The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

RANDOM NOMAD: Brian MacDuckston, American Expat in Tokyo & Expert Ramen Slurper

Place of birth: San Francisco, California USA
Passport: USA
Overseas history: Japan (Saitama, Hiroshima, Tokyo): 2006 – present.
Occupation: Food consultant and freelance English teacher (available for high school classes, after-school programs, private lessons, children’s events…)
Cyberspace coordinates: Ramen Adventures (blog); @macduckston (Twitter handle); and Ramen Adventures (Facebook).

What made you leave your homeland in the first place?
Around 2004 I took a colloquial Mandarin Chinese class, hoping to learn a bit to help with the massive amounts of Kung Fu movies I was into at the time — I soon learned that Cantonese, not Mandarin, is used in these flicks. One of my classmates was going to China for a year to teach English. I did some Internet searching and decided I really wanted to check this out. I was stressed with my computer job, and a year abroad seemed like a good idea. Opportunities abound in China, Korea, and Japan. Japan just seemed like a good choice to me.

You’ve now lived in Japan for more than five years. Tell me about the moment when you felt the most displaced.
My first day of work in Saitama, I somehow managed to get on an empty train that had reached its last stop. A minute later and I was in the depot storage yard with an attendant yelling at me in a language I didn’t understand. I was late to my very first English lesson. I wanted to quit right away. Things got better, obviously.

Is there any particular moment or moments that stand out as your least displaced?
Whenever I’m on the road here in Japan. I ride a motorcycle — very few foreigners do that. Something about being able to navigate across mountain ranges on poorly marked roads fills me with a great sense of accomplishment.

Hmmm…are you sure it’s safe? And now you may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from your adopted country into The Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
A curiosity? I am actually quite a minimalist, collecting only photos. My Nikon camera is technically a Japanese thing. I guess I would choose that. Or perhaps I should consider bringing a few of my Japanese cooking knives. Beautifully crafted and razor sharp, they are amazing things.

Ah, cooking! I’m glad you mentioned that. You are invited to prepare one meal based on your travels for other members of The Displaced Nation. What’s on your menu?

Ramen of course! Let’s go ahead and serve it after the drinks. After many drinks. Ramen is one of the best hangover prevention foods. All that fat and all those carbs do wonders for the next morning.

And now you may add a word or expression from the country you live in to The Displaced Nation argot. What will you loan us?
Umai is a great food word in Japanese. Most people first learn oishii to mean delicious, but umai is a bit stronger, a bit more cool. It’s mostly a guy word, though. I hope that’s okay with the female occupants of the Displaced Nation?

Perfectly okay! This summer, thanks to the London Olympics, all of us Displaced Nation residents, whether male or female, have become obsessed with displays of machismo and strength. In fact, this may be a good time to bring up your hobby of eating ramen in as many Tokyo venues as possible. How did you get launched in such a curious culinary sport — and become so accomplished that you and your blog were featured in the Travel section of the New York Times?
After living in Hiroshima for a bit, I knew that I needed to live in the big city.  So I finished my contract, signed up for unemployment insurance, and moved to Tokyo. Suddenly I found myself with a massive amount of time on my hands — and not a lot of money in my pockets. I decided to wait in the ridiculously long ramen shop line that I had seen many times across the street from a massive bookstore in Ikebukuro, one of Tokyo’s multiple city centers.

I was shocked how good it was. Completely worth the hour wait outside in the cold. A bit of research later, and I had a list of the 30 best shops in Tokyo…a nice place to start.

Thirty shops sounds rather daunting, particularly if each one involves standing in line for hours! What keeps you going, and do you still like ramen after the upteempth bowl of it?
What keeps me going? A job that doesn’t pay much! In fact, it’s the kind of random fun that comes with this obsession that keeps me going. When I can somehow influence someone to have the best bowl of ramen they have ever had, I feel like it is worth it.

Would you say that you’ve now graduated from amateur to pro?
Becoming a pro in such a niche corner of the food world is tough, but I suppose the few guidebook articles or magazine pieces I have worked on would put me up there.

Readers — yay or nay for letting Brian MacDuckston into The Displaced Nation once he’s finished slurping up his latest bowl of noodles? Tell us your reasons. (Note: It’s fine to vote “nay” as long as you couch your reasoning in terms we all — including Brian — find amusing!)

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s Displaced Q, about nationalism and the Olympics.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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img: Brian at a ramen-ya in Tokyo, pursuing his favorite “sport.”

4 responses to “RANDOM NOMAD: Brian MacDuckston, American Expat in Tokyo & Expert Ramen Slurper

  1. Emily Cannell August 2, 2012 at 9:39 pm

    Of course- as a fellow ramen aficionado I have to vote yes. Raging Ramen from Koh Men is my favorite….

  2. ML Awanohara August 4, 2012 at 5:42 pm

    I’m inclined to join Emily (who, too, has been one of our Random Nomads) in voting “yay.” I’m particularly inclined that way because of your least displaced moment: riding your motorcycle across mountain ranges on poorly marked roads. Somehow that struck a chord with me. I think you’re right that the displaced life can open the door to the kind of thrills & chills we wouldn’t have had if we stayed at home either because there’s a law against it or it just wouldn’t be possible. (I see, though, that you do use your helmet.)

    Emily, too, has found that level of thrill in Japan — as she wrote in a mid-April post on her blog, she’s been able to pursue her fascination with cemeteries by strolling through one during sakura season.

    My own little thrill, like yours, had to do with transport — though I wasn’t transporting myself but being transported on London’s double-decker buses. I loved jumping on and off the bus from the rear open platform. It was convenient (the traffic can get very bad there) — but it was also fun because of being slightly dangerous. (I understand that the Routemaster was withdrawn in 2005 by then Mayor of London Ken Livingstone because of not being wheelchair accessible but that the new mayor, Boris Johnson, intends to introduce a new version that meets today’s accessibility standards but also has a rear hop-on, hop-off platform. Hooray — the best of both!)

    But let’s talk ramen. Before you get my “yay” vote, I wonder, do you slurp your noodles? I assume you do — hence the headline. But I never really asked you. IMHO, that would be a marker of true displacement.

    • Brian (@macduckston) August 7, 2012 at 9:12 am

      Slurping is entirely necessary when eating noodles. Cooling them, spreading the flavor, and adding a 5th sense to the meal. Unfortunately, I brought the habit home with me on a recent vacation, and a trip to a nice Italian spot ended with embarrassment for those around me. I could care less though; slurping makes noodles (of any kind) better.

      • ML Awanohara August 8, 2012 at 10:58 pm

        Goodness, you’ve outdone me! I have to admit, I’ve never really been tempted to slurp spaghetti in an Italian restaurant. I’m a moral relativist, I guess — thinking it’s okay to slurp in certain cultural contexts, but not to slurp in general. Still, given that you’re a professional ramen eater, you’ve got me intrigued. Does it really make noodles of any kind taste better? If so, perhaps I should give it a try…

        Hmmm… I just now re-read the above paragraph and I think it represents a resounding “yay” for your bid to join The Displaced Nation! Congratulations!!! 🙂

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