Going back to Japan without a feeling of accomplishment. A strongly realized absolute lack of understanding of materials.
So you trained for three years in Germany and one year in France, determined to learn genuine techniques and culture, bring it back to Japan, and share it.You came back when you were 28 years old.
In my case, I came back with my heard still in Europe. But I also had to face reality, so I started working at my father’s workshop in Kagoshima as a manager.
At first, I tried hard to recreate things with the techniques I learned in Germany, but it didn’t go well at all. I learned techniques and recipes but I absolutely lacked an understanding towards the materials. And understanding should be directly proportional to the length of training. Therefore I faced struggles and regrets.
It was not an easy field. I realized that it would really take a long time to be a craftsman.
Then I worked with my father for several years, but I felt the desire to run a shop that I dreamt up, so I opened my long-awaited first shop in Rokkomichi, Kobe,
There was a day with sales of only 2,000 yen, and 3 tough years until the shop got on track.
That was 13 years ago. What was the reaction like after opening?
Kobe is the town where I was born and therefore I always had it in mind. To begin with, it’s the place where western culinary culture, like bread and sweets, was established, and bread usually comes with some sort of processed meats. I assumed that charcuterie would be accepted more readily here, but the results were actually quite miserable.
The cultural difference was indeed a big obstable. From the start, I had a strong desire to revive genuine flavors, displaying blood sausages and jelly made from pork head, but there were customers who bought them and complained. Of course I explained the preservation methods and how to eat the foods, but there were people who didn’t like it, complaining that “the texture was squishy.”
We did not succeed in attracting repeaters, and there was a day with a sales of just 2,000 yen.
For the first three years it felt as if it might close down at anytime.
How did you come back from that? Was there a turning point?
Hams and sausages really depend on the materials. So it takes an understanding toward those ingredients and the experience to control them.
For example, the temperature and humidity are higher in Japan, so pigs don’t eat much food during the summer. Just like humans, they take in more water, so their taste gets lighter. These things are totally different depending on the weather, temperature, and humidity, even within Japan. The job requires analysis of this data. You need to touch the meat, feel it, and think.
You have to repeat that process and learn from it. You have to reduce your failures little by little.As for the ingredients, it is hard to get pork on a regular basis in Kansai, so I searched for a livestock farmer that grew the ideal pigs by touring the country. Sometimes I told the farmers what kind of pork I wanted them to make, and we helped each other to make the ideal materials.
Our days without much sales continued, but I kept improving little by little, keeping the philosophy of “Delivering genuine tastes to Japan.” Then, through the word of mouth of people who used to live in Europe and expats living in Japan, gradually more and more people heard of this shop with genuine meats. They would come, enjoy the food, and then bring their friends.Then, when the shop was featured on the entire front page of the newspaper, that was the big turning point.
So you gradually saw more and more customers, and you became confident in your products.And your shop was finally getting on track.
It took three years to keep myself from giving up, but I think it was a training experience for me, as an owner and a craftsman. And then in my fourth year I returned to France.
I had been thinking of training in France one more time, and fortunately I was able to train with Mr. Gilles Verot, owner of Maison Verot, a charcuterie in Paris.
Mr. Gilles Verot has many awards from French competitions, and aside from the main branch in Paris he has shops in New York, London, and Toronto.He is very talented not only as a craftsman but also as an owner. When I had a chance to meet him I told him, “I was not able to complete my training in France once before. I want to learn from you.” He rejected my request, saying he never accepted such requests, but I shared a passionate message, from the bottom of my heart, and I got my chance.
It was your second time in France. Was the learning experience richer this time around?
It was different. As I gathered experience as an owner, I gained more knowledge and depth, drastically, even in that short period.
Food processing is a world of science based on data and logic.For example, the protein in meat breaks down at certain temperatures.If you do this for this long, what happens… If you do that for that long after slaughtering, what happens… And so on. Controlling all of that with precision is what produces unique receipes and brings out the characteristics of owners.
The things I couldn’t understand previously due to lack of experience could then be understood, and I was able to learn using both my head and my senses.
After that, the reactions of our customers became even better.
How do you feel about managing your store, and your plans for the future?
In order to do a good job, you need a good team full of good people.There is a charcuterie culture established in Europe already, so there are many students looking for places to train while they are still in school.
On the other hand, it’s not at all a well-known job in Japan.
I want to build the foundation for it to succeed as a culture for the next century and beyond.