The era of being a company man who ate his way around town, yearning for the culinary world.
What was the impetus that led you to enter the culinary world?
As a child and even as a student, I never once had the inclination to aim for a position in the cooking industry. I was born in Hokkaido and I came to Tokyo for university. So, cooking for myself was quite normal.
I only became interested in cooking after I became a working member of society. I got a job at a trading company but it turned out that would be assigned to position in Osaka and living in Kansai. The business hours there were relatively lax, so I would get up early and after finishing up at work, I’d walk around trying different restaurants at night. It was during that time eating out at various spots around town that I started to become interested in the culinary industry. I had the sort of feeling like even though I was working at a large company, it wasn’t like I would become the president or anything, and I wondered what I should do about the future.
Because, in the long run, working at a company means that people with a knack for it rise to the top, I did get the impression that it was unfair in some respects, but I didn’t quit the company because I had become fed up. I’m not sure when it started, but I had this feeling that in the future I’d like to open a restaurant. I’d always considered someday choosing a type of business that doesn’t require lengthy training, like a yakitori or curry shop, and then trying my hand at running it.
So you left the corporate life and launched your own shop. What was it like when you quit your company?
When I discussed quitting with my wife, she was very opposed to the idea [laughs]. It took about a year and a half to convince her and leave my job. It was a very stable company and I’m not quite the kind of person suited to customer service, so there were a lot of people around me saying “There’s no way you’re cut out for the customer service world!” Yet no matter how much resistance i met, I didn’t really imagine myself failing. To tell you the truth, even now I’m not really sure if I’ve failed or succeeded in the end [laughs]. But I’m able to do the work that I love, so I have no complaints.
The appeal of yakitori’s ease and depth.
What was the reason for choosing a yakitori shop?
Even though I was walking around trying the food at various places, I was still a salaried worker, so I often went to yakitori shops or pubs rather than to places serving expensive French or Japanese cuisine. In those days yakitori restaurants were just chain stores. I noticed that there were very few shops that offered proper sake or cuisine. Therefore, I started training in earnest and wondered, “If I created a yakitori shop with various kinds of sake available, would there be a demand for it?”
There is a low barrier to comfortably enjoying yakitori; even young people with an interest in food can easily get into it. But after becoming more acquainted with it, I realized it had a lot of depth. That aspect was very appealing. Of course, in terms of age, I was in my 30s and starting a study of Japanese cuisine from that point was a bit difficult; I wondered whether that would be an easy challenge to complete. Eating at a restaurant called Keikiya was what made me realize the depth of yakitori. Their way of grilling meat was masterful and their flavors were entirely different. I realized that the grilling method can change the yakitori’s flavor so much!