The first time I heard of Ichiran was after the opening of their first US restaurant in Brooklyn, NY. After many starts and stops since 2007, it was a 2016 New York Magazine article provocatively titled, “Is Ichiran New York’s Most Antisocial Restaurant?,” that put the Japanese ramen chain on my radar.
By this time I had already moved from NYC to Denver and I never quite had enough time to make it out to the Williamsburg location to try Ichiran’s famed tonkotsu ramen. So it wasn’t until 2017, when I was on my second trip to Japan, that I finally managed to get myself into an Ichiran shop.
As a solo female traveler in a country where I didn’t speak the language, the idea of a restaurant specifically designed to efficiently feed individual patrons that involved absolutely no talking or awkward interaction was pretty darn appealing.
But even those who have visited the US Ichiran location will find that in Japan the ordering process works a bit differently and I have found that you can end up hopelessly confused as to what to do when you arrive if you don’t know what you are doing so I thought it would be helpful to write up a step-by-step guide describing how to order at Ichiran.
Step 1: Use the vending machine to purchase your bowl of ramen
Like most ramen shops in Japan, upon entering the restaurant there will be a ticket machine which you need to use to purchase your bowl of ramen and any additional toppings or add-ons you would like.
Do the following:
- Put your money into the machine FIRST.
- I’ve seen people really struggle with this one – wondering why nothing happens when they push the buttons on the machine – the buttons will not work until you put your money in!
- Most ramen ticket machines are cash only.
- Place your bills/coins into the respective slots, enough to cover what you would like to purchase.
- The buttons will now light up, indicating you can purchase those items.
- Select your ramen by pressing the appropriate button.
- I normally just go with the base ramen. (980 YEN in this photo.)
- Select any additional toppings or add-ons.
- The first time I purchased ramen from Ichiran, I got an extra order of garlic, but what I didn’t realize is that you can actually select your level of garlic once you sit down, so unless you are a garlic fanatic, no need to purchase extra at the ticket machine.
- I find that the normal bowl is more than filling enough, so I don’t normally get extra noodles or additional things like eggs. In Japan most Ichirans offer dessert, so you can order the pudding if you’d like.
- Press the “Change” button.
- This will end your buying session and you will be refunded any leftover money you have not spent.
- Take your purchased tickets and change from the machine.
Step 2: Select your seat
Somewhere near the ticket machine will be a seating board showing you which seats are empty. If the square button is glowing green/lit up, that means the seat is available. Click on the button to claim the spot.
Something cool I didn’t know – until reading this guide by Gurunavi, if you visit Ichiran with a friend and want to sit together, you should choose seats alongside one another and you can actually open up the partition between the two of you and share your eating space!
In some of the Ichiran shops that are in touristy areas and very busy, such as the multi-level restaurant in Osaka Dontonburi, someone working there may assign you a seat rather than you picking it out yourself.
Step 3: Head to your seat
Go inside and find your seat. There will be hooks under the table so you may hang your bag, also if you look behind you there will be hangers for you to hang up your coat and additional hooks where you could hang up a backpack as well.
Step 4: Customize your ramen
On the counter of each seat, there will be a paper where you can select your preferences for your ramen. Choose your noodle texture, the richness of broth, and the types of toppings and meat you would like.
Step 5: Hand in your order
After you have made your selections, leave the paper and the tickets you purchased on the counter and then press the order button indicated on the instructions hung up in your cubby. This will signal your server to come to collect your order. After a short time, a server will appear (although you’ll only be able to see their hands as their face will be obscured by the curatin), and they will take your selections.
Step 6: Enjoy your ramen!
When your food is ready, the curtain will once again lift and the server will place the ramen in front of you before closing the curtain one last time. It’s time to enjoy your delicious bowl of ramen!
If you want to anything else, or want to order dessert, use the extra order form found on the backside of the paper chopstick wrapper, press the call bell, and hand over your form and cash to pay for your additional items when the server comes back.
If you want to learn more about ordering, check out Ichiran’s official ordering instructions in English, or watch this excellent tutorial I found on Youtube:
Bonus: How to find the Ichiran Hiroshima Hondori location
After a full day of sight-seeing in Hiroshima, I was quite weary and tired and was looking for an inexpensive, nearby place where I could get some decent food before heading back to my hostel. A listing on Yelp for Ichiran caught my eye and I went in search of the restaurant.
Even though Ichiran Hondori (蘭 広島本通店) is on the main shopping arcade, Hondori Ekimae, I had a bit of trouble finding the restaurant (must’ve walked by about 10 times before finding it), so thought I’d share some tips for finding it!
The one thing I didn’t know my first time was that Ichiran has a pretty distinctive color palette and logo. Look for the red and green (like Christmas colors) signs. In Hiroshima, I was looking for English for the signs, but what I didn’t realize was the only English on the building where the restaurant was located was actually on the second floor – so I totally didn’t see it!
However, once I figured out I should be looking for red and green, I realized the restaurant wasn’t at street level. The one in Hiroshima actually is a bi-level restaurant, with the ramen-ya on the mezzanine level and Ichiran Yatai on the second level. This was the only Ichiran Yatai I saw on my whole trip – I kinda wish I’d tried it – seems like it might have been a cool experience!
A yatai (屋台) is a food cart/stall that came into popularity during the Meiji period (1868–1912) and after WWII, but fell out of favor during the 1964 Olympics when the government imposed strict regulations around the carts, in fear of health concerns. Many of today’s yatai can be found in Fukuoka City, Fukuoka, but even still, during modern times their numbers have dwindled drastically, with only 121 operating in the city as of 2013.
It appears as though Ichiran Yatai is trying to capture some of that scrappy food stall spirit and features food items commonly found in those mom and pop shops (and does NOT serve their famous ramen). Read this Tofugu article for a fascinating read on the yatai culture.
Have you ever been to Ichiran? What was your experience like? Do you have any other tips for English-language speakers?