Indefatigable Passion at Seventy Three
Outside of Kagaman, you are also widely active in Tokyo and Kyoto. What is your stance on this?
Outside of Kagaman, I speak with various wealthy individuals about producing oden hot pot restaurants in Tokyo and Osaka; and in my mid-thirties, I worked as a cooking advisor for a restaurant group in Hiroshima.
With this in mind, I do not think about anything besides Japanese cuisine. Of course I enjoy eating other cuisines. But when it comes to cooking, you must be a specialist.
Producing can certainly be tough, but the tougher the job, the greater my enthusiasm. Also, I hate being treated as an old man, so I’m always looking for new challenges [laughs].
I am often enlightened by the wisdom of others through this kind of work. It is a kind of schooling.
When I was an advisor in Hiroshima, the individuals I taught were initially quite conservative, but over the course of sixteen years, they began to follow me and cook delicious food, which was very rewarding.
Mr. Saka, you are seventy three years old. Do you ever think of retiring?
Never! It’s not as though I’m out there at the cutting board in front of my customers every day, but I’m there to make sure everything tastes just right. If it happened that I lost my appetite for food, that would be the end of my career. And there’s nothing for me outside of my job. I’ve made a life-long commitment. I can do it because I enjoy it.
I get the impression that you are devoted to work. But do you have any hobbies?
I like going to see kabuki performances, even super kabuki. I also enjoy Cirque du Soleil, and when Corteo came to Osaka, I went to see it eight times! There were so many moments that shocked me into exclaiming, “Ah-ha!” and, “This is so fun!” It taught me a lot. It’s the same with building a restaurant: No matter how delicious the food is, if the service is poor, you won’t succeed. I quite like the idea of service, actually.
It’s also important to eat at your own restaurant. For the purpose of learning. Before getting distracted by other people’s food, you should eat your own and ask yourself if you are offering it at a price that fits its value.
A Message From One of the Greats of Japanese Cuisine
Would you mind saying a few words to our young people aspiring to work in the food and beverage industry?
It’s important to develop a passion.
You don’t have to be smart, and it’s okay if you lack refinement. What’s important is how deeply you develop your passion for cooking.
The classics are the foundation of all cuisines. Treasure them. Whether it be Japanese, Chinese, or whatever, I hope that you pick your path and commit to it. And I hope that you strive to make people exclaim how incredibly delicious Japanese cuisine is or how flavorful rice can be. It takes time. But I hope that you develop a passion for eating and give it your all while enjoying yourself at the same time.
（Interviewer: Takashi Ichihara, Writer: Marin Takase, Photographer: Wakana Noya）