The woman stands at the crossing of Kokusai and Kototoi, scanning a shop flyer. She looks confused. Do you want a hand? Oh, I have come to eat delicious pasta, she says. Her tone is determined. Here, she shakes the flyer. I saw it on TV. You say, There is a spaghetti restaurant a couple of blocks up. I will walk with you.

She says, I haven’t eaten since yesterday. Is she a local? No, I am a complete country bumpkin. I came to the doctor in Tokyo and I want to eat this spaghetti. It has been on TV, she repeats. They have a way of making it. They cook it and let it rest overnight!

Karubo, perhaps it means carbonara. Or carbohydrate. A small, rundown building that must once have looked minimal and sleek. It looks just like a B-grade-gourmet TV spot now.

All this talk of spaghetti, you are hungry too. Mrs Country Bumpkin asks if you will join her. She seems nervous but cheerful.

People who look good for their age will always tell you how old they are. I am 78, she says. She looks more like mid-60s. She is talkative but cagey. She won’t tell you her name. She is very flighty. You won’t photograph me will you? she says. That could be trouble.

karubo int

She is from Chiba prefecture. Not exactly deep countryside. She works at a pachinko-ya. Has 12 grandchildren but lives alone. She takes out an envelope of bubble wrap. Enclosed is a colourful plastic apron. I wear this when I eat ramen, she says, fastening it around her neck. I came to see the doctor but they don’t know what’s wrong. I was getting pins and needles in my arms. And they said if I have sore teeth it could mean something is wrong with my heart. I might get a stress test on my heart. I don’t know. But I have to go back to work. She has ordered the large serving, three times the size of your small one, but when the food comes she says there is too much of it, and the cream sauce is not nutritious. I won’t come here again, she announces.

She stops eating less than halfway through. As you are chatting you tell her about Fuji Ramen up the street. Now she wants to eat Fuji Ramen. So you leave together and walk back up Kokusai. It doesn’t matter to you, it’s a nice enough stroll. She tells you how she didn’t get home till midnight two nights ago and then ate gyoza and sashimi and drank beer so she didn’t eat all yesterday. Suddenly she says, I think I am full. Goodbye. I will eat Fuji Ramen next time.

karubo 2 bowls