Takaaki Sugita, like the other highest ranked chefs in Japan, is an overnight success that was decades in the making. Sugita-san started to work at a sushi restaurant in or around the time he was in high school. He chose to join Miyakozushi, in Tokyo, which was not the most famous restaurant he could have joined. He thought this their sushi was “fatally delicious”. Sugita-san trained there for 12 years, and described his master as diligent, conscientious, kind and patient. He describes his early years as follows:
"In such kind of restaurant, at first you wouldn’t be given a chance to cook easily. So all I could do was sushi delivery. I didn’t hold even a knife in the first year. Though it was a little bit frustrating, I always said to myself “I want to get the first prize by delivering sushi delivery now. I know all about this town!” I thought that way in the first year of my training life. I wanted to be the one who knows everywhere of the street, and could deliver things to the accurate place without using even maps."
He also describes the difficult times at the opening of his restaurant:
"Since 2004 when it just opened, for almost 3 years, there were nearly no customer coming. But since there were many fabric shops gathering together, in the daytime there were many people coming and going. So, people came for lunch. We provided Chirashizushi (colorfully scattered sushi) at an affordable price, 900 yen. On the other hand, the number of customers decreased at night, so there were nearly none to come."
At the time of my visit (August 2019), Sugita was ranked the best restaurant of any type in all of Japan on Tabelog. I only saw the chef at the beginning and end of the meal, but enough to get a sense of his character. Sugita-san represents the best of Japan, with his humble personality and his welcoming attitude.
I was at the side counter (3-4 people) where sushi is brought. The sushi at Sugita is consistently outstanding. None of it failed to live up to the reputation. I am told by a regular that Sugita is the most consistent sushi chef. In short, I would say that the depth of taste is deeper than Saito, and represents the best that sushi can offer. In contrast, Saito would be easier to like for international guests and requires less experience to appreciate. Saito appears more sophisticated, but in my opinion, for those who know where to look, Sugita has the depth of taste that the truly sophisticated Japanese food can offer.
Reservations: Like Saito, it used to be that the only way to get a reservation, other than being invited by a regular customer, is through Arry. A yearly membership to Arry costs 円60,000 and a meal at Sugita will cost approximately 円40,000. However, starting November 2019, Sugita is now on Tableall. Sugita remains an extremely difficult reservation to make.
The only true voyage of discovery would be not to visit strange lands, but to possess other eyes.
Matsukawa (revisited), Learning Japanese, Advanced Japanese Manners, Hakone, home cooking.
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Quote from Zen monks
Kwon Sook Soo
Yau Yuen Siu Tsui
Art Museums in Tokyo