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DAYZ AFTER TOMORROW vol.3 Shigeru Okada

Our Tokyo community gathers around the culture we love, regardless of occupation, gender, or age. "DAYZ AFTERTOMORROW" is a project that pays homage to a certain TV program by passing the baton from one person to another who is interested in the show. For the third installment, we interviewed Shigeru Okada, who received the baton from Takayuki Moriya, a producer in a wide range of fields including video, virtual, and technology. We will delve into his background as the man behind the udon restaurant "Menchirashi" located in Jingumae and "Tokyo BURNSIDE," which has been the venue for various parties.

To Shigeru Okada from Takayuki Moriya MESSAGE

A highly evolving human being. But you also have a part of you that doesn't evolve, and that's what makes you a fascinating human being.

To Takayuki Moriya from Shigeru Okada MESSAGE

I am proud to be a fellow member of my generation. They inspire me, even though we are in different fields.

―――Did you aspire to do food and beverage from an early age?

Shigeru(以下:S):I did not aspire to be in the food and beverage industry at all. However, I was raised by my mother alone, so it was normal for her to not come home until nighttime. I thought it was normal to have an allowance on my desk when I was in elementary school. I used to eat at restaurants around my house with that allowance, but I ran out of food when I was in the upper grades of elementary school, and that's when I decided it was time to try making my own food.

―――You are quite young to start cooking for yourself.

S:I was bored with what I was eating, so when I said I was going to cook something, I just put it in the toaster or in the microwave and put ketchup or cheese on it. However, I gradually began to devise new ways to make food, and I began to think about whether it would taste good if I added this to that, or if it would taste bad. I did this from elementary school through junior high school. When I think about it now, I think it was a good opportunity for me to think about how interesting it would be if I crossed this with that when creating menus and products. I think it was working at a bar when I was 18 that made the idea of food and beverage more realistic. Before that, I wanted to work in apparel. I wanted to work at the vintage clothing store that Mr. Ohana of N.HOOLYWOOD ran. But there were no part-time positions available at the time, so I couldn't work there. I spent my time just buying clothes (laughs).

―――Does Mr. Ohana know about that?

S:I know him now, but at that time, he was really someone I admired and was not recognized at all. Our generation was right in the heyday of Urahara, from 1996 to 1997. I was in Asakusa, but I somehow didn't fit in with Asakusa fashion. At first, I went to Ameyoko to buy clothes. From there, I learned about Harajuku and Shibuya through magazines and other information, and I was like, "What the heck is this place (laughs). From then on, I generally went to Harajuku and Shibuya, so I spent my entire high school life in those areas.

―――Why did you change your career path from apparel to food and beverage?

S:I started working in bars when I was 18 because I wanted to somehow connect with the apparel world. I also wanted to talk to a lot of people. I actually got to hang out with 24 and 25 year olds when I was an 18 year old brat, and I met some of the most exciting 30 year old stylists and photographers at the time. If I had met them during the day, I would have only been able to talk to them as senior and junior in the industry, but because it was nighttime and I was a waiter at a bar, we were equals in a sense. I had to take advantage of that position to get by. At the time, I commuted from Asakusa to Nishiazabu, where the bar was located, so I could barely sleep at noon and had to go to work in the evening. It was really night and day in reverse, and I didn't sleep at all. I think I worked at that bar for five or six years, but I don't remember except for about two and a half years (laughs).

―――But it's amazing how tough you can be without that much sleep.

S:There are many creative people of my generation, but I think I am different from them. I cannot change my stance that "the foundation of my work is food and beverage". I have set myself the task of expressing various things through food and beverage.

Moriyan(以下:M):Just about a year ago, Shigeru made a great impression on me. When he created "Tokyo BURNSIDE," he was trying to create a website. I was surprised to learn that he had connections to New Studio in New York. But when I actually asked Shigeru about it, he replied, "I'm not really connected with them, I just contacted them because New Studio is cool and I want them to work with me". I thought, "Oh, I forgot about this kind of genuine feeling," and I was amazed that he, as a producer, would work with cool people and call on them to create a site without any discovery. It was really eye-opening.

