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In a Tokyo neighborhood's last sushi restaurant, a sense of loss

33 Comments
By Mari Saito

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This is the bittersweet story of places all over Japan. The "old" days where people only had the choice of the local shops or restaurants are long gone.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

This is very regrettable, I hope they can comtinue. My family prefers Kappa-Zushi, more variety, especially for kids. “Mom and Pop” stores like this should lower the prices to compete.

-21 ( +1 / -22 )

“Mom and Pop” stores like this should lower the prices to compete.

Regretable, maybe. Lowering prices is not going to solve the problem, people are not going to come to their shops anyway. Even the picture show why. The place looks dingy, screams out "Showa Jidai" (Showa Era) and a place that the casual passerby, IF there are even any, would think that it's closed.

10 ( +12 / -2 )

Thank you Mari Saito. An evocative piece of work. We need to be reminded that many parts of Tokyo are a collection of villages.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

This is an excellent article. Thanks JT.

I think there will be a return of these unique shops when consumers are tired of merely consuming.

6 ( +10 / -4 )

They may be old and dingy however they don't scream Showa Era to me. 37 years here and I still prefer these places. They offer the real Japanese experience, and down to earth and personal service. I love my old local Mom and Pop places for a meal.

16 ( +16 / -0 )

I have nothing against the old "Mom and Pop" places, not at all. However sadly too, far too many do not have the desire, due to their age for the most part, to make any changes, cosmetic or otherwise, to bring in or attract the next generation of customers.

I frequent a place that is very much like this, but fortunately the kids and grandkids of the "first" customers often come there as they were "raised" in the establishment and the "Mom and Pop" are a part of their "extended" relations!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Interesting article. Any ideas where it is?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

A finely detailed report. Several clues as to why this place is going to vanish.

No address, no way to find the place unless one can uncover "Medaka street". Seems the place does not want to be found or have more customers.

Smoking inside. That is why I rarely even bother to step inside such places. Everything is covered in nicotine. Not appetizing.

Tables too low for creaking old people? Build normal tables with chairs.

Refurnishing the street front appearance. Nothing to recommend it.

I appreciate the aging crane operator saying there is no place like this and how much he appreciates it. Still...

5 ( +7 / -2 )

No address, no way to find the place unless one can uncover "Medaka street". Seems the place does not want to be found or have more customers.

https://tabelog.com/tokyo/A1305/A130504/13070687/

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Great article. Thank you JT and Mari Saito.

It's my daughter's birthday today," he says. Mitsue nods. Everyone knows he hasn't seen her in years. 

This is the saddest part.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

My first experience with Sushi was in a small mom and pop store like this. At the time i didnt even eat cooked fish, but i decided to give it a try. I have since had sushi at much cheaper places, and MUCH more expensive places, but nothing tasted as good as the sushi that came with the conversation and atmosphere at that place. Sadly, as indicated in the article, the place shut down in the years that followed - nobody to take over the business since the chef's son wanted to become a salaryman.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

This story could be retold anywhere outside Tokyo, too. Every city and town I've lived in Japan has places like Eiraku, slowly going out of business.

When I was small in the 60s and 70s, chain restaurants were rare and small family-run businesses were everywhere. Hard to beat the big chains.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

Sounds just like the kind of grotty, smelly establishment I wouldn't step foot in if you paid me to.

-9 ( +2 / -11 )

Wonderful and poignant article. It reminds me of my own village where the family owned stores and grocers were slowly consumed by the franchises and it became more and more difficult to compete. The big chains helped destroy all that, shops that were community focal points.

Thanks for publishing Mari Saito's atmospheric and timely piece.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

I am sure the regulars love it (although clearly not enough and they are also dying off) but not sure I would want to eat there.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Well-written piece. In Japanese, this is called kuudouka, or hollowing out. The traditional middle of the economy is vanishing, leaving the low end (100 yen sushi with paper thin fish, sometimes still half frozen as the dish hits the table), which is dominated by chains, and branded super high-end (Michelin sushi) for the wealthy few.

This is happening right across the economy, but because the specific subject matter here is sushi, the back story is the price of fish, which has been climbing rapidly, not least because other countries have been joining Japan on the overfishing bandwagon. Climate change doesn't help either.

The fishing situation means that many types of sushi, not just sardines, are ultimately unsustainable. According to my mother, fish and chip shops in the UK used to serve wild salmon as cheaply as cod. Well, that doesn't happen any more either.

Since they relied on overfishing, or at least on Japan consuming a vastly disproportionate amount of the world's seafood, perhaps we should not mourn the passing of small sushi restaurants. We should mourn the loss of opportunity for people wanting to run small businesses and the character they give individual locales.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Great article.

It is sad that these places are dying off to be replaced by bland corporate chains.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

@Yubaru, how did you ever find the location?

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Beautiful and well-written article, and thanks, Yubaru, for the heads-up on where this restaurant is located.

