Naruto Hiden / Naruto Hiden Vol 4 Chapter 4

One Bowl Full of Soul

These days, naruto* [fish cakes served atop ramen] was incredibly popular.

When did it happen? In the blink of an eye, naruto had risen to number one in the Popular Toppings list. From children to adults, people of all types and ages loved naruto.

More naruto would be served on dishes, and then before you realised what’d happened, they’d have finished and run out.

Even the local mothers had started saying that if children ate naruto then they’re grow up to be healthy, energetic, and strong.

Ahh, naruto. You scruffy-looking fish cakes, with your pale white background and pink swirling whirlpool in the middle. But, if you weren’t here, people would feel so very lonely.

Teuchi, the owner of Ichiraku Ramen, was cutting up more naruto fish cakes today.

Now, ramen would be made by smoothly adding in boiled noodles to various soups, and then then skillfully, artistically adding several toppings on top. The finishing touch of just that tiny bit of naruto added a firm flair to the whole bowl of ramen.

As the popularity of those naruto toppings grew, so did the turnover that Ichiraku’s made. These days Teuchi was continuously setting out extra tables in front of the place, but even those would immediately fill up.

It certainly hadn’t been like this in the old days.

Ichiraku Ramen had opened shop in Konoha a good many years ago. Back then, a good number of people were grateful for the cheap and quick ramen,but the turnover had barely been enough for Teuchi stay out of the red. He’d thought that he’d keep scraping by like that until the bitter end.

And back then…

Back then, naruto had always been the least-liked. The ‘Popular Toppings’ board which stood outside the shop would always have naruto scrawled at the very bottom. Nobody really cared whether it was there or not.

The reason nobody cared was the existence of other toppings

Simmered bamboo shoots, loved for the texture as people chewed on them.

Roast pork cutlets, carefully cooked and greatly recommended.

Half-boiled eggs, drowning in their own lovely flavour.

Seaweed, and their incredible surge of popularity as an optimum highlight on ramen.

Every single one of them were strong competitors for the place of number one topping.

Seaweed in particular had always been a tough opponent. While naruto was always stuck at the bottom, seaweed hovered constantly at top in ranking. You could say that seaweed had always been the greatest obstacle that naruto could never pass in popularity.

The reason was likely because nori had so many devoted customers.

Shinobi seemed to have a certain inclination towards seaweed. Seaweed never stood out, and never showed off. It clung to the sides of the bowl, or floated around in groups in the soup. It was like a shadow.

Compared to the pointlessly exuberant naruto, with its bright pink spiral on white that never failed to stand out, seaweed had a completely different atmosphere about it.

It would be exaggerated to say shinobi had fellow-feelings for the seaweed in their ramen, but it was true that they felt a sort of familiarity towards it. Seaweed had such popularity that it had likely never been declined by any customer.

To think that naruto had finally surpassed seaweed- no, not just seaweed, but bamboo shoots and pork cutlets and eggs as well. It had surpassed them all, now sitting at the very top of the Popular Toppings board.

Teuchi looked at the proudly sparkling naruto, and felt emotional. He thought about how eras would change and ramen would be continued to be made and great changes like this would still take place.

When you thought about it, naruto was made of minced fish after all, and it contained various nutrients shinobi needed. And then, more importantly, the swirling pink whirlpool pattern looked pretty similar to the mark of Konoha carved into the hitai-ate of Konoha’s shinobi. One could even say the jagged edges of naruto looked similar to shuriken.

The naruto hadn’t been popular up to now, but the tide had turned, and in the present, naruto was mysteriously and deeply appreciated by shinobi. There was some curious sort of fate between shinobi and naruto. One could say that naruto was a foodstuff that seemed like it had almost been made specifically for shinobi to eat.

But as for the question as to why naruto was suddenly so beloved by so many shinobi, well, that was all thanks to another Naruto. His regular customer, Naruto.

The popularity of naruto today was all thanks to that Naruto.

Well now, from now, we’ll be focusing on the story of that customer Naruto, instead of the topping.

Uzumaki Naruto…he had been frequenting Teuchi’s shop ever since he was a child, a regular among regulars.

Teuchi had been invited to his wedding ceremony. Although Naruto had told him he was getting married, Teuchi hadn’t imagined he’d even be invited to the wedding. He had to think of a good wedding gift.

To think that little kid’s now getting married…

Coupling that with naruto’s amazing climb to the top of the Popular Toppings list, Teuchi had many things he felt emotional about.

It really made him acutely aware of how time kept flowing and passing.

Teuchi’s memories took him back to the first time Naruto had come to his store…

 

“Heyo, lad. Do you wanna come over and eat something?”

