Kazuo Yamagishi, the founder of ramen restaurant Taishoken in Tokyo's Higashiikebukuro, passed away at a hospital in the capital's Itabashi Ward on April 1. He was 80.
Yamagishi is said to have devised "tsukemen," or cold ramen noodles that come with a bowl of soup for dipping -- one of the popular ramen menus in Japan with a history of over half a century.
A native of Nagano Prefecture, Yamagishi spent his apprenticeship at a ramen restaurant in Tokyo's Nakano. When he was 17, he hit upon the idea of "tsukemen" when he saw his colleague gulping down noodles after dipping them in a cup of soup.
In 1961, he added "tsukemen" to his restaurant's menus under the name "special morisoba" (cold soba noodles with soup for dipping) for 40 yen per serving, and it became an instant smash hit. When he was forced to stop delivery due to a leg disease in 1974, local patrons volunteered to come and pick up the dishes, saying, "You only need to cook ramen, we will come and get it."
Today, there are nearly 100 Taishoken branch restaurants across the country. Shinsuke Tauchigawa, 38, the owner of "Ochanomizu Taishoken" in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward, is one of Yamagishi's disciples.
"When I visited him at the hospital a week ago, he told me, 'I'm counting on you to carry on. Please preserve the taste of Higashiikebukuro.' I was surprised he passed away so suddenly," Tauchigawa told the Mainichi.
Hiroshi Osaki, 56, a ramen critic who has frequented Taishoken for 35 years, commented, "What makes good ramen is said to depend on the pork stock, chicken stock and personality, and I think that's the phrase for him (Yamagishi). His ramen represented his gentle character. I will miss him."
A wake for Yamagishi will be held at Gokokuji Temple in Tokyo's Bunkyo Ward on April 7, followed by a funeral ceremony the next day.