Part I: China Origin
Ramen's origins can be found in China, whose noodle-eating cuisine culture was introduced to Japan in the 1860s when that country ended its seclusion and reopened its ports to the outside world. The Chinese technique for creating and cooking noodles eventually gave rise to the distinctive Japanese style "ramen".
Many Chinese moved to the port city of Yokohama in the late nineteenth century, working as laborers, shop owners, housekeepers, and chefs for the city's Western commerce. These Chinese immigrants eventually founded their own Nankin-machi, which is pronounced Nanjing in Japan. Later, Nakin-machi transformed into Yokohama's distinct Chinatown. By 1887, there were roughly 20 Chinese restaurants in Yokohama, all of which provided noodle meals. These included chaoshao tangimian soup noodles with sliced pork and rousi tangmian soup noodles with thin pig strips. Locals not only included Chinese but also Japanese, who called noodle meals Nankin soba.
A former Japanese customs agent from Yokohama founded his own Chinese restaurant in the Asakusa district of Tokyo in 1910. He renamed the noodle meals from Nakin soba to Shina soba and engaged Chinese cooks from Nankin-machi. He added toppings of menma boiled strips of sweet bamboo shoots and chashao, or "chashu," as it later became known in Japanese. When Tokyo was destroyed to ruins in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 a few years later, portable kiosks serving Shina soba multiplied, ensuring the dish's widespread appeal.
The Chinese eatery Takeya debuted in Sapporo, Hokkaido, far to the north, across from a university, in 1921. Chinese exchange students studying at the university were very interested in the restaurant's exquisite, genuinely Chinese rousi tangmian dish, which was created by a Chinese chef. The cook would say Hao le! ("a delicious meal is complete!") after a dish was finished. To the Japanese ear, that le sounded rather like a ra, and it was because of this phrase that ra was combined with the Japanese word men, which means noodles. The "ra-men" noodles made famous by Takeya quickly spread throughout the entire city of Sapporo.