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Returning to His Parents’ Hometown to “Attract People by Taking Advantage of the Nature in Okinawa” (Yu Amuro from IBISCO)
post : 2017.10.03 18:00
A trattoria which serves not too fancy and good dishes is located in a quiet neighborhood of Shintoshin area, Naha City. “IBISCO” means hibiscus in Italian, and we wrote an article about this restaurant on Okinawa CLIP before. Yu Amuro, born and raised in Tokyo, manages this cozy restaurant with his wife Sonomi, and repeat customers come to enjoy served dishes every day.
Yu had trained at an Italian restaurant in Tokyo for 10 years, and opened his restaurant in Okinawa in November 2015. For most chefs, Tokyo is the best place where they can get any ingredients they want, have lots of customers, and show of their skills. How come Yu decided to leave Tokyo and moved to Okinawa? Even though Okinawa is the place where cannot catch any fishes and get any vegetables when typhoons hit. And what made him to open a restaurant which serves dishes with Okinawan ingredients?
Actually Yu has a connection with Okinawa for many years. His father is from Yaese Town, and his mother is from Itoman City. So he used to visit Okinawa with his parents every year since he was a child. After he enrolled a high school, he started to come to Okinawa during summer break by himself.
The idea of IBISCO had started when he was a 10th grader. One day, his aunt took him to a restaurant “Café Curcuma” in Nanjo City which is famous for a scenic spot. That was the moment he decided his future and started to think of managing his own restaurant in Okinawa. “After that, I got a part-time job at an izakaya and worked after school while I was in high school. That was how I learned the basic skills of cooking.” Yu explained to me. He went to a culinary school after graduating high school to pursue his career. He stepped off the track once, but his dream that he dreamt of when he was in a 10th grade came true after a short while.
After he gained experience in Tokyo, him and Sonomi left Tokyo and moved to Okinawa. First, they started house hunting and went to more than 20 real estate agencies. Most real state agencies are located in near train stations. Unlike Tokyo, it was hard for them to access to real estate agencies in Okinawa. At first, they had a vision to live somewhere with nature and a great view. However, they reconsidered that “it must be too risky to move somewhere different than the place where we used to live and change our lifestyles completely.” So they decided to live in Naha City to get used to living in Okinawa first.
“House hunting is luck just like meeting people after all.” Sonomi looked back the past. One day, they went to see a housing which they were checking, and they happened to find a sign of vacancy nearby. They checked the house also, and finally they decided to live in this house. “This restaurant wasn’t in the list we were checking. We happened to find this place, so we were very fortunate.” So, how are their new lives in Okinawa?
“I used to do bodyboarding, so I always check the beautiful beaches. Also, I wasn’t very interested in food before I moved to Okinawa. But after meeting producers and attending food-related events, I realized that “our lives are connecting with nature.” Also, I started to have a desire to do many things. For example, scuba diving…” Sonomi showed me a bright face when she was talking to me, so it was obvious that she is enjoying her life in Okinawa.
“I realized the different lifestyle and customs of Okinawa. For example, people in Okinawa follow the Chinese calendar, and flavoring in Okinawa is complete different than Mainland Japan. I think everybody needs to understand that our common sense and Okinawa’s common sense are different. Also, our history and culture are totally different, so if all of us could respect each other, the incomers like us might able to feel familiar to the historical or good old things of Okinawa.” Sonomi gave everyone a good advice.
“Distance between people is very close.” “We can fully enjoy our lives without good clothing or others by living here.” These are Yu’s comments. “Relationship between producers and us are also close. And, an elderly lady whom I never met suddenly talked and asked me ‘what are you going to use this for?’ at a supermarket. I never had such experience in Tokyo.” Since living in Okinawa, he is touched by the way traditional culture of Yaese Town such as lion dance or bojutsu is handed down to the next generation.
“I have a different set of values than people here, so I started to see myself through an objective perspective. To build better relationships with everybody, I try to think like ‘how come it turns out this way?’ before they show me the reaction. I recognized many things after moving here.” Probably both Yu and Sonomi are conscientious people.
Recently, one thought popped up on their minds. “Successful people in Okinawa have all in common. Even though they are busy with their jobs, they enjoy their private lives. It’s been 1 year since the opening of our restaurant, so we want to enjoy our private time from now on.”
