My ideal restaurant is a place where you can eat simple and delicious sushi at a standing counter.
How would you like your shop to be developed? Do you have any dreams?
I’m 49 and turning 50 next year. I am married but have no children so I don’t have any family members who could succeed my business. My boss said my apprentices would take over my business. There is a saying that even if you take over the restaurant curtain, you can’t take over the business. I think there is no doubt that the taste of the shop will be different. I work for a living mostly so there is always limitation, but I have my dreams. I don’t know if I can make them come true but I still dream.
Please tell me about your ideal restaurant and dream.
I would like to open a small standing sushi shop near the tree-lined area of Ginza.
I would only serve a set menu, without any side dishes. The drink menu would be only beer and tea. I would use frozen tuna on purpose. Actually if you cook it well, frozen tuna can be very delicious! I would like to create a casual atmosphere where girls from hostess bars or bellboys could drop by to drink a glass of beer and have sushi while waiting for their rides. I would like customers to say, “Why is your sushi so delicious even though you use only frozen tuna?!” I would prefer this kind of experience to gaining Michelin stars.
That’s such a cool standing sushi bar! Have you never thought about earning Michelin stars before?
For me, getting Michelin stars was something completely unobtainable. I dreamed about getting starts on my restaurant and really respected the stars. In a magazine called Bacchus, I read about a chef in Paris, Joel Robuchon, who was awarded three stars for his restaurant. He said that his biggest happiness in life was earning a star on his restaurant. I was impressed with his words and thought Michelin stars were such a great honor. When Michelin came to Tokyo, I was told that my restaurant would be awarded. At that time, I was so impressed that I had reached that level.
I see! If your restaurant is picked up in the Michelin guide, it would be more popular and it would become a great opportunity for the restaurant!
I thought I would make my parents happy and it would have a positive impact on my business. However, I decided to reject the stars after I thought about it very hard, because I wanted to restart my restaurant from scratch to make it better.
Why did you reject the offer?
The words written on my restaurant counter (sushi menu) are written by the owner of Mikawaya, the tempura restaurant.
When I received a call from Michelin, he told me one thing. He said, “In your generation, restaurant guidebooks can share information and there are so many media tools where your restaurant information can be shared easily. When we opened our restaurants, I needed to make discount tickets for customers. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have had anyone coming to my restaurant.”
At that time, I was just reviewing my business and taking actions to make it better. It was a time where I felt like adjusting my collar. I refused to take any media interviews then. Therefore, I decided to turn down Michelin and drop the whole matter. Sushi restaurants can exist and we live our lives when customers visit us and eat our sushi, then pay for them. There are some other things that come along with it, such as the rewarding feeling, but that is the main part. I just wanted to experience that. It is like, I just want to focus on making sushi. To always cherish the basics, I want to pursue my way without being bothered by others. My boss’ boss, who is a master at Miyakozushi in Asakusa Yanagibashi, gave a speech at the wedding of a son of a famous long-standing restaurant. He said, “I am sorry to throw water in this kind of place especially in front of the political circles here, but your shop’s name is listed in the phone book under “restaurants” along with many others just like it. Don’t overestimate yourself or get the wrong idea.” I am not a star. I am not an executive. I thought it would get in the way of what I want to do, so I decided to refuse any interviews and even Michelin stars. I am probably too stubborn, but I simply want to feel and experience this mindset.
(Interviewer: Osamu Saito Writer: Mito Ikemizu Photography: Tomoyasu Osakabe)