Competing with the world from Tobata! Teru Sushi’s mission

Teru Sushi
Takayoshi Watanabe

Teru Sushi is the Super Kabuki of the sushi world

What does sushi mean to you?

Mr.Watanabe:
The world of sushi comes with many rules and Edomae sushi, in particular, entails a number of unbreakable rules. Our rural sushi restaurant had to break those rules.
In Edomae sushi, serving the sushi with your hands is out of the question. You can’t even have fun with it. Teru Sushi has shattered the foundations of those strict rules like eating in a quiet environment. I figured that if people wanted Edomae sushi, they would go to Tokyo for it. Nobody would come to the countryside for Edomae, so I started doing things like passing the sushi with my hands or making the place more entertaining. For example, while kabuki is a traditional art form, Super Kabuki tries to make it entertaining. Teru Sushi is the Super Kabuki of the sushi world. That being said, customers won’t be satisfied just with fun. The underlying foundation has to be sturdy.

How do you acquire technique and knowledge about sushi?

Mr.Watanabe:
Currently, Youtube is a valuable tool for me to get information. Of course, I have learned a lot from my years in Teru Sushi as well. Because it was such a huge shop, I had to do a lot of things. I had to make 1000 pieces of sushi by myself. Making sushi is an iterative process. All those efforts have ultimately helped refine my skills as a sushi chef.

International guests flock to meet #sushibae

How did you come up with your signature pose?

Mr.Watanabe:
In the past, our sushi restaurant was more like a casual pub. Even smoking was allowed. In that kind of environment, some customers didn’t even order sushi. I used to serve the sushi by hand hand to encourage them to eat it; that’s how it started. My hands used to be in a slightly lower position back then. One day, a customer was trying to take a picture with his phone, and I extended my hands higher so that the sushi would be right in front of the camera. That’s how it happened.

You’re also quite active on Instagram, correct?

Mr.Watanabe:
That’s right. 5 years ago, who would have anticipated that people would be taking pictures on their phones and documenting their sushi experience in real-time?
A Turkish chef rose to fame with the hashtag #saltbae. I decided to go with the hashtag #sushibae. Now I have about 20,000 followers. There are no other sushi chefs with this kind of following. Even though we’re located in the countryside, about 30% of our customers come from abroad, thanks to social media. They say that they came all the way here to meet #sushibae. These customers help spread the word about Teru Sushi.
Now I have invitations to events in 15 countries. I’ll be going to events in Sweden and London in February 2019. Although I’m based in Tobata, I use inspiration from Tokyo and abroad to better serve to my hometown. I believe that both input and output are important.

Going beyond taste to strive for fun

It was a 10 year process of trial and error for you before finding your current style. What are you particular about?

Mr.Watanabe:
I want the customers to have fun. Customer usually comment on how fun it was rather than how delicious it was. I use the best ingredients, so the taste is a given. I have to add something to the taste to make it a fun experience. Here at Teru Sushi, that “something” is performance. I want to communicate with them and ensure that they are enjoying themselves. If I’m able to get that feeling across, they will leave happy with the service.

What made you pay attention the entertainment factor?

Mr.Watanabe:
I watched a promotional video of Takafumi Horie’s Wagyumafia in a Kyoto event and it blew me away. The camerawork impressed me and I thought the video was so cool. Coincidentally, the people who took the video happened to be customers of Teru Sushi. I asked them to make a promotional video for us as well (watch it here). The video boosted our popularity massively. I realized how important it was to showcase the world of sushi as a form of entertainment.

Drawing international guests to Tobata through performance

In July 2018, you were appointed a tourism ambassador for Kitakyushu City. What are your future prospects?

Mr.Watanabe:
To compete with the world from Tobata. I was appointed tourism ambassador along with Tenzushi’s Isao Amano. Visiting both Tenzushi and Teru Sushi is known as the “Amaterasu Course.” Tenzushi is a traditional joint with its own original Kyushu-style sushi while Teru Sushi showcases new styles. You won’t find other restaurants like this here. I hope to spread the word about Tobata overseas and bring in guests from all over the world.

Finally, what’s your message to all the young aspiring sushi chefs?

Mr.Watanabe:
I think many young people apprenticing in Tokyo happen to be the 2nd or 3rd generation descendants of rural sushi restauranteurs. I want to let them know that the countryside has its own unique methods, that’s why they should come apprentice with us. Using the knowledge acquired at Teru Sushi as a base, aspiring chefs can find their own formula. Luckily, Teru Sushi has become a place that has received recognition internationally. Perhaps Teru Sushi’s methods, and not Edomae, can serve as a shortcut to the world. Let’s work together to rejuvenate the countryside!

(Interviewer and writer: Ayuko Terawaki, Photographs: Yukino Nakanishi)

Teru Sushi

Inquiry
090-9567-2202
Access
3-1-7 Sugawara, Tobata Ward, Kitakyushu City, Fukuoka Prefecture
5 minutes by taxi from JR Tobata Station
Hours
Mon-Fri 12:00〜14:00/17:30〜22:30
Sat, Sun, and holidays 12:00〜14:00/17:30〜20:00/20:30〜
Closed
Fixed holiday