[FOUNTAIN]Sharp consumers drive quality“Ramenist.” No English dictionary can give the definition of “Ramenist,” because it is a newly coined word in Japan. Ramen is a popular Japanese noodle soup, and a ramenist, according to the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, is one who visits at least 200 ramen restaurants a year to taste different kinds of ramen noodles.
Ramenists will not stop at having good or different ramen noodles, but also study each restaurant for its specialty and accumulate a lode of sampling experiences. One can be called a true ramenist when he can taste a new kind of ramen and produce a respectable comment. The day jobs of these nearly obsessive ramen lovers vary from office workers to university professors.
The ramenists can be classified by level of experience. If you can tell the ingredients from one bite, you are a beginner ramenist. An intermediate-level ramenist will be able to guess the kind of noodle from which ramen restaurant with eyes closed. An expert ramenist is almost supernatural: make a ramen soup and intentionally do not add a certain spice. The best ramenists can tell the origin of the noodle soup and pinpoint which spice is missing.
Strange it might sound, there are countless ramenists in Japan. One ramenist legend published a ramen review after tasting over 3,000 bowls of ramen soup in four years. You can even find an online ramenist training program. Ramenists exchange information on their beloved dishes and lead the trends in ramen. The general public religiously follows the ramenists' reviews when they decide what to eat where. The “migrating bird” consumer pattern led by the ramenists makes ramen shop owners cater to the taste of popular ramenists. The chefs will be extra careful when serving a celebrity ramenist because a bad review can ruin a restaurant.
Ramen is not the only cuisine that has ardent fans. From udon noodles and curry to take-out lunches and in-flight meals, you will surely find a group of aficionados who will provide all the reviews. Japanese are known for devotion and concentration; that one-track mentality leads to a lot of experts in narrow fields.
The accumulation of expertise made Japanese companies pay attention to tiny details. The fastidious customers pushed the envelope and upgraded the quality of products in nearly all sectors. In Japan, sharp eyes of consumers are the key to success.
by Nahm Yoon-ho
The writer is a deputy city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.