When Yoshi, or Yoshinori Tezuka talks about sushi, his eyes shine and his face lights up. Sushi is his passion and he is keen to share it with the world. In fact, you might even call him a “sushi ambassador.”
Tezuka’s family has been in the sushi business for four generations, beginning with his great grandfather.
“Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to follow in the family business,” he says. “Actually, my dad was against it at first. He thought a more stable job would be easier for me. He knew the hardships of the business. For example, we lost the shop to a big fire once and started again from scratch.”
Today, Tezuka works alongside his father at the family-owned restaurant, Matsunozushi in Shinagawa. However, he had a completely different career after graduating from college with a business degree: working as a ski instructor and tour guide. He has skied since childhood, and decided to move abroad to learn more about the world and different cultures.
Based mainly in Europe and North America, he guided Japanese tourists to some of the world’s best ski fields, as well as on cruises, for four years.
“I knew I would be a chef in the future. I wanted to tell foreign visitors about Japanese culture and life. I also wanted to be able to understand their cultures and countries,” he says.
“I moved around every week, and I traveled to more than 50 countries. I enjoyed it all, but I think maybe Italy was my favorite country,” he recalls.
With this background, you might assume that Tezuka has always been interested in English. However, that isn’t the case.
“I attended a private junior and senior high school with a lot of returnee students. Everyone studied English together. The school hoped that being with the returnees would help and encourage students like me. Actually, it had the opposite effect. If I made a mistake, sometimes people laughed. Nobody intended to be mean, but I felt embarrassed about my English and just stopped trying,” he recalls.
Things changed in his third year of university when a supportive teacher showed him a new way of looking at English.
“She told me that English is a communication tool. It doesn’t have to be perfect as long as you can make yourself understood. I am definitely a people person, so this advice made sense to me. It was like my eyes opened! I felt inspired to try again with English.”
Tezuka went on to study abroad in the U.S. for a year to improve his skills.
At the age of 26, Tezuka came back to Japan and began his sushi chef training.
“When I joined the family business, we had very few non-Japanese customers. Our customers were those who came often, or were introduced by other regular customers. We didn’t cater to ichigenkyaku — people who just happen to pass by,” he explains.
Tezuka worked to change that. He now offers tours to introduce international visitors and residents to the world of sushi. Like English, Tezuka believes that sushi can be a communication tool: “Sushi can please the customer, and help them to understand about Japanese culture, the different seasons and various tastes.”
“I take my guests to the fish market to show them the different kinds of fish. For example, I tell them about fish from each prefecture, or how the taste of the fish changes according to the season.”
When the participants come to Matsunozushi, they eat alongside the regular Japanese customers. “We don’t have a special ‘foreigners’ day’ or anything like that. I want to give my international guests the same experience that my dad has been giving to Japanese guests, but just with the extra language and cultural support they may need,” says Tezuka.
One of Matsunozushi’s specialties is carefully researching each guest’s needs and tastes in advance. This allows the restaurant to prepare the perfect sushi for each guest. “We can cater for vegetarians or vegans, or those with special dietary needs such as halal foods or gluten-free,” Tezuka notes.
Tezuka’s activities have led to other chances to bring his love of sushi culture to the world. He lectures to exchange students in Japan, and has represented Japan at culinary conferences overseas.
“Looking ahead, one day I would like to lecture about sushi at overseas universities, too,” he says, his eyes shining at the thought. (Louise George Kittaka)
Words to live by
手塚 良則 (てづか よしのり）