■Concurrently working as a proprietress and landscape gardener.
First, please tell us what inspired you to start a restaurant.
The truth is, I mainly work as a landscape gardener. When I was younger, while on a field trip in Kyoto, I saw Saiho-ji temple and was moved. I thought wistfully, “If I were able to make a garden like this–!” In those days, men also dominated 1the landscape gardening world, so it was a hard path for a woman. But I got a job at an architecture company and was able to start my desired work of landscape gardening. However, subcontracted workers for gardening are also all men and so at first, even when I gave directions on-site, they wouldn’t listen to anything I said. But I loved my work and didn’t want to quit. As I kept putting forth effort, slowly the workers came to recognize my dedication and follow my orders. Through that experience I was able to learn how to contend with stubborn workers and do good work, which I think I’m using now.
Then in my thirties, I began to think, “I want to be a lone wolf and work independently as a landscape gardener!” But there is little landscape gardening work, and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to support myself with that alone. So I started working as the owner of Aji-ichizen, a small restaurant near a Sogo department store. That was the initial impetus for filling the dual roles of “landscape gardener” and “restaurant proprietress.”
Of course, running a restaurant and being a proprietress were both new experiences for you, right?
Yes, I started from absolutely nothing by borrowing money. I also have no training in being a proprietress, so while I was managing the restaurant my customers taught me a lot, and I learned how to handle things. My parents were running a traditional sawachi-ryori restaurant in Kochi, but I had never helped…and they never helped me. [laughs] It was very hard, but I don’t feel I endured hardship. I really enjoyed making customers happy and had fun, so I was utterly absorbed in it.
While being a proprietress, I also continued landscape gardening. I’m totally blackened with dirt as a landscape gardener by day, and help customers as a hospitable proprietress by night…two extremes, but it’s a good transformation! [laughs] The language I can use as a gardener or proprietress is also totally different. [laughs]
■Buttering up difficult workers.
As a proprietress, was it difficult using chefs who takes great pride in their craft?
When interacting with workers, I go with foundations as they are. If you make the mistake of thinking, “Don’t underestimate me!” and puff yourself up around difficult workers, they’ll just do the same. I openly ask about things I don’t know. I take the attitude of asking older workers to teach me. Of course one can’t look down on others…the colder someone is, the more I intentionally butter them up.
I like antiques, so I also have qualifications to buy and sell antiques, but antique auctions are also male-centered. The moment you appraise a good item and decide to buy it, you have to make your offer. I enter that rough world with a woman’s flexibility and determination. Seductiveness or cuteness are no good. I continue studying people’s manifold qualities and striving for equality. So the auction store men praise me by saying, “You’re more than a man!” [laughs]
And no matter what, skilled workers want to use good materials, and good dishes…but if I do exactly what they want, it will cost a lot. Using auctions, I can stock good dishes for cheap, and I also buy flowers for arrangements in my restaurant directly at the wholesale market. I also tend my garden and arrange flowers with my own hands, so I personally produce an atmosphere that is welcoming to customers. The master gardeners and chefs are the same, but they definitely recognize that I am putting forth the utmost effort and doing good work on par with skilled craftsmen. I build up a relationship of trust with the workers and we create even better things together.