Yu thought about going back to Tokyo occasionally. He saw himself through an objective perspective then, and realized he has not got used to being here and not enjoys his life. “There are always good and bad parts, but I always end up with this conclusion: ‘let’s enjoy living in Okinawa more!’” That was how Yu came up with his own philosophy as a chef: Food makes people to live, and food makes people active. Eating helps to form bodies, so people can have energetic and happy lives by eating.
“I could’ve get ingredients that I can’t find in Okinawa if I made use of my past experience and network and highlight the rareness of restaurant… but I didn’t think it is worth to do here in Okinawa. I started to consider valuing the world of ‘the local ingredients’ of Okinawa.” Yu got enthusiastic and started to talk more and more, so I asked him about a key to “the world of the local ingredients.”
“For me, it is vegetables because it has multi-task. For example, it can be the lead role of grilled dishes, and the supporting role to erase the smell of meat. If vegetables are in a play theater, it helps to show actors off to their best advantage.” Yu’s favorite Okinawan vegetable is Indian spinach. “I used to use bland vegetables to cook when I was in Tokyo, but I realized good vegetables are the ones with unique tastes after I came to Okinawa. The ones with bitter, sour, or acrid tastes are the real tastes of them. Or it could be described as ‘earthy taste.’ It is because they contain tons of minerals. Skins get thick to protect themselves from the sun, and it brings up bitterness and acridness. Competition happens in the nature, so each vegetable tries very hard to grow and it helps to have rich taste.”
Yu started to think about vegetables like that very recently. “It is because I met very interesting producers here.” Before he opened IBISCO, he met Ms. Yoko Kishimoto who has been working on organic farming for 20 years. “She completely changed my idea of vegetables. I thought it is usual to eat sweet and fruity flavor of carrots and think how tasty they are. However, those vegetables that absorbed minerals from the soil taste bitter and acrid. Such vegetables are described as “taste bad” in Tokyo. But they turn to tasty vegetables if we removed astringent taste, precooked, and took care of them.”
While Yu was talking with his passion, Sonomi was looking at her husband happily. “When he goes out to see Ms. Kishimoto and return on his day off, he tells me some enthusiastic story. He tells me stories like new discovery of the day, and the way he talks look like a child and he seems very happy.”
Yu leaned over again to talk to me. “I don’t feel like being in Okinawa when I work in Shintoshin. Every time I go to farms, I see that vegetables and herbs are growing there, and I feel like relieved and revitalized by looking at them. They make me recognize that we are able to live by having them and they make us alive.” The good thing about living in Okinawa is that the distance between chefs and producers are close. He gets Ie Island beef and Okinawan pork for cooking, and he also gets seafood at a fish market in Tomari, Naha City on his own. Sometimes he gets goat and wild boar meat. Now he uses many kinds of vegetables compare to when he was in Tokyo.
“Nowadays local young people get their jobs at restaurants in Osaka or Tokyo, but I feel very sad about it because there are many attractive ingredients in Okinawa. So I want to make this restaurant as the place to make such young people to return to Okinawa and do something cool in their homeland.”
When Yu opened IBISCO in 2015, he already set a goal for 10 years later (2025) which is to open an auberge in a nice location. It is almost the same as the one that he dreamt of back in high school. “There is a small island named Amuro Island, a part of Kerama Islands. An auberge features accommodation and restaurant, and it won’t work out unless guests want to stay the island / augerge. That’s why it is worthwhile for me to challenge.”
“I became very aggressive and try to step forward after I moved to Okinawa,” Yu analyzed himself. Probably it is because he went to see producers on his own, discovered good things, and met many good people. There is something that he can do only in Okinawa, probably that is what he thinks of now.
“My father wasn’t thinking too much at that time, but he told me long time ago that he wanted to do something to attract people by taking advantage of the nature in Okinawa. When I heard it, I thought of the same thing.” From father to son. Father’s dream was succeeded by into his son. His dream is soon to become true.
Address: 2-3-16 1F Omoromachi, Naha City
Business Hours: Lunch 11:30 – 15:00 (Last Call: 14:00) / Dinner 18:00-23:00 (Last Call: 22:00)
Address: 573 Taketomi, Itoman City
Okinawa CLIP photo writer Nobuya Fukuda