Integrating into the local community and creating a new culture that will last 100 years
Shizuoka Sengen Shrine is located in Aoi-Ku, Shizuoka City, and is known as “Osengen-san” to the people of the city. In front of the gate is the Shizuoka Sengen-dori shopping street, which runs approximately 600 meters, north to south. In January 2020, Yoshikazu Tamukai opened Okonomiyaki Mikami in front of the shrine.
Tamukai first visited Shizuoka in the early ‘90s. He was born and raised in Kahoku City, Ishikawa prefecture, and worked in a local restaurant. Many of the senior staff there came from Shizuoka.
“My senior mentor was a really cool guy and it got me interested in Shizuoka. He asked me if I wanted to come here for a job, and that’s when I came to Shizuoka.”
The day he first came to Shizuoka, there was a festival being held on Sengen Street, and the sight of the festival suddenly grabbed his attention. “It was such a big festival that it felt like it was the most famous festival in all of Shizuoka. Unlike Kanazawa’s gorgeous Hyakumangoku Festival, this was a country festival with deep roots in the local community. From the precincts of Sengen Shrine to Sengen Street, there were stalls as far as the eye could see, and there were so many people in yukata that it was hard to move. I was so impressed and I thought, wow, this is Japan!”
In recent years, more and more shops have closed their shutters on this street, which has been the gate town of Shizuoka Sengen Shrine since the Edo period. Tamukai says that he has always wanted to see the street return to the bustling atmosphere it once had and that he wished he could live nearby and contribute more.
Starting with a service job at a restaurant, Tamukai studied and began designing restaurant menus and interiors himself. Before opening Mikami, he worked as a designer; designing advertisements, restaurant interiors, websites, and more. His experience is now crucial to the creation of the restaurant he envisions.
Once Tamukai had decided to open a shop on Sengen Street, he quit the company he worked for and was lucky enough to come across the property that Mikami now occupies. The building was originally a Japanese confectionery shop. The shutters had been down for more than twenty years, but Tamukai was able to raise them once more. However, he faced a lot of opposition from family and friends, with them saying, “You’ll never be able to attract customers, so don’t do it”. Even so, Tamukai, had no interest in opening a store in the center of town, and so had no hesitation in saying, “I can do what I like, and, to me this is more interesting.”
When asked about the reason why he decided to create an okonomiyaki restaurant, he simply replied “Because I love it”. He ordered a thick teppan (iron plate) grill from a teppan shop and has been making okonomiyaki at home and at friends’ houses as a hobby. His passion for Okonomiyaki runs deep.
“Okonomiyaki really caught my eye as a pretty normal product that had the potential to be elevated. When I looked into it, I found that 80-90% of the people in a survey taken by Shizuoka City five or six years ago said they liked okonomiyaki.” Many people eat okonomiyaki at home, but there are not many okonomiyaki restaurants in Shizuoka City. Tamukai felt there was an opportunity.
“I had been trying to find out whether I could make okonomiyaki that would suit the tastes of people living in Shizuoka.”
One of the restaurants that inspired Tamukami in the creation of Mikami is ‘Shizuoka Oden Ogawa’ on the Sengen-dori shopping street.
“When I first came to Shizuoka, I was impressed not only by Mt. Fuji and the festival, but also by the oden shops. When I entered Shizuoka Oden Ogawa, the shop staff were in the back of the restaurant and the customers were surrounding the pot with the Oden. They told me the rules on how to eat it: take a skewer from here, pour the katsuobushi (sliced dried bonito) on here, put Japanese mustard there, and pour the tea yourself. What is this soothing feeling? This is the essence of service, I thought to myself. I found the ultimate form of service in an oden shop, where mutual trust is built and customers don’t have to worry. I’m aiming for a service that blends with the style of the town.”
One of the concepts of Mikami is “to imagine what Mikami will be like 100 years from now, and to turn it into a shop that can survive”.
“I thought how wonderful it would be if we could work hard in the present to create something that could become tradition 100 years from now,” says Tamukai.
‘Matsunoma’, located at the back of the shop beyond the pine-painted fusuma, is a rental space that has been repurposed from a former Japanese confectionery factory. Currently, it is used for workshops by an NPO of Americans living in Shizuoka and programming classes for elementary and junior high school students, but from around the end of 2022, Mikami is planning to host events.
Tamukai is developing various ideas, such as events featuring ghost storytellers from all over the country, rakugo performances on Sundays, and arts and crafts classes for children.
Encounters with seniors from Shizuoka, festivals and the oden shop on Sengen-dori. Okonomiyaki Mikami was born from the connection between the restaurants, design, and Tamukai’s exploration of okonomiyaki. People of all ages, from children to seniors, gather around okonomiyaki in the nostalgic atmosphere of the restaurant. It’s likely to become a starting point for bringing new liveliness and culture to this historic street that locals adore.