■Wanting to convey the goodness of Japan’s four seasons.
Why did you open the current restaurant “Musoan”?
While running my first restaurant, Aji-ichizen, I started to want a restaurant that offered more courteous service and higher quality to a smaller customer base. I also wanted to be particular about dinnerware and atmosphere, and have people admire for the plants of each season and taste the goodness of Japanese cooking. So I opened my second restaurant, Musoan, that welcomes customers with a limited two-set offering per day. When I opened it 22 years ago, I planted 600 varieties of mountain wildflowers in the garden. The environment didn’t suit them and now there are about 300 varieties, but in spring the garden is filled with flowers.
The head chef who takes care of my kitchen has been with me ever since the Aji-ichizen days. He has worked 31 years without being late or absent. He’s very stubborn and cannot compromise whatsoever on materials, but I think it’s thanks to him that we were picked up by Michelin and have the current Musoan. I have a very positive personality and always say, “It’s OK, it’s OK!” But he’s very cautious and says, “Can’t do it, can’t do it.” [laughs] He’s bad at superficial chitchat and wants to get to the bottom of things, so I think we’re just the right balance.
■Dreams are things you hold, and that are granted.
What’s the secret of your power in constantly continuing to try new challenges?
I think it’s the desire to move forward, even if it’s just one step. And if I think something’s good, I don’t put it off, but adopt it right away.
For example, for some time I looked for wine that would go with Japanese cuisine, but there wasn’t much wine that matched salmon roe, sea urchin, and other fish eggs. At that time, someone introduced me to wine made from mountain grapes in Yamanashi. I contacted the place right away, but they told me, “We produce small amounts, so we can’t sell to you.” Maybe one would ordinarily give up at that point, but then they said, “If you want wine seedlings, we can give you those.” So I thought, “I have to raise grapes for making wine myself!”
Then I went to the tax office to get permission to make alcohol, but application was very difficult. I didn’t understand how to get permission and the explanation was incomprehensible. But I couldn’t move forward without having it explained to me, so I visited the office countless times. While I was there, at last a clerk took interest in it as well, and taught me all sorts of things. I think true passion is conveyed to others. Now, I go to the grape fields at 5 AM to do fieldwork. Unfortunately, there are no wineries in Nara prefecture, so I’m having a winery in Shiga prefecture make wine from the grapes I raise; but I’d like to have a Nara winery do it! …That’s another dream, so I’m putting the pressure on. [laughs]
It’s nice to just look at dreams, but dreams are things you hold, and have granted. And only people who hold dreams can see the opportunities. Next year, I’m relocating the restaurant near Nara Park, and I think that’s also because I’ve been holding dreams all along.
How did you come to relocate the restaurant?
At the current restaurant, we can only welcome customers with two sets at day and night, so I wanted to be able to serve slightly more customers. I was thinking so for a while, and then the chance came around: Nara prefecture sought consignment applications from businesses that could make good use of a plot of land that it owned, and 17 companies applied. The rent is the same price, and it was a “proposal method” competition where the company that proposed a good plan could use the land, so…I went at it like it was life or death! [laughs] People from other shops made proposals created with professional agents, but I couldn’t spend that kind of money, so it was all personally handmade. [laughs] I created the proposal documents while learning a lot from people I knew, and I also did the presentation myself. I managed to win the competition, and got my hands on the rights to open my restaurant there! The new location is a wonderful place near Nara Park with 990 square meters of land. Actually, the building only covers 20% of the land…[laughs] For a landscape gardener like myself I’m happy about that, and I’m supervising the new restaurant garden as well, thinking of it as the grand culmination of my gardening…
At the new location, I plan to make a reservation system for private rooms that inherits the current Musoan system, but I also want to create tables that customers can enjoy without reservations, and I’d also like to make a dinnerware gallery…so my dreams are steadily expanding. I also put this in the competition proposal, but the most delicious places in Nara open so early! I want customers to see Nara hazy in the dreamlike morning fog, and I’m thinking of opening in the morning and offering the Nara specialty “chagayu” [tea rice porridge]. It’s rough opening shop early, and I think it’s hard to make profits, but I’m being allowed to open a restaurant here, and if I can somehow repay Nara…those are my thoughts.