Do you know what country ramen noodle soup comes from? From Japan? No. At the ramen museum in Yokohama Harbor, you may read that ramen has become popular in Japan with the arrival of Chinese emigrants in the late 19th century. They brought ramen with them as their favorite food. Food that fills and satisfies. Folks like food. Affordable food. Yes, the home of this strong meat broth with wheat noodles and roasted pork chashu is in China, not Japan. And it is not without interest that the ramen arrived to Miyabi through Korea in a way, more precisely through the owner of ramen restaurant Kahou. Mrs. Yoshie Oshima, after whom our annual ramen festival Yoshie Ramen Days is named, visited Miyabi from Kyoto and her name is typically Japanese, but her parents came from Korea. Yoshie carries her Korean identity a bit like a burden. She told me that she always felt like a second-class citizen in Kyoto. But Yoshie is not ashamed of her origin, on the contrary, she turned it into her strength and advantage. In order to send her only son to law school, she decided to open a bistro and cook what she could do well and what she felt best. Ramen, because ramen, if it’s a popular Japanese dish, first it is Chinese, then Korean, and only then Japanese. Mrs. Yoshie made her dream come true. The son graduated successfully and what’s more, her restaurant prospered and became known even abroad. Mr. and Mrs. Oshima and their son Luke arrived to Prague as members of a delegation with the mayor of Kyoto, who came to Prague in 1996 to sign a partnership agreement between Kyoto and Prague. Japanese scholar and Buddhist monk Robin Shóen Heřman even called Mrs. Yoshie the patron of Czech artists, especially the Czech philharmonists. Here is an excerpt from his text, which he wrote for the Czech-Japanese Association ČJS, when the book The Window to the Centuries of Czech-Japanese Relations was being prepared. He wrote about Mr. Kazuo Ikeda, lover of Czech classical music: The bistro, where the Oshima family cook their original ramen noodles, is becoming a favorite place for Czech musicians in Kyoto and the surrounding area, who have run out of money or long for something at least a little familiar, and another Czech clientele is gradually added to the bistro (by the way, in 2005 musicians of Schola Gregoriana Pragensis when in Kyoto paid their expenses in the restaurant by singing. Thus, when Ikeda informs Oshima that a partnership is being concluded between Kyoto and Prague and he goes there together with the mayor as an official documentary filmmaker (at that time he already heads the cultural newsroom on Kyoto television KBS), Oshima spontaneously suggested that they go with him and as a gift to the people of Prague, they take 100 portions of noodles into their suitcase and they will, cook and serve them for free. Darja Kawasumi, who at that time opened her restaurant Miyabi, likes the idea and agrees to work together. Over time, she becomes so close to the Oshima family that her son Vítek undergoes ramen training with them, and the delicious Oshima ramen in Miyabi becomes an annual reminder of the anniversary of the partnership between Kyoto and Prague and its authentic fulfillment – and of course the memory of the unique personalities of this couple. Unfortunately, the bistro definitely closed its door a few years ago.”
Mrs. Yoshie Oshima, owner and chef of the now closed Ramen Noodle Bistro in Kyoto, the patron of Czech artists.
Too bad the Kahou restaurant no longer exists. You could find it in the middle of ancient temples in the city, where there are still shops of old trades and where you can buy miso, tofu or tsukemono directly from the manufacturer, who with his family also lives in the same house. The walls of Kahou were decorated with newspaper clippings about the Czech Philharmonic or the Japanese restaurant Miyabi in Prague. It surprised! It was nice. The restaurant had only five seats right at the lifted counter, on the opposite side of which Mrs. Oshima were cooking. There were large pots of broth and hot water in which portions of noodles were prepared. And also, an iron plate on which gyoza dumplings were made. Nothing else was served in Kahou. Just glasses of water or warm green tea. Everything was very simple. Only a large bowl filled with candies was a bit decorative. While you were eating, a neighbor, a schoolboy, or a schoolgirl peeked through the door from behind a cloth noren and greeted Mrs. Oshima, and she greeted back and offered candy. She loudly declared that her restaurant was serving “vitamin Ai”, which is a word for love in Japanese, and her joy and optimism was passed on to all who stopped. To make a living, there was a second job for Mr. Oshima, who assisted his wife. He collected used wooden chopsticks from the restaurants in Kyoto for recycling. Mrs. Oshima is a devout Christian and has honestly taken tithes to the church throughout the years of her business. She went to the morning mass every day. She was sitting on a bench before 6 am, and her bike was parked in front of the church. Then she went to the swimming pool and from there to her favorite cafe on Teramachi Street for toast and coffee. When I arrived in Kyoto unannounced, I knew I would catch her there between 8 and 9 am. Then she hurried to Kahou. Her husband had been preparing shop since early morning, then they took turns for a while and together opened their shop at eleven. The same ritual every day. For decades. The only days they closed their Kahou were the days they went to Miyabi in Prague to serve Prague citizens.
But before they left for Prague, they kept telling all their Kahou guests and neighbors about their journey and mission for at least a month. Hearing it people brought gifts for the people of Prague. Small notebooks, small purses, small talismans for good health and of course something for children. We then put all this on the bar counter in Miyabi and the guests who came to eat ramen and gyoza could take what they liked. Mrs. Oshima ran between the kitchen and the dining place – she was everywhere. General and angel in one person. And what we earned in Miyabi that day, Mrs. Oshima carried as a tithe to the church of St. Ignatius on Charles Square. When Yoshie said she was cooking vitamin Ai, it really was so. I always wanted to be like her. I have always wanted Miyabi chefs to cook vitamin Ai, to love guests and to like to cook for them. We do not have the same appeal and naturel like Mrs. Yoshie, but I believe that all Miyabi chefs and attendants, all of us who create Miyabi, take our service in the same way as we saw Mrs. Oshima did. The name Oshima (Oushima) means Great (ou) and Island (shima). So, she is our Mrs. Big Island. I wish there are around a lot of big people like Mrs. Yoshie Oshima. Yoshie san, thank you! We wish you all the best for your birthday – you are now eighty!