Japanese ramen-maker Nissin wants to end “noodle harassment” with a slurp-canceling fork

Image: Nissin/YouTube
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Visiting Japan, but can’t stand the sound of people slurping their noodles? Nissin promises to solve that problem for you.

The Japanese food maker announced (link in Japanese) Monday (Oct. 23) the sale of a sort of noise-disguising fork that looks like an electric toothbrush. Called Otohiko, the electric fork works in conjunction with a smartphone—when the microphone on the fork detects any unpleasant slurping noises, it sends a signal to the smartphone to emit a pleasant noise, via a dedicated app, to mask the noodle noises.

A video promoting the product shows a group of foreigners eating Nissin instant noodles, who suddenly stop when they hear a Japanese woman slurping her noodles loudly. “I love Japan but that noise is uncomfortable,” says one woman in the video.

Nissin said the goal of the product is to tackle the problem of, literally, “noodle harassment,” particularly as the number of foreign tourists visiting Japan has soared in the last few years. Mentions of noodle harassment, also shortened to “nu-hara” in Japanese—part of a tradition in Japan of adding the suffix –hara to denote different forms of harassment or annoyances—started proliferating on social media in 2016, according to the Mainichi newspaper (link in Japanese).

The noise-camouflaging fork is reminiscent of another Japanese contraption, the flushing-sound-emitting function known as Otohime that is fitted in many female bathrooms around Japan to mask the noises made while one uses the toilet. Devices such as keychains (link in Japanese) that emit a flushing sound are also available when the toilet is too low-tech to have such a function.

“It’s not that Japanese table manners are inherently permissive when it comes to slurping. In Japan as elsewhere, noisy eating is generally frowned upon, particularly in formal social situations,” wrote Motohashi Takashi, a food writer. In other settings, it’s less frowned on. Citing a noodle vendor in Tokyo, Takashi said that slurping is simply the best way to “savor the aroma” or soba, a kind of Japanese buckwheat noodle.

The sound producer responsible for the product said that (link in Japanese) he listened to the sound of noodle-slurping—roughly the “zut-to” of objects moving at a fast speed— about 5,000 times. He added that the “masking” sound is still being developed, but it will be a “fun sound, like something is about to begin,” which he compared to the sound of an “EDM attack.”

It’s also the first product Nissin is selling through crowd-funding, according to the company, and it’s taking reservations for the Otohiko, priced at ¥14,800 ($130) until mid-December. It will only offer the product if it can meet 5,000 reservations.