Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Microwaveable Museum

As you may have noticed, I’m in the process of revamping this blog to be a bit more general in scope. It will still feature the occasional clothing entry and run under the same URL, albeit with a slightly modified title. From now on, I'll be writing about an array of topics related to history, archaeology, material culture, and the public humanities.

I thought I might begin this new direction with a nod to Japan’s newest cultural institution, the Cup Noodles Museum in Yokohama.

That’s right, for the past forty years college students and office workers around the world have been communing over these microwaveable cups of noodles and broth. And if there was any doubt that this cultural icon hasn't already been etched into history (and archaeology, based on the rate of decay of plastic containers), Cup Noodles now have their very own museum. Among other things, visitors can follow the manufacturing process of this miracle of modern science, and even enter a “virtual fryer.”

Ok, so perhaps it’s a bit hard to ignore the rather horrifying idea of a human-sized deep fryer and the distinctly realistic look of terror on the writhing child’s face. But in all seriousness, once you move past the seemingly amusing idea of a museum dedicated to Cup Noodles, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that the Japanese may in fact have realized something that many American museums have not. And it’s not just the universal appeal of immortal, microwaveable, Styrofoam-clad meals. It’s the idea that museums shouldn’t just be about strict narratives illustrated with objects. Visitors to the Cup Noodle Museum not only get the chance to be the cup of noodles they wish to see in the world, they also confront a truly multimedia homage to one small part of our material lives.

You can try your hand at making noodles:

Explore the art of the noodle:

Enter an optical illusion:

And confront the strangely human impulse to organize our things and then look at them:

One of the most interesting things about the museum, or at least the views shown here (all by Reuters/Yuriko Nakao and taken from this slideshow), is that there is not a single text panel in sight. The Cup Noodles Museum is, in a way, a true cabinet of wonder (or cup of wonder) where visitors are left to marvel in awe at human creation. And perhaps that’s what we need most in American museums. Fewer words, more wonder. And maybe even an interactive noodle fryer or two.

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