Teuchi had called out with a smile on his face, but the young boy jolted with a start, his whole body shaking.

It had just passed dinner time, so the shop was empty. Teuchi had noticed the child constantly sneaking glances towards Ichiraku’s as he wandered aimlessly on the streets.

He hadn’t just seen the boy today, either. The kid been wandering around here a lot the past few days, and Teuchi had gotten used to the sight of him. He would always walk hesitantly towards the shop, and then walk away, back and forth without ever actually coming in.

Sooner or later, Teuchi had found himself getting curious about the young boy always wondering around his field of vision.

It was because every time Teuchi saw him, the child was all alone.

Today as well, the boy was hunching his shoulders against the cold weather, sneaking quick peeps inside the store every few minutes. There weren’t any other customers around to deal with anyway, so Teuchi just instinctively called out to him.

The child approached him slowly, trembling with nerves. But Teuchi slid out a bowl of ramen towards the boy, and that tiny, frightened face instantly lit up.

What was the little one doing, outside at this late hour all by himself?

Just what was his family doing? His parents?

Those thoughts passed through Teuchi’s mind, but he didn’t ask the child any questions. He just watched over him as he ate. It looked like he was enjoying the meal.

Soon enough, the child had lifted the great bowl to his lips with his tiny hands, tipping it back so as to slurp up all the soup he could and not leave a single drop behind.

The bowl so large compared to him, that his face disappeared completely out of sight.

When the child lowered the bowl, he looked happy and content.

His eyes met Teuchi’s, and the kid grinned so wide that his teeth showed.

Teuchi found himself grinning back.

“You eat really well,” he said, “Alright, lad. I’ve decided it’ll be the shop’s treat for your meal today.”

When Teuchi said that, the child’s grin turned even brighter. He said thank you, and introduced himself.

The kid’s name was Uzumaki Naruto. Teuchi had privately thought to himself that it was a name with a nice, shared fate with ramen.

That was how he’d first met Naruto.

After that day, Naruto would often show up to come and eat and eat at Teuchi’s shop. Teuchi heard from his other customers how Naruto didn’t have any family. He also heard about the unpleasant treatment Naruto received from most of the villagers.

So that was what his constant, nervous back-and-forth in front of the shop had been about.

One of Teuchi’s other regular customers told him this:

“Why do you let that kid into the store? All the other stores ward him off. Your sales are going to suffer. You’ll lose money, I’m telling you now.”

The words themselves hadn’t seemed to come from a bad place. The man had likely been honestly worried about Teuchi’s store.

But still, somehow, Teuchi found himself losing his temper and letting loose a furious lecture.

Oh, he didn’t know anything about the world of shinobi, that was true, he told the customer. He understood there had to be many circumstances around Naruto’s situation.

But why in the world would he turn away someone who liked ramen, who came all the way to his store in the hopes of filling his stomach?

For that little kid with no parents or siblings, it was very possible that Teuchi’s store was the only place he could eat a warm meal made just for him.

It’s possible might have been conceited for thinking that way, perhaps placing more importance on his store’s existence to Naruto than was due, but it all came down to this:

Teuchi might not have known a thing about the world of shinobi, but the world of ramen was one that he understood perfectly.

When it came to ramen, the bowl in front of you was everything.

Teuchi concentrated wholly, devotedly on every bowl of ramen he prepared, silently and without compromise. He put his pride as an artisan on the line, and gave his everything to make each bowl of ramen.

So a child who found that bowl of ramen so delicious, who ate his food looking so ridiculously happy- how could Teuchi possibly turn him away? It wasn’t possible. Any ramen store worth their salt would say the same.

You’re supposed to sit down, and eat the bowl of ramen in front of you, Teuchi snapped to the customer. The circumstances of the person sitting next to you shouldn’t matter. The person sitting next to you was just someone who had come to eat ramen just like everyone else. It was that simple, so what exactly was the problem?

If there was any wrong to be found when a customer was glancing nervously to stare at another one, then it was the ramen. The ramen had been cooked badly.

Because if you cooked really good ramen and set it in front of someone, then they wouldn’t be able to think about anyone else. They’d just be transfixed by the bowl in front of them, and happily eat without a care for whoever is around them.

“-and if there’s anyone who doesn’t like our store because of that, then I’d be pleased if they did get lost.” Teuchi had said as he finished the rant he’d unleashed on his regular customer.

“I’m sorry, Teuchi.” The regular said to him, “I…I didn’t mean it like that…”

“I understand. You said that because you were concerned about the state of my store, right?” Teuchi gave him a friendly smile. “Come again, alright?”

