Noodles go zoom: Nagashi somen, Japan's most exciting way to eat noodles
Eating noodles in Japan generally involves going to a restaurant, sitting or standing as you dig into a bowl. How exciting can it be? Well, it’s time for you to reconsider that thought after discovering the wonder that is nagashi somen (流しそうめん nagashi sōmen). An experience most commonly found during summer, nagashi somen sees noodles rushing down a bamboo pipe as you attempt to catch them before they zoom past.
What is nagashi somen?
Unlike its other cousins, somen is typically eaten by itself without any meat or fancy toppings you usually get with Japan’s noodle dishes (Image credit: photoAC)
While you’ve definitely heard of ramen (ラーメン), udon (うどん), soba (そば), and even shirataki (白滝 konjac noodles), somen (そうめん sōmen) is definitely the lesser-known member of Japan’s noodle family. A thin, light, white noodle made of flour, somen sometimes seems and tastes like an extra thin version of udon. It’s typically eaten cold, dipped in tsuketsuyu (つけつゆ), a soy sauce-based dipping broth, reminiscent of how you would eat cold soba (ざるそば zaru soba).
The water flowing down the bamboo pipe is usually ice-cold to keep the noodles nicely chilled. (Image credit: photoAC)
Nagashi (流し) means ‘flowing’, and so it’s little wonder that nagashi somen involves noodles flowing down a bamboo pipe. Usually filled with a stream of fresh spring water, somen noodles are dropped from the top and then carried down the pipe by the running water.
Created in the 1950s, the origin of nagashi somen has been attributed to a restaurant called Chiho no Ie (千穂の家) located right next to the famous Takachiho Gorge (高千穂峡 Takachiho Kyō) of Miyazaki Prefecture (宮崎県 Miyazaki-ken) in Kyushu (九州). Today, you can find nagashi somen locations in various places across Japan, while not extremely commonplace, the experience makes the journey worth it.
Chiho no Ie (千穂の家)
Address: 965-2 Mitai, Takachiho, Nishiusuki, Miyazaki 882-1101
Nearest station: Nobeoka Station (延岡駅)
Nearest bus stop: Miyakoh Bus Center (宮交バスセンター)
Opening hours: 9am–5pm
Tel: +81 982 72 2115
How does nagashi somen work?
I hope you’re ready, because these noodles ain’t stopping for anyone. (Image credit: photoAC)
Customers sit next to a bamboo pipe with flowing water, armed with a pair of chopsticks (your secret weapon) and a bowl of cold tsuketsuyu. The staff then calls out “Ikuyo!” (行くよ!) or “Let’s go!”, and drops the somen down from the top of the bamboo pipe. The somen then flows down the tube fast and furious, testing your chopstick reflexes to see how much of it you can catch before it flows by. Of course, you could always just leave your chopsticks in the water and wait for the somen to come, but where’s the fun in that?
Stopping the noodles is the first step, the next challenge is getting it into your bowl from the pipe. (Image credit: Jeremy Jee)
Once you grab your somen, dip it in your bowl of tsuketsuyu and then slurp on the noodles. Enjoying the cold and refreshing texture of the somen, with the umami (旨味) of the tsuketsuyu, hitting the perfect spot during a hot summer day.
Despite being kept under pouring cold water, somen noodles don’t really turn soggy easily. (Image credit: photoAC)
What happens to the noodles that everyone misses you ask? There’s usually a bamboo basket at the end of the pipe to collect the noodles that are missed. The staff will also constantly drop more somen at a constant pace, so don’t worry if you missed the first round, or just want to grab a few more mouthfuls.
The fun comes to an end when you see pink somen noodles flowing down, this means that it’s the last batch of noodles to be released down the tube.
Where to find nagashi somen near Tokyo?
Nothing beats slurping down on cold noodles on a hot summer day. (Image credit: photoAC)
With summer approaching, it’s time to get your fix of nagashi somen. Luckily for you, you don’t need to take a shinkansen (新幹線) all the way down to southern Kyushu just to experience this cool (pun-intended) sport. The next time you’re visiting Tokyo (東京) in the summer, make your way to either south or north of Tokyo in neighbouring prefectures Kanagawa (神奈川県 Kanagawa-ken) and Saitama (埼玉県 Saitama-ken) respectively for a quick fix of nagashi somen.
To the south of Tokyo, hop onto the JR Yokosuka Line (横須賀線 Yokosuka-sen) at Shinagawa Station (品川駅 Shinagawa-eki) for a 50-minute ride to Kita-Kamakura Station (北鎌倉駅 Kita-kamakura-eki). From there, you’ll find Chayakado (茶屋かど), which is a 10-minute walk from the station. For ¥1,280, you can get all-you-can-eat (食べ放題 tabehōdai) nagashi somen and if you want to spice up your meal, order some crispy tempura (天ぷら) to go along with it.
Address: 1518 Yamanouchi, Kamakura, Kanagawa 247-0062
Nearest station: Kita-Kamakura Station (北鎌倉駅)
Opening hours: 10am–5pm
Tel: +81 467-23-1673
Taste the sweetness of freshly caught char seasoned simply with salt. (Image credit: photoAC)
To the north of Tokyo, hop onto the JR Shonan-Shinjuku Line (湘南新宿ライン) at Ikebukuro Station (池袋駅 Ikebukuro-eki) for an hour ride to Kumagaya Station (熊谷駅 Kumagaya-eki). From there you will transfer to the Chichibu Main Line (秩父本線 Chichibu-honsen) for Nagatoro Station (長瀞駅 Nagatoro-eki) another 50-minutes ride away. Just next to the station is Hana no Omotenashi Choseikan (花のおもてなし 長生館), where you get to enjoy nagashi somen for ¥1,200 by the river while surrounded by mountains. To get the full summer dining experience, order the Salt Grilled Char (岩魚の塩焼きIwana no Shioyaki) for ¥900, where a fresh whole fish is grilled till crispy and seasoned with salt.
Hana no Omotenashi Choseikan (花のおもてなし 長生館)
Address: 449 Nagatoro, Chichibu, Saitama 369-1305
Nearest station: Nagatoro Station (長瀞駅)
Opening hours: 10.30am–3pm
Tel: +81 494-66-1113
Enjoying the summer spirit
(Image credit: photoAC)
If you’ve headed down to Chayakado, how about spending a summer’s day out at Enoshima (江ノ島)? From Kita-Kamakura Station, it’s only one stop away from Kamakura Station (鎌倉駅 Kamakura-eki) where you can transfer to the Enoden (江ノ島電鉄 Enoshima Dentetsu) for Enoshima Station (江ノ島駅 Enoshima-eki).
If you went to Hana no Omotenashi Choseikan instead, then consider spending the afternoon hiking the beautiful mountains of Chichibu (秩父). Spend the night soaking away in a hot spring at Hana no Omotenashi Choseikan, which is also an onsen ryokan (温泉旅館).
Nagashi somen is definitely a unique, and off-the-beaten-track option to enjoy the summer spirit in Japan, so don’t miss out on this exciting experience on your next visit!
Header image credit: Jeremy Jee