Trust a Japanese Band for Ramen Recommendations

Shonen Knife on ramen, Japanese food in the States, and eating with Kurt Cobain

Shonen Knife at Sato Ramen in Buffalo, New York

Formed more than 35 years ago in Osaka, Shonen Knife is likely one of the first Japanese bands that comes to mind for American indie-rock fans. Fans of Shonen Knife include members of Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Fugazi, The Goo Goo Dolls and legendary British DJ John Peel. The group signed to Capitol Records in the early 1990s and was seen on TV shows like Late Night With Conan O'Brien, Beavis & Butthead and MTV's 120 Minutes.

Fast forwarding a bit, Shonen Knife continues its frequent touring around the world. Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, chose the band to perform at the 2010 edition of All Tomorrow’s Parties in Minehead, England. English comedian Stewart Lee selected Shonen Knife to play at the 2016 happening of All Tomorrow’s Parties. Meanwhile, Robby Takac of the aforementioned Goo Goo Girls has released the last six full-length discs of Shonen Knife via his Good Charamel Records label, including last year’s Adventure.

On behalf of The Daily Meal, I had the absolute pleasure of conducting Q&A with founding Shonen Knife vocalist/guitarist Naoko Yamano via e-mail. More on Naoko, drummer Atsuko Yamano and bassist Ritsuko Taneda can be found online.


The Daily Meal: Do you have a favorite ramen restaurant in Japan?
Naoko Yamano: I like Ippudo, which is Kyushu-style Tonkotsu Ramen.

On your recent tour of the United States, I heard that your band checked out ramen places in each city. What were some of your favorites?
It’s difficult to choose one because every ramen restaurant was so good. I was impressed that ramen in the U.S. sometimes have Chicken Chashu. I love that. I’ve never had it in Japan. I like Pork Chashu but Chicken Chashu is new for me.

I kept my blog every day during Ramen Adventure 2017, and I uploaded most of all pictures of food I ate.

For you, how does great ramen in the States compare to great ramen in Japan?
The quality of ramen in the U.S. is as great as in Japan. There are some differences. In the U.S., ajitama – seasoned boiled eggs – are very common. Most of all ramen has ajitama. It’s popular but as much in Japan. The taste of soup in the U.S. is commonly a little more salty than in Japan.

When touring, how many meals a day do you usually get to eat?
I usually have three meals a day. For breakfast, I have some bread and a cup of coffee. For lunch, I have some fast food close to a freeway, or at a truck stop, or rice balls which I made at a hotel using “Chibikuro-chan,” which is a microwave-steamed rice cooker, or sandwich I made at a hotel. For dinner I usually eat at restaurants.

Are there food items that you usually have on your tour rider?
Nuts like honey-roasted peanuts, bananas, or cut fruits, energy bars, herb tea and honey so far.

Did you ever get to have a meal with Kurt Cobain while touring with Nirvana?
Yes, I did. I don’t remember how many times, but I remember we went to an Italian restaurant together in the U.K. when we opened for their tour in November 1991. When they came to Osaka for their Japan tour in February 1992, we went to a beer restaurant in downtown Osaka.

Ramen aside, do you have a favorite cuisine?
I love macaroni au gratin. Macaroni au gratin is putting white sauce on boiled macaroni and stir-fried chicken, shrimp, onions, and mushrooms, and putting some cheese on it and baking it in an oven.

What is coming up for the band in the coming months?
We have the “712 Day Party 2017” tour in Japan. We will play in Tokyo, Nagoya. and Osaka.

Is there an accomplishment or goal that you are still working towards as a band?
I don’t have one. Having no accomplishment or goal is my style.

When not touring, how do you spend your free time?
I play tennis. I have tennis lessons once a week and play with my friends. I also play games with my tablet. I like puzzle games.

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Is there something you wish more people knew about Shonen Knife?
Of course I wish more people know about Shonen Knife. We are making fun, happy music and I want many people will be happy through our music.

Finally, Naoko, any last words for the kids?
Let’s eat delicious food and I hope many people enjoy our latest album Adventure, as released by Good Charamel Records.