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Ramen joint Sakuramen opened its doors in Adams Morgan yesterday. And like other restaurants around town, there’s a little bit of superstition going on behind the scenes. Inside the cozy, low-ceiling spot, you’ll find a mural of this ramen-slurping bad ass. Co-owner Jonathan Cho tells us the character is derived from the Japanese guardian warrior Shoki (known by other names in other Asian cultures). Here’s the mythology behind it, as recounted by Cho:
“Ever since he was born, he was butt-ugly. He was just really, really ugly—like he basically had to wear a mask everywhere he went. But his lifelong dream and all he wanted to do in his life was to serve the king in any way, shape, or form.”
Shoki studied philosophy and trained to become a super warrior. Finally, he got the attention of the royal court and was invited to meet the king.
“He goes to court and he’s before the king and he shows his face, and the king just kind of laughs: ‘Hey, buddy, you might be a powerful, great warrior, philosopher, and whatnot, but looking like that, you’re not a member of my court,'” Cho says.
Shoki responds: “If I can not service you in life, then I shall service you in death.”
He kills himself then and there—in front of the king and the court. The king is so moved by this gesture that he honors Shoki with a national funeral and puts his statue in front of major monuments and entrance ways.
“He’s such a badass that even the devil won’t mess with him,” Cho says.
In Japan, when a son is born, parents will sometimes put up a figurine of Shoki as the child’s guardian. Apparently, the same goes for the debut of this ramen shop: “He’s our little guardian,” Cho says.
Photo by Jessica Sidman