2 Americans and 2 Japanese walk into a ramen shop. Walking in with a small crew of friends, my buddy Bunt whispers in my ear, “by the way, the owner of this place hates foreigners.” “Great, are you kidding me?”, I say. At this point I am already inside. Too late to back out now. I turn to help Blunt with the high tech automatic sliding glass door that is held together by duct tape. The auto part is no longer functional. A matter of fact the sliding part is inoperable as well. We pick the door up by the edges and manually slide it closed. One challenge down, two magic coins added to my bank. Second challenge. The ticket vending machine has only two buttons working. One says regular and one says big. We go for regular. This place is a turn and burn ramen shop. Customers are meant to sit down shut up and eat. Since we came as a group of 4, including my friends Ota san and Frankie, we were trying to get 4 seats together. We found 3 and Blunt decided to pull a stool over that was sitting extra by the window. As soon as he brings it over to the counter the owner tells him to put it back and then sends him to the corner of the counter far away from us. He was not happy that Blunt moved the stool. The rest of us keep quiet and keep our heads down hoping to not attract attention to ourselves. Challenge two complete. four magic coins in the bank. I am not fluent in Japanese by any means but I do usually understand Japanese when people speak it to me. I combine vocabulary, body language, facial expression and reading lips to decipher what people are saying. Sadly the owner was wearing a surgical mask as he leaned over and said something in a low pissed off voice. I could not figure out what he was saying. Was it “whitey go home”? I look over at Blunt and he says “Just say yes”. I say “Yes, please” in Japanese and he proceeds to take a baseball size handful of crushed garlic from a bucket on the floor and throws it into my ramen. “Dick”, I mouthed to blunt. We all sat silent and ate our bowls. This was trip one to Hasumi for trash ramen.
Second trip, level two challenge. After the first trip, Blunt tells me he was just kidding about the place being racist and the owner is just perpetually grumpy with everyone. Yet now we will always refer to this ramen shop as racist ramen. These guys are serious about their ramen and they don’t want novices like me to fuck up the vibe. Now it’s winter in Tokyo and we all decide to make a second trip to racist ramen. This time it is myself, Blunt and our pal Hooky. The shop has moved a few blocks up the street to a new location. I guess that’s their M.O., move when the rent gets increased. Weirdly the windows are covered with brown craft paper as if to keep what they are doing inside a secret. At least this time, the front door functions. Once inside we are greeted by the same dilapidated two button functioning vending machine and the stern glare of the two ramen cooks. They even brought the filthy ventilation system from the old shop. This time I don’t say yes to extra garlic. I get it regular. Within 5 or 10 minutes we are served the ramen. Noodles rough, handmade, imperfectly perfect, rich spoons standing up straight pork broth and two big chunks of pork on top. Quite delicious. A minute or two into eating we heard banging coming from the restroom that was directly behind us. After a minute of this we are thinking that someone is having sex in there. Then the banging gets more forceful. We attempt to open the door but it won’t budge. The person on the other side is banging and pushing frantically from inside. We keep pulling on the knob to no avail. Then suddenly the door burst open after the dude inside had put his should into it. Pretty typical looking salary man was on the other side of that door. He apologized and said the door locked from the outside and he could not get out. The entire time the owner just stood and glared at us. The salary man returned to his bowl of ramen and asked the owner about the door. He answers that it does that all the time. He said most people just leave the door open while using the restroom. That guy was trapped in there for at least 10 minutes. We sat back down and finished our bowls. We poured out on to the street in a frantic search for peppermint gum to extinguish the raging garlic fire in our mouths.