My childhood, when I already knew I would succeed my parents’ fish shop
I heard you were born in Tokyo. What kind of childhood did you have?
I was born in 1968. My parents had a fish shop. Therefore, they always had me helping them, ever since I was a child. It was around the time when supermarkets became more popular. Because of this, my parents’ business was tapering off but I still thought vaguely that I would succeed it in the future… My father always woke up at 6 am and came back at 9:30 am from the shore. When he came back, he told me to bring freshwater clams to the sushi restaurant next to our house. I did the delivery. However, the sushi restaurant owner’s impression was not that good to me. He always had messy hair, as if he just woke up. He told me to leave the freshwater clams somewhere while he drank tea and read a newspaper. That’s why I didn’t have a positive image of sushi restaurants. Also, sushi for my family meant sushi rolls, so I had never eaten nigiri-style sushi.
I dreamed about becoming a professional sushi chef and sent a letter to become an apprentice when I was 18.
You didn’t have a good image of sushi chefs, so what made you think of becoming a sushi chef?
I was quite a bad student when I was at junior high school! I started going to a part-time high school. When I was thinking of what to do in the future, the food industry was becoming like a fad in Japan.
It was about that time when the food critic Masuhiro Yamamoto appeared on TV.
At that time, ramen got people’s attention the most. Next was French, and third was sushi. Asakusa’s Bentenyama Bikako Sushi and Sukiyabashi’s Sukiyabashijiro, which were introduced in the media, were very different from how I thought sushi restaurants to be. Therefore, I started dreaming about becoming one because I thought they were so cool!
Ah, there is one more thing. A comic book called Dokonjogaeru (*1) had a character named Ume-san, who was one of the reasons I decided to become a sushi chef.
I thought, “I can do anything if I have passion, even if I were stupid..?! ” I had a strong impression of him in this comic.
*1 Manga titled “Dokonjogaeru”
This is a famous comic book written by Yasumi Yoshizawa. The main characters are a frog called “Pyonkichi,” and a junior high school boy named Hiroshi. Ume-san is one of the characters and is a sushi chef. A headband he wears and his huge chin are his trademarks, and he is a very talented chef but also obstinate and fights at a drop of a hat. There were scenes where he bumped into a telegraph pole, then flipped over a sushi platter.
So your feelings of admiring sushi chefs became bigger and bigger. How did you exactly get into the sushi chef world?
I am the oldest of four brothers. I knew my parents’ fish shop was not doing well so I worked hard. When I was in high school, I worked part-time at a cardboard box shop from 5:30 in the morning. I mainly collected waste materials. From 9 am, I worked at my friend’s parents’ sushi restaurant.My school started at 5:30pm and then I went back to the sushi restaurant after I finished school.During those busy days, I was into a drama on NHK called “Ikino Iiyatsu” (*2) while on my summer holiday. The main character is the owner of a sushi restaurant called Tsuruhachi in Kanda Jimbocho. Kazuhiko Kanayama played the role of the main character.
When I went to a driver’s licence center in Fuchu to get my license, I dropped by a bookstore to kill time. A book called “Kanda Tsuruhachi Sushibanashi” got my attention.
The band on the book said, “This is the original story of the drama “Ikino Iiyatsu”” so I bought it right away. I read the book and was very impressed by it. I wrote a letter to the owner (Yukio Morooka) to ask him to let me do my apprenticeship at his restaurant as soon as I read the book. This gave me a chance to succeed in my work. I was 18 years old.
*2 An NHK drama titled “Ikino Iiyatsu”
It’s a dramatic TV program based on the book “Kanda Tsuruhachi Sushibanashi,” which was written by Yukio Morooka.
It’s a story about a young chef who does his apprenticeship at a sushi restaurant in Yanagibashi, Tokyo after the end of World War Ⅱ. Kaoru Kobayashi played the role of the stubborn sushi chef.
You have such an ability to take action! What happened after you sent the letter?
I received a phone call from him. He said, “I received your letter but I can’t hire you because we have enough employees.” However, he asked me if I was interested in doing my apprenticeship at a restaurant which his former apprentice opened some years ago. So that’s how I met Shinbashi Tsuruhachi. Part-time high schools are four years long, so I started working at the shop after I graduated from high school at the age of 19. I started my career as a sushi chef there. Then, I did my apprenticeship under the owner of Shinbashi Tsuruhachi, Hisataka Ishimaru, for 11 years.