Iwate Restaurant To Sell ¥311 Ramen In Memory Of 2011 Disaster And To Raise Money For Those Affected By Noto Earthquake

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A bowl of chukasoba noodles will cost ¥311 at the Okubos’ restaurant on the anniversary of the March 11, 2011, Great East Japan Earthquake.

MIYAKO, Iwate — A ramen restaurant in Miyako will sell a signature dish for ¥311 on Monday, the 13th anniversary of the March 11, 2011, Great East Japan Earthquake to help ensure the disaster is remembered, and to raise money for people affected by the Jan. 1 Noto Peninsula Earthquake. The discounted price was chosen to refer to the date of the disaster.

The restaurant’s owners, Hideshi Okubo and his wife Hisae, were personally affected when the massive 2011 quake and ensuing tsunami devastated Miyako, where 570 people died in the disaster. They started selling bowls of chukasoba noodles for ¥311 on the disaster’s 10th anniversary to keep memories of the disaster and its aftermath alive.

The restaurant, which the Okubos opened about 20 years ago, stands on a hill in Miyako’s Sakikuwagasaki district. Chukasoba noodles flavored with soy sauce are a popular menu item and cost ¥700, while tanmen noodles with a hearty serving of stir-fried vegetables over soup noodles — another favorite — is ¥980. Wheat used in the noodles and kombu for the dashi broth are locally grown.

The Okubos’ home in Miyako’s coastal Taro district was destroyed by the tsunami on March 11, 2011. Hisae’s father Kikuzo Sasaki, 69, and her younger brother Toru Sasaki, 41, lived in the same district and died in the disaster.

Hisae was at home with her daughter Wakana, a second-year junior high student at the time, when the quake struck.

They immediately fled outside and took shelter on a station platform of the Sanriku Railway line. Hisae will never forget standing on the platform and watching the terrible sight of the black water swallowing up her neighborhood. Even now, she still wishes her father and brother could have fled more quickly.

Hideshi, who was at the restaurant, was unharmed. The restaurant itself also escaped relatively undamaged. While taking shelter at an evacuation center, the couple decided to get their restaurant back up and running. They bought a new water heater to replace their broken one, and reopened their business just 1½ months later, albeit with chukasoba noodles as the sole menu item.

Nothing made them happier than hearing customers express their gratitude for a bowl of warm ramen. About six months later, the Okubos added some more of their original dishes to the menu, including tanmen noodles. In July 2012, they rebuilt their home near their restaurant.

As the months and years passed, bigger seawalls were constructed along the city’s coast, and the town was gradually rebuilt on higher ground as a reconstruction project. The district has been tidied up, but it’s now harder to see the ocean from there.

Hisae sensed that the spirit of helping each other that had been so evident after the disaster would eventually fade away. In 2021, almost 10 years after that awful day, Hisae told Hideshi that she wanted to do something special on March 11. They came up with the idea of ¥311 Chinese noodles.

A total of about 700 servings were sold over the three anniversaries until last year. Combined with money given to a donation box in the restaurant, the Okubos have presented about ¥250,000 to the Miyako city government “to support the city’s revival.”

Proceeds from lunchtime sales of the dish on Monday and other donations will this year be given to areas battered by the earthquake that hit the Noto Peninsula in Ishikawa Prefecture.

“I truly understand what the people affected by that earthquake are feeling,” Hisae said.

She hopes the money will be spent on uses including the provision of mental health care for victims of the disaster.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Hisae Okubo, left, and her husband Hideshi stand in front of their restaurant in Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, on Monday.