No Japanese trip can be called complete without experiencing Wanko-Soba. A Morioka specialty, Wanko-Soba is more of a competition than a meal. This is the event we have been training for during our entire stay, the marathon of eating experiences. I felt well prepped for the event given that my stomach has stretched considerably from our massive food consumption.
“Wan” means cup in Japanese and the “ko” is added for flair. The game involves swallowing cup after cup of mouthfuls of soba. Although the exact origins of the game remain unclear (maybe a Japanese college fraternity?), it became popular after WWII.
After donning an apron, we sat down and read the booklet outlining the rules. We gazed around at our other customers, feeling some trepidation after viewing the stacks and stacks of bowls. Takashi observed that the waitresses all looked cute, but they would soon seem evil.
The waitresses soon arrived carrying trays of small bowls and the games began once they started pouring. I had a difficult time adjusting to the trick of swallowing the noodles without chewing (picture swallowing spoonfuls of spagetti whole) as it allows you to eat more.
Cup after cup arrived, and the once seemingly innocent servers did began to appear malicious, taunting us after every cup with, “are you sure?” The rules do not allow them to stop, even if you say “enough”—you have to cover your bowl with its lid to end the agony.
Takashi had told me the average Japanese person can do 60 bowls, and I figured I at least had to reach that goal, which I did with considerable strain. In the Wanko-soba world, I was a lightweight. Takashi consumed 90, and some teenage boys at another table put away 120 each. Even a small boy had three stacks in front of him. The all time Wanko-soba record holder ate 345 cups—inconceivable to me.
I thought I would not eat for the rest of the week, but an hour later I had a matcha tea soft serve ice cream.