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CIRCLE OF DAYZ vol.7 Narukiyo Yoshida

In CIRCLE OF DAYZ, we take an in-depth look at those who are closely associated with DAYZ as well as other fascinating people. For the seventh installment, we interviewed Narukiyo Yoshida, the head chef at NARUKIYO, an izakaya located in the back streets of Shibuya.

The restaurant Narukiyo opened in 2003, and is now in its 19th year. What kind of places did you work at before starting your own restaurant?

Yeah, I studied at many different places. Eventually, I was picked up by a Miyazaki cuisine restaurant called Gyossantei. For a while after I came to Tokyo, I hated Tokyo, it was hard and unfamiliar. I always wanted to go back to Fukuoka. It was a time when everyone was wearing Goro's and VANSON, and Shibukaji was popular: jeans, engineer boots, and a bandana.

——Did you also dress like that, Mr. Narikiyo?

I was and still am all about 30's and 40's vintage. I still collect a lot of ties, because I’d rather wear a suit and tie rather than work. I love clothes, and I've always wanted to get into making clothes. I'm currently working on a leather jacket for Peter's that has a 20's-style silhouette. It's hard to find something in my size, so I thought "I’ll just do it my damn self".

——Your deep knowledge and love for fashion and culture is shown in your restaurant. The utensils used, the music played, and the timing in serving food. I feel like this restaurant is a culturalization of all those elements, and that's what makes it very Shibuya. Why did you choose this location?

I don’t know if you would call it a choice, it was the only place I could rent. Being from the countryside, I loved the area of Aoyama and Kotto-dori, and I found a good place in that area, but it all went sideways right before I got there. Then, I had a talk with a guy I know who owned a building. I had my dad come all the way up here from Fukuoka to co-sign for me, but when he got here, he was like “do you really wanna live here?” So, we were back to square one. I worked so hard to save up money before I started the store. I talked to the president of the place I worked, and he gave me a raise, but I blew a lot of clothes (laughs). I knew I couldn’t keep doing that, so I my wife took over control of the money. It took about four and a half years to get the business going.

——That’s quite something.

So, first of all, I had to visit mom and dad to let ‘em know I wanted to open up my own store. But I wanna go straight back to Fukuoka, so I swung by Osaka on the way for some fun (laughs). Back then, there was a standing bar near Umeda Station that I loved to hang out at., I liked how easy and cheap it was to get really good food: about 3000 yen. That's where I came up for this idea. They gave out shots of Daiginjo for fifteen-hundred or 2,000 yen. I wanted a restaurant that would be a good place to start off the night. From there, you could go to make an meet up with important contacts, head to a club, or spend time with the ladies. When I was dreaming up the thought of this place, I knew it had to have a long counter.

——I see. When you think of Narukiyo, you think of this counter, right?

Yeah, yeah. After seeing some good people in Osaka, I hurried on over to Shikoku and Kyushu. I checked out fisheries, farms, and farmers – I met a lot of vendors. Finally, when I When I finally got to my parents' house in Fukuoka, my father had a stroke. I was really into the show "Dr. Coto's Clinic" at the time. So, when I saw something wrong with my daddy, I had seen something like that on the show, and I rushed him on over to the hospital right away. For a minute there I lost all my drive to start up the store, but my daddy told me to get back to Tokyo right away or else I’d regret it. Luckily, it wasn't brain disease, and he’s still alive and kicking today.

——And then you made it back to Tokyo safely.

A real estate agent I knew happened to find the place I'm living at now, and he gave it to me pretty cheap because the area wasn’t so popular back then. There was really no one around here. It was a little bigger than I had imagined, but it was kind of nice, so I went for it. Then, when I went to start building the store, they hit me with a huge security deposit. All the money I saved for four and a half years was ... well, let’s just say it was quite a shock. I really wanted to put in a LLOYD LOOM single-panel counter, but they said it wouldn't fit. The table in the back has a Cassina CAB (chair), I love it. This store is pretty much a miracle. All kinds of people come here, but there ain’t no fights, and people don’t usually break nothing. It's a miracle that we survived in Shibuya for 19 years.

——It really feels that your customers love you.

The world is slowly turning food into fashion. It used to be that the last page of a magazine was a horoscope, but nowadays it’s all about restaurants. People are more concerned about who's going where, and which restaurants are popular. Back in the day we did a bunch of interviews with magazine, but now there ain’t so many media outlets left. Well, at least there ain’t any magazines that I wanna read.

——I'm very grateful that you agreed to be interviewed.

Bebe (WATANABE Masashi, director of DAYZ) is a reasonable guy. People say that I play favorites, but that's just the way it is. We're all human. A fish has a back and a belly. Sometimes the back tastes better, sometimes the belly tastes better. Just like that, can’t do nothing about it. But I want people to date around. Check out a bunch of different restaurants, and then if it’s here that makes them feel special, they can come on back. If you’re going on a real date with a lady that you’re really into, it’s prolly better to go somewhere more flashy than this (laughs).

——Perhaps it is because of this style that the restaurant has lasted so long. I feel that Mr. Narukiyo's aesthetic sense is reflected in the dishes at Narukiyo. Not only the taste, but the dishes and the pricing as well.

It's hard to know just what to change to suit each customer. When Bebe and the others come over, I think, 'is this the right bowl,' or 'would it look cool if I served it like this?'. It's hard to find the right balance, you do it to openly and the customers next to you might not like it. But it's great having all the different kinds of customers we do. It makes me happy to see things like when a business man in a suit is sat down right next one of them entertainment industry types.

——That's one of the things that makes Shibuya unique. It's a place where anyone can enjoy Tokyo's culture without feeling self-conscious.

I learn a lot from the variety of folks that come in and outta here. I'm getting old now, and I like seeing the young’uns coming out more and more. I'm grateful that y’all came to interview me today, but I also wonder if anyone wants to see an article with a fella who’s almost 50. It tickles me to death to be invited to work in the fashion industry, but my restaurant will always be a simple greasy spoon type place.

——I feel that your ability to come up with not only delicious dishes, but also ways to decorate and create an atmosphere is unique.

It's true that there ain’t many people who think about things like that and spend money on them. A few years ago, for a GYAKUSOU show, I created a cosmos field in the players' waiting room, inspired by Sport’s Day. We scattered fallen leaves to create an authentic Sport’s Day atmosphere. It was really cool. I love to think of things like that.

——I think it's because we know so many different cultures that we can come up with rich ideas.

I wanna be different. I'm just a romantic who appreciates style.

——I see, you’ve convinced me. Romanticism is a good expression.

I'm surrounded by a lot of romantics. They are kind and help me a lot. I never really thought about any business strategy. These days, I reckon it would be better to do would be best to use social media, but I ain’t no good at it.

——It's true that you don't use any social media.

I don't have to do that, people just come in naturally. Now that I sell lunch boxes, my neighbor's sister also comes, and I'm very happy about that. In that sense, I reckon there are a lot of customers I wouldn't have met without Corona. The young folks who work around here are all very positive, and it seems like they have more power than before.

——I'm glad to hear that.

——What are some new things you would like to do in the future?

I have a lot. I still wanna make my own clothes, and I been thinking about that since I was in elementary school. But I'd like to open a sandwich shop or a parlor near my shop. You can put whatever you want on a sandwich, and you can give it whatever name you want. I wanna do something like that with my wife. Someday, I'd also like to open a coffee shop, with my 7-inch records and a jukebox. We’ll all be old then, so it would be great if we could talk about old times and stuff there.

Text : Momoka Oba
Photo : Takao Iwasawa