It was raining in the back streets of Fukuoka. Through it I could see the outline of the ramen restaurant I had been directed to for lunch. It was the kind of misty rain that softens the edges of the world and transforms it into a watercolour, but will soak you through just like any other rain.
I smiled at the four standing in the rain…

Two couples were already waiting outside, chatting under domed white umbrellas. The door slid open, all faded wood and motorized rollers, and a waitress stepped out to usher me in. I smiled at the four standing in the rain, inclining my head as I had become used to doing, and thought about the little advantages of dining alone.

I ducked inside and found myself at the end of a long wooden bar. On one side a dozen customers were briskly slurping down bowls of hot broth, while behind the counter the open kitchen was in an uproar. Cooks jostled through clouds of steam, shouting erratically over the loud music. I recognized the sound of the three-stringed shamisen of the street musicians, but it was being plucked at a fiendish pace and backed by wild west saloon music on fast forward.

The waitress politely directed my attention away from the mayhem to a vending machine on my right. I pressed the button for the standard pork broth ramen with an extra egg and waited. Nothing happened. Laughing the waitress made little feeding motions with her hands towards the machine, it needed money.

I took my ticket and made towards the corner where I had spied the one free seat. Smiling the waitress held out an arm and guided me the other way, out through the door to the back of the line. The pair who were asked inside first turned to me and graciously offered up their umbrella.

The man was working three giant pots of broth, hefting noodles in and out…

When my turn came and I got to my seat, I began to appreciate the controlled chaos around me. One man and five women, all young, were running a slick operation. The man was working three giant pots of broth, hefting noodles in and out, and pouring the stock into outheld bowls. The women were doing everything else. They all had light blue towels wrapped around their heads, steamed rosy cheeks, and were in constant motion serving, pouring, scrubbing and shouting. The shouting made sense now too: every time a customer entered or got up to leave, greetings and thanks were bellowed out by one and echoed in quick unison by the other five.

The ramen itself was delicious. Rich, deep flavours, topped with bright red slices of ginger and fresh spring onions. It was impossible to eat slowly as the galloping music made sure everything and everyone moved along at a clip. I finished, nodded my thanks, got chorused at, and promptly found myself outside again in the light drizzle of a brightening afternoon, straining to hear the music and not quite believing what was going on behind the door I had just come from.

I promptly found myself outside again in the light drizzle of a brightening afternoon…

Photo attribution:
“Rain on Umbrella by Brian Jackson
Purchased from Fotolia:

All other photos are CCO public domain or from the magazines personal collection