New rule goes into place at restaurant in city’s “ramen battlefield.”

Tokyo’s Takadanobaba neighborhood is sometimes called a “ramen battlefield.” With Waseda University and several specialized schools located within the district, Takadanobaba is packed day and night with hungry students, which has resulted in one of Tokyo’s highest concentration of noodle joints and intense competition for customers.

But there’s a battle of a different sort going on at one Takadanoaba restaurant which has recently enacted a new policy: customers are prohibited from watching videos on their phones while eating.

The rule went into effect this month at Debu-chan, the ramen restaurant pictured above with the red cloth hanging above its entrance. Owner Kota Kai tweeted about installing a no-watching-videos-while-eating rule last Thursday, and has now decided to go ahead with the idea.

Two things led to the decision. First, Kai is troubled by seeing customers focus more on their phones than their food, lamenting the noodles getting soggy if they’re not eaten quickly. “It’s painful for me to see the ramen that I put my soul into making get ruined right before my eyes,” he says.

The second reason is more practical. Like a lot of ramen restaurants, Debu-chan doesn’t have a very large seating capacity, and it’s popular enough that people will often line up outside and wait for a seat to open up. “It’s got to be hard for the people waiting to see people who were seated before them relaxing with videos,” Kai believes, and the no-videos policy should speed up the process of getting customers in and out in a speedy manner so someone else can then take their place.

▼ Debu-chan specializes in Hakata-style tonkotsu (pork stock) ramen.

Debu-chan’s video-watching ban has sparked debate, as it touches on a number of Japanese cultural values and societal norms. Japan, generally, has a high level of respect for food and chefs, and vacating your table in a timely manner when other people are waiting for a seat is considered proper manners, especially during lunch or dinner rushes in big cities like Tokyo. On the other hand, ramen is considered a casual meal, something to be enjoyed free of the stuffy pretense of haute cuisine eateries. It’s common for ramen restaurants to have stacks or shelves of manga for customers to read or a TV for them to watch, so there’s no industry-wide taboo regarding distracted dining either.

So while many Twitter commenters have applauded the video ban at Debu-chan, others feel like it’s an overextension of authority on the restaurant’s part, as shown in reactions such as:

“The surest way to tell that someone was raised poorly is when you see them doing something else too while eating.”
“Personally, I don’t like it when restaurants force that sort of ‘we put our souls into this’ attitude on the customers…I prefer to eat my food without that kind of heavy atmosphere.”
“You’re not supposed to do something else while eating if there are other people around, right? I mean, it’d be OK if it was something light, like a sandwich [but not ramen].”
“Weird. I’ve been in this ramen restaurant, and they’ve got a TV [above the counter]. So watching TV while eating is OK, but watching YouTube isn’t?”
“Every time I see someone playing with their phone while eating, I want to order them to pick one or the other.”
“Whether the noodles get soggy or not is on the customer, isn’t it?”

Kai doesn’t seem to think people who watch videos while eating are intentionally trying to ruin his noodles or keep people waiting, saying “I think they’re just relaxing and dining in the way they enjoy, but a restaurant isn’t your home.” He adds that using your phone to take photos of the ramen after it’s served is still allowed, but if you want to watch anything other than what’s playing on the restaurant’s TV while you eat, you may need to get your ramen fix elsewhere, which, at least, isn’t a very hard thing to do in Takadanobaba.

Source: J-Cast via Yahoo! Japan News via Jin
Top image: Pakutaso
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