I suppose this is the way things go, but it's sad to see it.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

They charge you 30 percent more if you order by fax, online or by phone,"

Can someone explain to me the business logic of this? 30% more to order on line?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Agree with others, beautifully written article, touches on many important issues facing modern Japan/world (this is a worldwide phenomenon) i.e loneliness, depression, challenges faced by family-owned biz etc.

Support family-run/independent restos, cafes, bakeries, izakayas over chains a la starbucks, kfc etc folks (make it your new year resolution).

"It's just me now," he says, his mouth still half-full with vinegary rice and fresh fish. He nods at the man and woman behind the counter. "You're lucky you have each other." Chef Masatoshi Fukutsuna and his wife, Mitsue, smile without a word.

I know he's hurting but there's no need for thinly-veiled jabs at others' perceived 'happiness'.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

It's always a sad loss when places like this goes out of business. I really like these kinds of businesses where they know you and where many generations of family and friends have gone. I really respect these businesses and am happy there are a few left in my neighborhood. I'm sorry I didn't get to visit his place, but I'm sure there are lots of memories.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Indeed a wonderfully melancholic piece of writing .

The reason for these places dissapearing so fast is well surmised by Gambare,s comment.

This is very regrettable, I hope they can comtinue. My family prefers Kappa-Zushi, more variety, especially for kids. “Mom and Pop” stores like this should lower the prices to compete.

Wanting places like this to survive by lowering prices ( the owners can live on thin air ) but at the same time going to Kappa sushi chain. ...

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Excellent writing, emotional article. More like this please, JT!

Like many others, I also find myself conflicted. I find mom and pop shops heartwarming and an important part of the culture of a town. But I'm also attracted by the prices and convenience of the big chains. Perhaps, as @goldorak said, it's a good New Year's Resolution to set - to keep giving business to these types of places.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Great article, very melancholy.

On the one hand, there is the sadness that what was before can no longer continue.

Bad or good, it is the way life is.

On the other hand, there is the recognition that this is the course of life.

Doesn't make it right, but life evolves and things change.

The Showa Era world in Japan is coming to a close, 30 years after the Showa Emperor died. In some ways, the 2020 Olympics is the last hurrah for the Showa jidai.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

The Original Wing: "Excellent writing, emotional article. More like this please, JT!"

Glad some people like it. Personally I thought it was cheesy, over the top, and completely devoid of emotional scoring. And what a terrible ending! (not that I like or demand happy ones) Hence, the tone the "story" (and it is that, not an article) starts off with becomes monotone, and it's hard to feel any pity for what's going on -- which took far too long to get to. And I don't believe the story for a second, either; it's what we call "unreliable narrator".

As for the issue I think this short story is supposed to be touching on, with the far-too obvious "I think they'll put a gyoza chain here" near the end, am I to feel sorry for this place and these people? Why? These shops going under because of large chain shops has been the reality of it since supermarkets came about.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

The restaurants that think they will go out of business if they ban smoking will go out of business because they won't ban smoking.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

gaijintrav - my sentiments exactly.

I never go into such establishments these days (for years) not because of the friendliness or ok food of course, but because of stinking smoke.

At a counter sushi bar 15+years ago that my Japanese friend took me to, when asked how was the sushi, I replied something like, "I think it's good, but there's too much smoke in here spoiling the delicate flavour". I said in Japanese and easy earshot of the few other customers.

To this day I believe the "Master" agreed with me by his sympathetic look, but 15 years ago, no-one could tell a customer to stop smoking, even in a taste sensitive environment like a sushi bar.

And still they don't get it. Good food & tobacco don't mix, at least not in a public eating place.

Hard heads.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

gaijintraveller: Another good point! In the story everyone should be hacking with smoker's cough, a haze floating at head level since there's likely no exhaust fan, and the walls yellow and dripping. They might do more business if they realized that a lot of people don't like to eat with others blowing smoke in their faces.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

In my experience, the best sushi restaurants, whether in Japan or outside of Japan, are mom-and-pop places.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

No address, no way to find the place unless one can uncover "Medaka street". Seems the place does not want to be found or have more customers.

I think this story is not about this particular place, but a lot of places in Japan (not only sushi bars, but small restaurants too). Saving this sushi bar is not going to change the fact that the shopping street it's located at is slowly dying.

Around my place there are several of these restaurants, and I like to eat there because you find food you can't find in those big chains, being stir fried vegetables, liver with nira and pork with ginger my favorites.

The problem, for me, is the people smoking inside. I don't go anymore to some of these because it's not nice smelling tobacco smoke while you are eating.

“Mom and Pop” stores like this should lower the prices to compete.

The places I eat at have the menu prices between 650 and 850 yen. There is no way they can lower the prices. And it's clearly not a price problem, since the cost of a single dish in a chain restaurant is usually the same (or higher) these old restaurants charge for a set.

The owner of one restaurant I sometimes eat at is 82, and his wife, 78. They told me they lost most of their clients since the ryō they had in front was replaced by a drug store. But other restaurants have a healthy customer base. I think, in the end, it depends on how the neighbourhood these restaurants are at evolve.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

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