From then onwards, regular customers continued to visit Teuchi’s shop, and Naruto became part of that group, too. He came almost every single day to eat.

Until, at one point, things changed.

One day, Naruto stopped coming to Ichiraku Ramen.

Teuchi told himself it was a strange series of incidents to do with a complicated situation. That’s why Naruto couldn’t come.

Naruto, who would come to eat lunch at noon, and then come again to eat dinner at night.

Naruto, who would buy huge amounts of cup ramen to keep himself full with, but then still show up in the early hours of the morning.

That was the sort of person Naruto was, and yet one day, he suddenly stopped coming.

Someone who always came was suddenly absent. Someone who should be present was nowhere to be found.

Was is still really okay to call it a strange series of incidents?

Teuchi felt incredibly uneasy in those days following Naruto’s absence.

Come to think of it, he’d gone through this pattern various times.

The reason was that while he served many villagers ramen, he also had a lot of customers who were shinobi.

“I wanted to eat your ramen just once before I head out on a mission.” His shinobi customers would say such delightful things.

Teuchi would think fervently to himself as he cooked their ramen: I really hope you come back and eat my ramen again.

It wasn’t because he wanted to sell them more ramen.

It was because he wanted them to come back safe.

If you could come back safe, eat my ramen, and show me that smiling face again, it would be far more happiness than any artisan could ask for. I won’t even charge you.

Of course, it was a bit idealistic of him to ignore the fact that if he didn’t charge for their second meal he would have a hard time paying the bills for the ingredients of said meal.

But at the end of the day, Teuchi had gone through many years at his shops where shinobi customers suddenly stopped coming. They hadn’t come almost everyday like Naruto had, but they had still come frequently throughout every year.

“I’ve got a mission after this. When my mission ends, I’d like to come back and eat your ramen again.” They’d say with a smile, and head out.

They would head out, and never come back.

Teuchi waited for months. He waited for years. They didn’t show up.

Teuchi didn’t understand anything about the world of shinobi. But he did know that death chased every single one of them.

It was thanks to those shinobi who put themselves at risk and protected everyone in the village that Teuchi and the other villagers could live peacefully.

That was why…

Every night, Teuchi would prepare the ingredients for the next day of work at Ichiraku’s. At as he did, all the faces of his missing shinobi customers would come to mind.

You were careful, right…?

You just got fed up my ramen, right?

You just found another, better store, right?

Right?

That’s the case, Teuchi tried to tell himself, trying to cheer himself up. That’s definitely the case. Who knows, I may even see them tomorrow. In that case, I’d better make sure tomorrow’s ramen is better than ever!

He spent his nights staying up and preparing ingredients with fervently hopeful thoughts like that.

That was how Teuchi continued making ramen, day in and day out.

Several months after Naruto stopped showing up, Teuchi heard that the shinobi was just out of the village for an extended training trip.

He felt relief surge through him from the very bottom of his heart.

It was true that the last time Naruto had stopped by the shop, he’d mentioned going on a long trip. Teuchi had assumed it was for a mission of some sort, but he couldn’t have imagined Naruto would be away for so long. 

Shinobi had such harsh training ethics.

When Naruto came back from his two year long training trip, he’d grown taller and looked just like a grown man. It was funny, how Teuchi wouldn’t have noticed those drastic changes if he’d seen him every day like he used to.

Teuchi didn’t talk about a lot of things. He just put a bowl of ramen in front of Naruto for him to eat.

It was one bowl full of soul.

Naruto might’ve grown, but the bright grin he gave Teuchi after eating his ramen hadn’t changed at all.

For some reason, that fact made Teuchi so happy he grinned back even wider.

Naruto’s characteristic bravado and inability to give up would eventually help him save the village several times, and soon enough he was being called everyone’s hero.

A handful of years later, and the little boy who had been so isolated was now loved and acknowledged by everyone.

The name ‘Uzumaki Naruto’ passed across a great many people’s mouths. And every time someone repeated his story, people would find themselves feeling a sort of affection towards the naruto topping. Dozens of Teuchi’s customers would ask for additional orders of naruto, and eventually there were so many requests that it almost became a craze.

Embarrassingly, there were quite a few people going around and calling ‘Ichiraku Ramen’ by the name ‘Hero’s Ramen’ instead. Teuchi felt uneasy when people starting eating the ramen and murmuring ‘if I eat this, I won’t fail on my mission!’ or ‘please let me come back safe and alive’ under their breath, but he couldn’t heartlessly tell them to stop, either.

