The curious connection between ramen and Japanese instruments

Did you know that there is a traditional Japanese instrument hidden inside the ramen that people love? This time I will explain about the curious relationship between ramen and a Japanese instrument.

The key word is “madake”, a type of bamboo.

The flute made of madake is called shakuhachi, a traditional Japanese instrument.

The flute is simply a madake flute with holes drilled in it, but its distinctive, husky sound evokes feelings of tranquility, solitude, and loneliness. There are various lengths, but its range is basically just over two octaves.

With special skills, it can produce even higher notes and can have a range of about three octaves. It is a surprisingly amazing instrument.

Sounds rarely used in Japanese instruments
What happened to the ramen story? Bear with me a bit more.

As you know, in the West, the musical scale consists of seven notes. C, D, E, F, G, A and B (Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Si) which I’m sure you know. Japanese instruments are characterized by their “Yona Nuki” scale, which means that the fourth and seventh notes, “F” an “B” respectively, are often absent from the music.


The Japanese national anthem “Kimigayo,” which you may know, is a piece that has Yona Nuki. The Scottish folk song “Auld Lang Syne” and the Japanese song “Hotaru no Hikari” also use the same Yona Nuki phrasing.

Since it is an F-major piece, the removed notes are the 4th note, ♭B, and the 7th note, E. This song was established in Japan, but the fact that it was played with Yona Nuki may have sunk deep into the hearts of the Japanese.

It is used quite a bit in contemporary music, so it would be interesting to listen out for it.


On to the ramen story. Thank you for waiting.

Have you ever seen something that looks like disposable chopsticks as an ingredient in ramen noodles? These are called menma. Many places use bamboo shoots, but these were originally made by boiling madake bamboo. Yes, it is the same material used for shakuhachi. Menma is made from madake bamboo, which is still soft, and shakuhachi is made from hard madake bamboo, which has matured.

Of course, you can’t make a sound by blowing into bamboo shoots.

Please remember about the shakuhachi next time you eat ramen.


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