Japan's dedication to culinary innovation has been well-documented over the years, and this meticulous attention to detail extends to nearly every facet of the dining experience in the country. In Tokyo, food has long been delivered to restaurant-goers using conveyor belts, with popular "sushi-go-rounds" dropping fresh plates of fish directly at patron's tables. Still, some 450 miles southwest of Tokyo in Kyoto, a little-known system exists where couples can pluck clumps of fresh sōmen out of bamboo pipes as the noodles drift by on a stream of freezing cold river water.
Known in the region as "nagashi sōmen" (literally "flowing noodles") diners are generally seated in groups of two, assigned a pipeline, and armed with only a couple pairs of chopsticks. Every 30 seconds, a bundle of the thin, white wheat flour noodles flows down the stream. It's customary for the diner on the left to grab first, but if they miss, the noodles are fair game for all. The sōmen is then dipped in a mixture of tsuyu sauce and wasabi and eaten out of bamboo cups.
"Even if you are a natural with chopsticks, the first lump of noodles can be tricky to catch, especially if you are trying simultaneously to take photographs, but gradually you will get the hang of it," Kyoto After Dark writes, specifically referencing a waterfall-side restaurant called Hirobun near Kibune Shrine. "The excitement generates giggles and shrieks of delight as diners attempt to catch the noodles before the stream carries them away. The focused concentration of those waiting for their portion with their chopsticks poised to strike and the shouts of triumph when the noodles are effectively snatched up creates an atmosphere reminiscent of a family gathered around a board game."
According to Kyoto After Dark, the final clump of noodles is colored pink to let diners know their meal has come to end. But throughout Japan, people have found ways to continue the nagashi sōmen experience at home, building their own bamboo flumes in their backyards.