurp my ramen and my soba noodles!"

-- "'When in Rome, do as the Romans do.' What a great proverb."

-- "Culture does change, but I think change to accommodate foreign culture means abandoning your own culture."

Obviously, slurping is not an obligation and nobody (except perhaps a drunk salaryman) will ever criticize you for not doing so if you visit a Japanese noodle shop. However, even if you feel bothered by Japanese people slurping around you, it seems a bit arrogant to expect that the practice should change because of your own cultural norms. If it really bothers you, you can always try to plan your visit when the store is less crowded, wear ear plugs if you must, or have a bowl of noodles delivered to your hotel room.

Or then again, you could just give it a try and maybe you'll discover what one Twitter user pointed out: "Eating noodles while slurping makes it easier to eat!"

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© grape Japan

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

31 Comments
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OK to slurp ramen, but don't slurp spaghetti.

13 ( +14 / -1 )

Slurp whatever you want, I do it overseas and don't give a hoot what people think.

-12 ( +2 / -14 )

Silliness

4 ( +5 / -1 )

When in Rome do as the Romans do. Are people going to stop slurping when they go abroad?

11 ( +11 / -0 )

Feel free to slurp anything you put in your mouth ! Yes. I mean exactly what you think I mean .

-3 ( +4 / -7 )

Armel - LOL!

It's a tempest in a teapot, brewed up by a Japanese network show that wanted to create controversy from a non-controversy. Most people who travel abroad fully expect there to be differences, and I really doubt noodle slurping is going to become a liabilty for Japan to attract more tourists.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

If japan hass so many issues with tourists then stop tourists arrivals and stop boasting how tourism increased in last five years.

People won't learn your outdated ways overnight .

4 ( +7 / -3 )

I’m a woman and I slurp my ramen and my soba noodles

I bet you don’t do it as loud as the men. It’s one of the few occasions where men make more of a racket than women.

5 ( +8 / -3 )

@chloe Koba

Don’t fall for this. This is a minor discussion between a few minor characters in the entertainment industry desperate for ratings. Why conflate this with government policy? Japan is not some monolithic entity where everyone knows what everyone else thinks and is of the same mind.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

In the West you have a fork so you can twist your wrist and get your pasta into your mouth at once. In Asia, where forks are not the norm but chop sticks, it's a lot more difficult to do the same. Therefore, people slurping their noodles.

There! Now we can all move on.

-5 ( +3 / -8 )

Don't mind "gentle" slurping as it is to be expected - it's normal here.

It's the excessive sucking with whooshing plumbing noises, without even taking time to breathe, that kinda grate beyond the what-can-I-bear level. Such actions are usually conducted by men, but not exclusively.

And re chopsticks and noodles - that's ridiculous. My family only uses chopsticks for noodles and we can eat to our satisfaction relatively quietly.

I've been guiding groups from here overseas a couple of times a year for decades now and I always discretely warn about "food noises" and especially so with pasta.

One time in a fairly up-market Italian restaurant in Melbourne a couple in their 70's slurped their whole way through their spaghetti with their faces close to the plate. The other tour members were not amused, but no one said anything because he was a retired respected hospital director. So even with a fork, the slurping can continue.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

The main reason for slurping soup noodles is to catch and taste the broth which is an important ingredient. It’s not the same without “slurping”the noodles along with the soup.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

I don't slurp; however, it doesn't bother me when people in Japan do it. Its the Japanese way and I don't view it as a bad thing to do what your culture traditionally does. I am in your country and if I am offended by your customs then I clearly shouldn't travel to here.

The same way some cultures eat with their hands, or some cultures eat certain things with spoons as opposed to forks. Why should that bother anyone?

An example would be Pizza. I am a firm believer that Pizza just tastes a lot better when you use your hands. Many Japanese I know said Ramen tastes better when they slurp. You should be able to enjoy your food the way you want to. You are paying for it.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

It's the excessive sucking with whooshing plumbing noises, without even taking time to breathe, that kinda grate beyond the what-can-I-bear level. Such actions are usually conducted by men, but not exclusively.

Yes. Some do need to tone it down a bit. Our company cafeteria is like feeding time at the zoo.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

English don't really talk at the table. Italians wouldn't be able to eat if they couldn't talk at the table. Different folks, different strokes.

9 ( +10 / -1 )

To slurp or not to slurp, that is the question. Weather it is Nobel........

Oh what ever

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Slurping noodles and drinking from your soup bowl are two things your mother told you not to do, and it is wonderful that a place exists where you can do them.. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Tourists and foreigners don't have to slurp; but if they are offended by locals slurping, then they should go home as quickly as possible.

-3 ( +3 / -6 )

Philip has it right. You slurp to get the broth along with the noodles which makes it much more flavorful. Whereas, in the west, you blow on it to cool it off & the noodles become dry & don't taste nearly as good.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

If tourists don't like it they should just avoid noodle restaurants.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Japanese people should slurp as often and as loud as they like. It is their own country. It is not relevant with foreign tourists or Tokyo Olympics. If anyone feel annoyed, they should avoid Japan or Olympics. Japanese people should have freedom to do whatever they feel like.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

Japanese people should slurp as often and as loud as they like. It is their own country.

Agree. I support the Right to Slurp.

How can tourists go to another country and expect the natives to change just to suit them? Appreciating difference is supposed to be what it's all about when you travel. I slurp my ramen when I'm in Japan, and I feel goood when I do it.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Disgusting habit, offensive to any civilised ear!

8 ( +11 / -3 )

How can tourists go to another country and expect the natives to change just to suit them? 

They don't. Tourists are nor expecting Japanese people to change. A handful may have been questioned on the topic by the Japanese media and admitted that they found it disconcerting, but they are not asking people to stop. I'm sure that in reality they would much rather the guy next to them stopped smoking.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

but if they are offended by locals slurping, then they should go home as quickly as possible.

How about if they are offended but accept it, can they still stay?

If anyone feel annoyed, they should avoid Japan or Olympics.

Could be the slogan for the 2020 Olympics; "Wellcome in Japan! (if not annoy)". If I had to avoid anywhere where I felt annoyed I'd never leave my house. My bed even.

OK to slurp ramen, but don't slurp spaghetti.

Good point. I intend to ask my co-workers some important questions on our next night out; Do you slurp your spaghetti at home? How about in a restaurant? Would you do it in Rome? Would you slurp noodles at my mum's house?

4 ( +5 / -1 )

I like to slurp my tuna.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

I don't mind Japanese slurping in Japan, but dagnabbeded it, don't slurp when you go overseas. Old boy who comes to my USA house often slurps even his cheerios, which he loves. I've tried to gently tell him don't slurp in Beikoku. I've even gotten to where I can slurp with some of the best slurpers in a good ramen shop. In Japan. But not outside Japan! Now drinking soup from bowl, well, that's just the right way. Whole lot easier than using a supuun.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Soup is consumed without a spoon.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

If people want to slurp in Japan that is their prerogative as it's an acceptable custom. However, please respect my choice to eat silently and when in a country where noisy eating is considered bad manners make sure you do not slurp. I've had the misfortune to sit next to slurping tourists in London - when in Rome etc....

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Taste Better Feel Better when Slurp it, i do it in front of any stranger when eating Ramen. They stare but i feel so good slurping it.

Dining table was quiet and boring with British and Canadians.

But it was loud and fun with Chinese, Japanese, South Korean, even i did Korean style 'khhhrrr..'..when drinking Soju.

-5 ( +0 / -5 )

Initially it did bug me a bit but then I just started doing it after time. What still bugs me is when people slurp everything else, curry, pasta etc....

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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