Nowadays when we order takeout we open an app, push a few buttons and 30 minutes later someone shows up on a motorcycle with your food. But in the olden days in Japan it was obviously a bit different. Demae, which literally means “to go in front of” is thought to have originated as early as the mid-Edo period in the 1700s.
Demae was primarily reserved for wealthy Daimyo, who would send servants to let the shop keepers know that they wanted delivery. Over the years demae evolved into a more mainstream practice. And one of its most popular forms became the delivery of soba noodles, an affordable dish that carried around without losing flavor or appearance.
Because there were no telephones, you couldn’t exactly call in an order. Deliverymen devolved a skilled technique for stacking towers of soba noodle bowls and then carrying them on a bike to places like universities where they had frequent customers. Astonishingly, some of these photos are from soba shops that are still in business today!
Pictured below (middle) is Asamatsu Miyakawa, the owner of the Kakinokizaka Sarashina soba shop in Tokyo (Gmap). The photo was taken in 1939 as Mr. Miyakawa was making a delivery to the Tokyo Metropolitan University.