Japan’s Acrobatic Noodle Delivery Cyclists

Jul 19, 2021 1 comments

These photographs taken in the middle of the 20th century on the streets of Tokyo show how food delivery looked like before the onslaught of modern services like Swiggy and Zomato. Riding on bicycles with one hand griping the bike’s handlebar, these noodle delivery boys balanced towers of soba noodle bowls on their shoulders as they weaved in and out of traffic carrying dinners and breakfasts to their frequent customers. This service is called demae, which literally means “to go in front of”, and it is older than you think.

soba delivery boys

Demae is thought to have originated as early as the mid-Edo period in the 1700s. It was primarily used by wealthy daimyo, feudal lords who would send servants to let shopkeepers know that they wanted food delivered to their homes. Over time, demae evolved into a more mainstream practice enjoyed by everyone from students to office workers. One of the most popular food was soba buckwheat noodles that could be eaten either cold with a dipping sauce, or served hot in a noodle soup. It was an affordable dish and could be carried around without the food losing flavor or appearance.

The job of soba noodle delivery was dangerous and demanded tremendous amount of poise and skill. Often the men were required to handle dozens of orders in a single trip, because the owners were usually short of hands, and the only mode of transport they could afford was the bicycle. Upon these ungainly transports, the men carried as many as a hundred bowls, by delicately stacking these bowls of noodles and soup one on top of the other. Some of these stacks stood five feet tall. Like acrobats from a Russian circus, these precarious towers were then balanced over their shoulder while they rode a bicycle, with one hand keeping the bike steady and the other hand gently holding on to the precious cargo.

soba delivery boys

A 1961 Reuter's article reporting on new cycling traffic laws that require that a cyclist place both hands on the handlebars when riding through the streets, quoted officials from the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department's Traffic Section as saying: “To ride on a bicycle with piles of 'soba' bowls on your shoulder is dangerous. It must be prohibited from the viewpoint of road traffic safety. But we will not place any stricter curb as they will lose more than half their customers.”

The article ended in an optimistic note: “With this police assurance to overlook the illegal traffic practice, 'soba' delivery boys will continue to race through the streets of Tokyo.” Unfortunately, such sights can no longer be had today, replaced by safer and more efficient method of food delivery.

soba delivery boys

soba delivery boys

soba delivery boys

soba delivery boys

soba delivery boys

soba delivery boys

soba delivery boys

soba delivery boys

References:
# Photographs of Old Japan’s Glorious Art of Soba Delivery, Spoon & Tamago
# Japan: Tokyo: New Traffic Law For Noodle Delivery Boys. 1961, British Pathe

Comments

  1. That's hard and incredible, how many is times meals fell? :D

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

More on Amusing Planet

{{posts[0].title}}

{{posts[0].date}} {{posts[0].commentsNum}} {{messages_comments}}

{{posts[1].title}}

{{posts[1].date}} {{posts[1].commentsNum}} {{messages_comments}}

{{posts[2].title}}

{{posts[2].date}} {{posts[2].commentsNum}} {{messages_comments}}

{{posts[3].title}}

{{posts[3].date}} {{posts[3].commentsNum}} {{messages_comments}}