Photographs of Old Japan’s Glorious Art of Soba Delivery

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a young man delivering soba alond Meguro-dori in Tokyo. Photo courtesy koitaro

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.


Left: date is unknown but we note the symmetry and balance that’s achieved through combining bowls and stackable plates. Right: In the 1950s there were contests held to see who could deliver the most soba. Pictured here is the winner of such contest carrying meals for about 100.

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!

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The owner of the Sunabahonten soba shop taken around 1945

Pictured above is the 2nd generation owner of Sunabahonten, a soba shop that’s still in business (and has been since 1923). The store is located in Tokyo’s western suburbs of Mitaka (Gmap).

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.


photos courtesy toyoko ensen and jun281


1 Comment

  1. What amazing pictures. These people had incredible abilities. I wonder what happened when they hit a bump in the road?

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