Learning slurping skills keeps Kevin Pilley busy as he dries out amid the world's largest collection of pot noodles.
"I'm afraid I have no Nikkas," said the barman. I was glad because I had had enough Japanese whisky and wanted something to eat instead. Around 10m of noodles sounded ample.
I had been introduced to the ancient oriental art of hashigozake, or pub crawling. And had visited several nomiya and izakaya bars plus a few yakitori and robatayaki barbecue establishments.
We had begun with beer, moved on to the whisky and after ochazuke rice soup, a necessary stomach-lining ingredient on any boozy Japanese night out, progressed onto the shochu, a rather too palatable spirit made from grain and sweet potatoes, which is meant to be drunk with lemon soda but was served to me in a pint glass of lukewarm tea.
In two days the only conversational Japanese I had learned was "Tsugi ni ikimasho" ("Let's go to another one") and "Nikkas mizuwari" ("Nikkas whisky on the rocks").
Somehow I ended up back in the 1950s, in the world's largest collection of pot noodles.
"Futsukayoi?" asked the barman. Guessing his meaning, I managed a tender nod. "Salted plums mashed up with green tea is a good remedy. Noodles too. You should eat. You are in the best place in Japan. In the world."
Tokyo's Shin-Yokohama Noodle Museum traces the fascinating history of the versatile global staple. It houses a unique selection of noodle grinding bowls and other noodle- orientated paraphernalia. There are bowls and very rare noodle restaurant matchbooks and chopstick wrappers, and audio-visual presentations of famous noodle chefs displaying their talents and giving away top tips on pain-free noodle preparation. Entry to the post-war Showa period is 300 ($3.70). Bizarrely, a six-month pass costs 1000 ($12.40).
The barman of 35 Knots was my guide. "Soba comes from buckwheat and udon uses wheat. Ramen is noodle soup. The museum is in a reproduction of a 1950s shitamachi village. Each prefecture has a types of noodle. Yellow is coloured by egg, black by cuttlefish, red by apricot, brown by yam and green by tea. Ehimi noodles use 20 dyes. They are spectacular."
The museum has eight restaurants offering different kinds of traditional noodle meals using every sort of ingredient from sansai (edible plants) to fungi, bonito shavings, lily bulb and lotus flower. A meal costs $7. The eight restaurants are period holes-in-the-wall in narrow, fake fuggy alleys hung with costume laundry. Atmospheric sound effects come from charumera horns. Everyone is dressed up.
Five million bags of noodles are consumed every year in Japan. The first instant bagged noodle appeared in 1968 and the first mugged noodle snack was invented in 1992. But perhaps the most momentous event in the whole history of noodle-making came in the 12th century when noodles assumed their modern elongated ribbon-like form. Previously, they had been square.
My head throbbed with noodle stuff. Each city has its speciality foods. Osaka has eels and Okayama has pilchards; Hokkaido its sea urchins and Hiroshima its oysters. Every Japanese prefecture has its trademark noodle dish. Hiroshima has roasted noodles. Sapporo has miso-flavoured ramen and Kyoto has soy sauce shinpuku saikan, very thick noodles and spring onions. Tokyo-ites love boiled eggs in theirs.
Eating noodles is a specialised skill. Some practitioners believe you should drink the liquid first and then slurp the noodles before they get mushy.
You must never chew noodles. Noodles lose their flavour when chewed.
The secret to rudimentary noodle-eating is to try to say the word "scrumptious" loudly into your bowl while simultaneously trying to suck the noodles down into your stomach and not down your shirtfront.
Vile gulping and disgusting guzzling sounds are good. It implies a healthy appetite and pleasure in eating.
It compliments the chef to sound like a bath that has just had the plug taken out. The main thing is not to suck too hard, otherwise you might swallow your own lips.
I went back to the bar for a sake nightcap. My host congratulated me on my efforts. He was impressed by my lack of stains.
"You have mastered it. The art of eating noodles without affecting elegance."
I called it a night and returned to my hotel. Any more socialising would have seriously hampered my elegance.
Getting there: Air New Zealand offers daily non-stop flights from Auckland to Tokyo.