―――What kind of restaurant do you think "Okada Ryuhei" used to be?

S:I think there are a lot of neo izakaya now, but I think it was the beginning of that. At that time, there were only "Narukiyo" and "Tachimichiya" run by Mr. Okada in Daikanyama, and our restaurant, which was the only place for people of culture to go. Or restaurants like Fujihachi, where the businessmen would go. So when we created "Ryuhei Okada," we had one more choice.

M:It is true that at that time, there were really only a few izakayas where fashion people went.

―――That's a producer's idea, isn't it?

S:No, no, I didn't think about it like that at the time (laughs). First of all, I would do what I wanted to do. If I wanted to do something, I would do it this way. But at that time, I couldn't just blow things off. I started by cleaning toilets. Even Moriya didn't suddenly become a top producer at a young age. Kids today may have that kind of chance, but in our time, there was no one who suddenly blew things out of the water. It was a time when people thought white things were black, and even if they thought something was black, they would say it was white. There were times when I was underdeveloped like that, but I always thought about how I would have done it.

―――What did you do after "Ryuhei Okada"?

S:After some twists and turns, I went to Okinawa to work at a taco shop called "Mexico".

M:"Mexico" is a very famous restaurant. Because it’s in Okinawa, everyone in the industry would go to this taco shop.

S:Three years after starting the restaurant, I decided to quit "Ryuhei Okada" because I had reached a certain point in my life, and I was going to move to Okinawa with my family. Fortunately, I had friends in Okinawa, so they were very surprised when I decided to work at "Mexico". They were like, "How can Shigeru work at ‘Mexico’ when it's a famous restaurant in their neighborhood, and it's family owned (laughs). I happened to move near there and went there to eat 5 times a week because I liked "Mexico" so much. The people at the restaurant started to take an interest in me, and the owner asked me what I was doing. I said, "I'd like to find a place where I can work, but I can't work here," and he said I could start tomorrow. But, unfortunately, the hourly wage in Okinawa is low, so I couldn't make any money, so I had to quit. After that, one of my senpai happened to be working in food and beverage in Los Angeles, so I decided to go there for six months.

―――You really didn’t change from food and beverages. What did you do in LA?

S:I've never really done anything else besides eat and drink (laughs). I worked at a ramen restaurant in Los Angeles for about 5 months because it paid pretty well. They rented me a place like a dormitory, so I didn't have to spend any money. I worked, came home, and occasionally went somewhere else on my days off. But I was originally told that I could only work for about six months. So after six months, I decided not to go back to Okinawa and opened a fish burger restaurant, "Delifucious," in Tokyo instead.

―――What was your process on starting "Delifucious?

S:At that time, a good friend of mine was working at a sushi restaurant called "Ginza Aozora". I thought it would be interesting to combine hamburgers and the skills of Japanese sushi chefs. Then you opened "Menchirashi".

S:It was six months after I left "Delifucious" that I was able to start "Menchirashi". I joined my current company, en one tokyo, and at first it felt like a very long period of time because I was coming to work every day and couldn't do anything. Actually, before I joined the company, they had a café in the same place where "Menchirashi" used to be.

M:We probably didn't see each other often at that time. I was just thinking about what I was going to do. When you are in the industry for a while, you can make connections and meet interesting people. But I didn't want to work only with contacts. I had contacts, but I didn't have any substance. There were a lot of people like that around me. I don't know what this guy is doing. I don't know what he does, but he has connections. I knew this person and that person. I felt that I had become one of them, and that I was in trouble if I didn't have a proper foundation.

S:When we met after a long time, Moriyan was doing "imma-chan". I told him that I wanted to do a photo shoot at Menchirashi.

M:That was pretty early on. Of course, I remember I asked him to do it. That's when we started talking about going to grab another drink or something. I started to get to know the people he hung out with. After I became friends with the people around him, the number of times we hung out increased. I was encouraged by the fact that there were so many great creators around them. It gives me the energy to do my best in a different way.

