A Tokyo District Hangs Onto Its Last Sushi Stop

By Reuters

Caught between the rarefied world of $300 sushi dinners and the brutal efficiency of chain-restaurant fish, mom-and-pop shops like Eiraku, the last sushi joint in its neighborhood, are fast disappearing in the Japanese capital.

This is Masatoshi Fukutsana. Along with his wife Mitsue he runs this small neighborhood sushi restaurant in Tokyo.

There used to be thousands of local sushi shops like this dotted around Japan’s capital.

Almost one on every street.

And like this restaurant, named Eiraku, many of them only seat around ten patrons at a time.

Eiraku is a favorite of locals, who come here to eat and have a quiet drink at the day’s end.

But this restaurant is also a hub of the community, a place to meet up with old friends.

“It’s a place for people to gather. There’s a pub over there and another over there and I know that place well too, but when we decide to go out, we always end up here,” said Tomoaki Mori, a 61-year-old restaurant customer.

Ten years ago, Eiraku was just one of four sushi hideaways tucked away in these narrow streets.

But today it’s the only one left.

The chef says small sushi bars like his are caught in the middle.

Between expensive gourmet restaurants and the cheap factory-fish snack packs offered by Japan’s growing number of fluorescent convenience stores.

“On the high end, rich people spend whatever they want, and normal people want only cheap things. It’s the stuff in the middle that people have stopped eating. Of course, if you have regulars they might go there.” sushi chef and owner of restaurant “Eiraku,” Masatoshi Fukutsuna said.

To compete in Tokyo’s tightening sushi marketplace, the sushi chef says he hasn’t raised prices in over a decade.

One way he does that is by visiting Tokyo’s new fish market himself each day to cut out delivery costs.

It also means he can pick the best fish himself.

And here the fishmongers who the chef visits each day can also see Tokyo’s traditional fish market changing.

“Yes, prices have gone up a lot compared to a few years ago so I do think it’s very difficult for our buyers. Catches have declined, and the market price has risen a lot too,” said fish trader Haruo Udagawa at Toyosu Wholesale Fish Market in Tokyo.

The slow disappearance of these shops is changing the nature of Tokyo’s suburbs.

But for now, the chef and his wife say they plan to keep working.

Making sushi for the locals and a small living for themselves.

And helping to keep this small part of Tokyo together.