All the shinobi and kunoichi who frequented his shop and said things like that were the protectors of the village, those who would go out and be chased by death on cruel missions almost every day. It was human nature to want the comfort of charms that would protect them.

And then, there was the undeniable fact that Teuchi himself had always been praying in a way, too, every time he cooked for shinobi about to head out on missions. His constant thoughts of ‘please come back and eat again’ were really no better than the murmured wishes of his customers.

‘If I eat this ramen I’ll become stronger’, or ‘if I eat this ramen I’ll become a hero’…it wasn’t happy circumstances which lead to those kinds of wishes.

Even the thoughts and prayers of one person could help you change. Teuchi had learned that very well in the past.

Yes, that incident had been on a cold, cold night in the middle of winter. That night was when Teuchi had decided to open up his first shop, the night he had experienced his life’s latest tri–

Ah, the broth in his stockpot had started to boil. The steam had risen up along with the bubbling sound, and snapped Teuchi clean out of his reminiscing.

“Oops, I got too caught up in thinking about the past.” Teuchi muttered. Good grief, he was getting old.

He briskly moved onto making the ramen. The boiled noodles were gently put into the soup. He carefully added the toppings, arranging them in a pleasing manner. And then, yes, the final topping of naruto.

Teuchi had broken away from his train of thought for the sake of concentrating solely and only on making the bowl of ramen that had been ordered.

What had he been thinking about…?

He’d completely forgotten. Teuchi usually forgot things these days, and didn’t remember them straight away, but he didn’t mind.

It was enough to live each day one ramen bowl at a time.

What else would the owner of a ramen store wish for? That much was enough. It was because Teuchi loved ramen so much that he’d decided to enter the world of ramen, after all.

Besides, if he’d been thinking about something very important, he’d remember it straight away.

Ahh, that’s right, he’d been thinking about a wedding present. His brain knew how to hold onto important things after all.

Both Naruto (the person) and naruto (the topping) had helped Teuchi out a lot. He wanted to show his gratitude in return, but unfortunately the things he could do were limited. What Teuchi could is what he always did: make ramen.

But then, that wasn’t a bad thing, Teuchi thought.

The relationship between Teuchi and Naruto was that of a shopkeeper and his most regular customer. When it came to what Teuchi knew about Naruto…well, he knew the boy loved Teuchi’s ramen with a deep and pure passion…

At the end of the day, despite knowing each other for years, Teuchi and Naruto had been mutually impeded from talking about anything else since they both wholly devoted themselves to concentrating on the ramen on the counter between them.

Since Teuchi was like that, and Naruto was like that, it was already clear that the only gift he could give was ramen, right?

Teuchi reached out to the memo pad he kept nearby, and wrote three words on it:

Free Ramen Pass

It was a voucher that would let Naruto eat all the ramen he liked from Ichiraku’s for free. Surely, he’d be delighted with this gift.

No, hold on a moment.

Teuchi scribbled a few more words.

Free Ramen Pass – Valid for One Year

There we go. Teuchi nodded in complete satisfaction.

Wedding presents were all well and good, but that didn’t mean money grew up trees. Teuchi feared his shop would end up disappearing from the strain of unpaid noodles if he went too over the top.

Either way, Naruto would be delighted with this gift, since he could eat all the ramen he loved. He loved ramen a lot, so he’d probably come over every day.

Every day. From morning till night.

He’d bring along his wife and say “Alright, I’m gonna eat ramen until every cell in my body is made of ramen!”

And then he’d eat.

And eat, and eat, and eat, and eat, and eat…and Teuchi’s store collapsed.

Inside Teuchi’s mind, he could see his daughter Ayame going absolutely stiff with shock and staring at their collapsed store. Ayame, who worked so cheerfully and energetically to attract customers to their store was staring sadly at its tattered remains.

Teuchi didn’t know what to say to her, and stayed stock still in shock.

“One year…is a long time…” Ayame whispered, a large tear falling down her cheek.

It was a nightmare. How had this happened? Why had the store collapsed? They’d only been making ramen…

“Gah…” Teuchi frantically shook his head to rid himself of the frightening images.

Calm down. Calm down, Teuchi. Be cool-headed. Indeed, a year is too long…

Free Ramen Pass – Valid for One Year Half a Year

Half a year… No, no that wouldn’t do either.

The pen in Teuchi’s hand squeaked from strain as he gripped it far too tight.

Free Ramen Pass – Valid for One Year Half a Year One Month

Teuchi let go of his pen, nodding.

This would do. Wait no, he still felt a little frightened…

Free Ramen Pass – Valid for One Year Half a Year One Month One Week

Teuchi’s breathing had gotten a little laboured. When had that happened?