―――When you opened "Menchirashi" in six months, what made it "Menchirashi"?

S:As I say in many places, I am a place-first type of person. Since en one tokyo is based in Harajuku, there are things that I wish existed here. So I put everything else to the side for the time being. I pull together everything from there, curry, hamburgers, udon noodles, soba noodles, whatever. Everything was good, but when I put it all together, I thought there was the one I liked best: udon. I had no idea that I wanted to open an udon shop. But I thought it would be great if there was an udon shop like this in Harajuku, so I created "Menchirashi". That's why I am happy that it has become so popular.

―――From your point of view, Moriyan, what kind of person is Shigeru?

M:A food and beverage genius? But I guess I'm a producer. If he does something, he can always hit the mark. I feel that Shigeru thinks about how to make people happy as the center of his person.

S:It's a job that can't be done without thinking about it.

M:My original experience in the past was food, food, and more food, but now I feel like it's not just about food anymore. I wonder if it would be interesting to mix this person with this person. The scope has expanded to that point. Now it is food x food, but it is also people x people. I think it is important to have grown up liking culture and clothes.

S:Yeah, yeah. Maybe I just like being around people.

M:I'm looking forward to the future, and sometimes the two of us talk about the future together. Shigeru, after all, talks about expanding overseas. S: Yeah, I'm thinking about expanding Menchirashi overseas.

S:Yeah, I'm thinking about expanding Menchirashi overseas.

―――Wow, overseas. Are you thinking of opening a new store in Japan?

S:I would like to open a second Menchirashi restaurant in Shibuya or something. However, Moriyan and I are both food lovers, and there is something good about regional areas. If I were a private person, I would never go out of my way to go to an udon restaurant in a rural area that is getting a lot of attention in Tokyo (laughs). I would go to various places and go to the popular ones in each area. But on the other hand, people in the countryside tend to bite into what's popular in Tokyo. I think it's rude to take a famous and popular udon shop and bring it to the countryside just because it's my own business. In fact, I think it would be quite rude. It just so happens that last year I took on various challenges and collaborated with a lot of people, so I think it will be very easy for people overseas to do so when they see my work.

―――Since you had worked so many different jobs with people in the fashion industry, I wondered if you had worked in food and beverage after fashion at some point.

S:I’m not really interested chatting about what creative things I could do. There are many people around me who can do that kind of thing. I am more of a "this would be fun to do" or "this would be good to do" kind of person.

―――Not limited to food and beverage, there are those that are affordable and those that are upscale, aren't they? Of course, each has its own merits, but I think Shigeru does what everyone can afford. What is your reasoning behind that?

S:That's simple, because I've never worked in a high-end restaurant. Of course I go to them sometimes. I have communication with those people, but if I do it, it's fake. So I think it's better to impress them with a 1,000-yen dish. I don't think it's right to say, "I'm going to start a restaurant that charges 30,000 or 40,000 yen. I'm not in that position, so I don't think about it.

―――We often hear that the number of people working in the food and beverage industry is declining. What do you know about that?

S:Food and beverage has a wide entrance. You don't need any qualifications, and if you are motivated, you can start working in this industry tomorrow. However, you can't make a lot of money. The working hours are long, and it's pretty hard work. Besides, there are so many other options nowadays. On top of that, having gone through the corona crisis, it's blue collar no matter how far you go. But on the other hand, I think there are more restaurants with good concepts that are run by young people. They didn't have that in the past, and they probably use social media, and the ability to be able to communicate. Kids who can do their own branding and do cool things don't need to be on a label or in a production company. I think that's true for restaurants as well, and I think these days there are more and more cool places to eat.

―――Do you think there will be people like Shigeru-san and Moriyan-san from the younger generation in 5 to 10 years?

S:It will come out. I'm already getting surpassed (laughs).

M:Young guys have a lot of ideas and a lot of interesting ones. There is only room for growth and potential. I like that culture because I can interact with young guys on an even level.

Interview & Text : Yu Yamaki
Photo : Ryutaro Izaki