Pursuing newness while retaining tradition


“Sushizanmai” is a sushi chain which runs 50 shops nationwide, mainly in the Kanto region. Hakumon Herald interviewed Kiyoshi Kimura, president and CEO of Kiyomura Co., to ask what he thinks is the appeal of sushi and how he views Japanese traditional culture. Kimura, the founder of the company, is a graduate of Chuo University.

-Probably you didn’t expect this question, but why didn’t you adopt conveyor belts for your shops?

Kimura: Because sushi is most delicious when it is made by hand. Even with the same neta (topping) and the same shari (vinegared rice), the taste is quite different between sushi made by robots as in a revolving sushi bar and one made by sushi chefs. It is just like a dish cooked by your mother is much better than the one made by a robot with the same material and cooking method. I would say sushi can have its real value when chefs infuse their sincerity into it by preparing the materials and putting them together with both hands.

-Have you devised anything special to make your shops more popular?

Kimura: We have turned entertainment factors inherent in sushi into our sales point. I think those chefs who please and move you by rolling sushi in front of you are really entertainers. That is something common to the restaurant industry where you hit on your own ideas and cook nice dishes with your own hands. A tuna filleting show is one of good examples.

Sushi chefs are brought up by customers

-Do you accept ongoing robotization of sushi making?

Kimura: No, I don’t. It may be OK if a robot can make sushi as good as an experienced chef. But the robot cannot go that far. If there are customers who prefer machine-made sushi because it is less expensive, I will ask them to taste authentic sushi. I say that because customers help nurture chefs who make really delicious sushi. I do want them to eat full-blown Edo-style sushi (the Edo Period is from 1603 to 1868) and know their delicious taste. That is why Sushizanmai serves sushi made by chefs at prices not much different from those at belt conveyor sushi bars.

-Sushi is popular abroad, but its tradition does not seem to be properly communicated. How do you see that?

Kimura: I think while we should stick to our intention to retain the tradition, we should accept new things if they are good. For example, do you know that tuna goes quite well with mayonnaise? This combination is something unfamiliar in the traditional concept of sushi. However, I think we should offer it to our customers if it tastes good and provided it is made with heart and soul.

Resting on tradition makes no progress

Kiyoshi Kimura (center) presides over a tune filleting show at his shop.
Kiyoshi Kimura (center) presides over a tune filleting show at his shop.
-While washoku (Japanese food) represented by sushi has been registered as UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage, some other Japanese cultures have been declining. What do you think about that?

Kimura: Those cultures are declining because they are not in need any more. It is important to think why they are waning and put preventive solutions into practice. We shouldn’t neglect necessary efforts. Just resting on your tradition will make no progress at all. It is important for you to adapt yourselves to the times and send out new things abroad as tradition in different forms.

-Are there any particular Japanese cultures you would like to send out abroad?

Kimura: I want to send out the wholeheartedness of Japanese food culture. This is something similar to “omotenashi (hospitality)”, the word we used when promoting Tokyo’s bid for the (2020) Olympic Games. I think hospitality is tantamount to wholeheartedness. You will see the heart of Japanese people embodied in Japanese culture. I want to have Japanese people’s wonderful heart deeper-rooted first in Tokyo’s Tsukiji (where Sushizanmai opened its pilot shop) and then in the rest of the world.

―Thank you very much.

(Interviewed by: Meiku Takeda)

Mr. Kimura’s profile

Born in Noda, Chiba Prefecture, in 1952, Kimura joined the Fourth Technical School of the Air Self-Defense Force’s Air Basic Training Wing in 1968. Entering Chuo University’s Faculty of Law (correspondence course) in 1972, he worked part-time at a fishery company while in school, engaging himself primarily in the development and marketing of foodstuffs and foods. In 1979, he founded Kimura & Co. to produce and market boxed lunches and sushi toppings. His firm’s lines of business ranged from importing marine products and manufacturing gari (vinegared ginger) to catching and wholesaling bluefin tuna. He liquidated that firm and founded Kiyomura Co. in 1985. In 2001, he opened the first shop of Sushizanmai just outside Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market. He has since opened many more shops across the country.



木村 寿司は手で握ることで最もおいしくなるからです。同じネタ、同じシャリで握っても、回転寿司店で使用されるロボットが握る寿司と職人が握る寿司とでは味が違うのです。お母さんが作る料理の方が、同じ材料や調理方法でロボットが作る料理よりおいしく感じるのと同じです。職人が仕込んで、手で握ることで真心が込められることに価値があるのです。


木村 寿司が持つエンターテイメント性を売りにしました。私は、目の前で寿司を握り、人を喜ばせ、心から感動させる寿司職人はエンターテイナーであると思っています。外食産業が持つ、自分で考え、自分の手で美味しいものを作ることができるというエンターテイメント性に共通するものです。マグロの解体ショーはその良い例です。



木村 思いません。人間が握る寿司と同じようにできればよいが、機械はそこまではいきません。また、安価だから機械が握った寿司を選ぶというお客様に、本物のおいしい寿司を見極めて欲しいとも思います。なぜなら、お客様が本物のおいしい寿司をつくる職人を育ててくれるからです。江戸前の本格的な寿司を食べて、そのおいしい味を知ってもらいたいのです。だから、すしざんまいは回転寿司と変わらない値段の寿司を職人が握って提供しています。


木村 伝統を残そうという意思を持ちつつ、良いものであれば、新しいものを受け入れるべきだと思います。例えば、マグロとマヨネーズを合わせるとおいしいことを知っていますか。この組み合わせは、伝統的な寿司の概念にはないものです。しかし、おいしいならば、真心を込めて作ったものならば、お客様に提供するべきだと思います。



木村 衰退している文化は必要とされないから衰退しているのです。なぜ衰退しているのかを考え、まずは思いついた解決策を行動に移すことが重要です。必要とされる努力を怠ってはいけません。伝統にあぐらをかいて、しがみついていると発展などしません。時代とともに新しいものを違う形で伝統として(海外に)伝えていくことが大切なのです。


木村 日本食文化の一生懸命さを伝えたいですね。これは、東京オリンピック招致のときに使われた「おもてなし」にも通じるところがあります。「おもてなし」とは一生懸命さのことです。日本文化の中に日本人の心が見えます。もっともっと日本人の素晴らしい心を、まずは築地(すしざんまいが一号店を開いた場所)に根付かせたいです。そして、全世界へ伝えたいです。





カテゴリ: Interview-MembersofSociety, Column-Society


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