He was picturing Naruto’s reaction…

“One whole week?! Alright, then I better eat ten bowls of ramen every day!”

It was no good!

Teuchi put the memo pad far away from him. How could he think this was the solution? Vouchers would only bring misery and destruction. It would wreak havoc on him and his daughter.

“Ohhh…oh no…” Teuchi was crying at the horrific images his imagination brought to life.

Thanks to his carelessly written voucher, Ayame would be out on the cold, dark streets. She’d meet some shitty man and get married to him!

Ayame, how could you do this to me? To marry a buckwheat noodle maker’s son! You don’t have the right to call me ‘father’. Leave. Leave my sight or I’ll dump ramen over both our heads!

“Nooo….ohh no, nooo…” Teuchi groaned, cradling his head in his hands.

A free pass was impossible. If he did that, he wouldn’t be able to make a livelihood.

Then, what should he do? He had to put a time limit or number of bowls limit, otherwise it would be a disaster. Even if he told Naruto ‘only eat as much as common sense allows’, Teuchi’s common sense and Naruto’s common sense weren’t the same thing.

That being said, any gift he could give that wasn’t ramen felt like it wouldn’t have any meaning. It was an impossible situation.

“Good afternoon,” Teuchi called out to a new customer who just came in.

“One large serving of ramen, please.” The customer said, “Ah, and extra naruto.”

Naruto really has been popular lately. It used to be that it barely sold, but nowadays Teuchi was stocking up ahead of time to make sure he never ran out.

Teuchi switched over his distraught feelings for professionalism as he started making the ramen. As always, he devoted himself entirely to the task, and added the naruto topping at the very last stage. He put in the extra naruto too, arranging them nice and careful.

It looked like naruto’s place at the top of the Popular Toppings list was safe for quite a good while.

“Here you go, order up!” Teuchi slid the ramen towards his customer, and went back to worrying.

He pulled back the memo pad, opening a new, blank page. The customer was happily munching on the naruto i his ramen. It was alright even if he asked for more helpings of the topping. Teuchi had a whole mountain-full of them already cut up and ready.

Teuchi looked at the mountain of cut-up naruto that he’d arranged on a tray in his work area.

The memo pad’s new page was white, just like most of naruto was white. But naruto wasn’t just white. It also had that lovely spiraling whirlpool pattern.

Those naruto were good things. Teuchi thought.

Teuchi’s mind was blank, and the memo pad he had in his hand was blank, but the naruto wasn’t, because it had that lovely, fascinating spiral. For a while, Teuchi continued to silently stare at the mountain of naruto.

And then…

One Free Serving of Naruto

Before he even realised what he was doing, Teuchi had written that line on the memo pad. He put down the pen. Then, just as quickly, he picked it back up.

One Free Serving of Naruto

This wouldn’t do either. It was too small a gift, he was worrying too much. Teuchi kept trying to think of a gift option that wouldn’t let his worst fears come to life.

It was thanks to Naruto (the person) that naruto (the topping) had gotten so popular, so Teuchi couldn’t behave so small-mindedly.

But, as important as a wedding gift was, if he acted too recklessly, then his imagination taunted him with images of Ayame out on the cold streets, marrying some irresponsible bastard.

What he needed was something with perfect balance. It had to be something that carried a deep love of ramen, but also something that wouldn’t put the store in danger of bankruptcy, some kind of splendid gift that combined both those factors.

Teuchi’s thoughts started churning again.

It’s thanks to Naruto (the person) that naruto (the topping) is so popular. So in that case…

Teuchi found his resolve, and wrote out a new sentence on his memo pad.

As he did, he thought of how Naruto looked when he ate his ramen. That look the boy always had, of being so happy he couldn’t even speak.

That grin of Naruto’s was unfair. It was underhanded. Any owner of a ramen store would turn to mush when they saw it. 

Whenever he thought of that look, Teuchi couldn’t help but think:

I always want to see this face.

“Alright.” Teuchi gave a satisfied nod. He’d finally found the right wedding present.

All You Can Eat naruto, For as Long as You Want!!

*naruto, as you can tell, are the fish cakes Naruto happens to share his name with. Lol, there are lots of puns in this chapter, with some subtle references to Naruto & Sasuke with the whole naruto and seaweed thing, but yeah. I tried to make the distinction clear by never writing naruto the topping with capital letters.

** and yeah, in case anyone’s confused, Teuchi’s final gift option was a lifetime supply of naruto, for Naruto. Ahaha, aww Teuchi, tbh.

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