There is an inkling of truth to when people joke about college students sustaining themselves on ramen. I am aware that I am playing into that conception, but in my defense, I am in Japan where ramen is nothing like that disappointing instant meal comprised of seasoning, noodles, and water. That’s not even factoring in all the different types of ramen Japan has. It is fundamentally on an another level. As such, its tastiness combined with cheapness is sure to keep you coming back.
But here’s the thing, ordering it is different than in the U.S. You order from a vending machine. Insert cash, choose the desired ramen and whatever additions you like by pressing the respective buttons, take the ticket(s) and change, and then hand the ticket(s) to the cook. Depending on restaurant, sometimes there is a waiter or waitress who will take them instead, but usually that’s only in larger restaurants. If you come during a quiet time, you might end up seating yourself. I actually like this system since I don’t have to worry about paying since I have already done it beforehand, and the process is straightforward. It is not just ramen shops that do this too since I have seen tonkatsu and udon restaurants with them. However, other restaurants typically follow the same kind of service as they do in the U.S. and in some cases, you can summon the waitress/waiter with a button which I find pretty useful since I always feel bad making them wait when I take awhile to decide my order.
As a side note, I would like to mention that while eating ramen, it is perfectly acceptable to slurp and to eat it silently is actually considered unusual. I went to eat with a Japanese acquaintance once, and it was remarked upon that I ate ramen in an interesting way because I didn’t make a noise. Honestly, by myself or with people I’m close with, I slurp and stuff my face in an unattractive manner, but I have been conditioned to eat properly in polite company, so I didn’t even think of it. It’s interesting how slurping in the U.S. is to be avoided while in Japan it’s expected, particularly when eating noodle soups. Just like how it is okay to drink your miso soup directly from the bowl in Japan instead of using a spoon.
Another thing I would like to point out is that service is good and efficient in Japan, but there isn’t that much customer/server interaction. That said, tipping is not part of the culture here so it is best not to. They are paid normal wages, and it might be insulting to do so. Also, doggy-bagging is not a thing here. If you have leftovers, unfortunately they will have to be left behind.
If you are in a rush in the mornings, it makes sense to grab your breakfast and eat it on the go. Actually, I’m pretty sure that is some of the advertising points on some foods in the U.S. Curiously enough, you rarely see anyone eating as they walk if it isn’t an open stall road with vendors selling street food. It just simply isn’t done, especially on the train, and you might end up drawing a few looks from people.
Hopefully, that gives a heads up on what’s proper and not when out eating in public!