Chapter 5. Okami-san Years


Niki and Yoko

 From a Shitamachi Okami to a Niki de Saint Phalle Collector



Written by Yuki Kuroiwa


Translated by Nasuka Nakajima




Chapter 5.  Okami-san Years

(Translator’s note: okami means a proprietress of a Japanese-style restaurant or inn. Shizue’s staff and customers called her okami-san with respect and a sense of closeness.)



 Fox Fur Muffler


On March 21, 1964, Shizue’s birthday came around again.

She woke up early and did her own hair in front of a mirror. Normally, Shizue wore no makeup, but that day was different. She drew sharp eyebrows and applied lipstick. She changed into black tomesode (formal kimono for married women) and a fox fur muffler around her neck, then headed for Ueno by car.


“Dad, are you up?” Shizue called.

“Yeah, I’m up,” came his voice from the back of the house. As she went to the room upstairs, Shizue saw her father reading a newspaper. Shizue sat straight before him on the tatami mats.

“Father, today I turned thirty-three, the same age as Mom was when she died. Please keep that in mind.”

“Oh yeah? Is that so,” Arae said without lifting his gaze from the paper. After a pause, Shizue spoke emphatically.

“Therefore, from now on, whatever I say, please regard it as the word of Mother. Please listen to my opinions as Mother’s opinions.”

Arae looked up.


“How the heck can I make believe you’re my wife?”

Then, his eyes widened as he noticed Shizue was wearing a black tomesode. He burst into laughter, doubling over. Shizue grinned. “Look, I’m wearing one of Mom’s keepsakes, a fox fur muffler. Now, you have a good day.” She rose to her feet and went out of the room.

Arae was speechless, blankly staring after her.



Going Separate Ways


What occupation should I choose? What am I called to do? Shizue had been asking those questions to herself. What concerned her most was the future of Hanaya. Kuroiwa’s younger sisters had been both married. The oldest daughter ended up eloping. Arae left everything about the management of Hanaya to his staff. In recent years, his health had been on the decline, and he had been in and out of hospital.

“What will become of Hanaya if nobody does anything? There’s no doubt that Father’s last years will be sad.”

And there were the unrealized goals of her late Mother. Coming from a large Japanese restaurant in Jimbocho, she married the owner-chef of Hanaya; she died while she could not provide much support for Arae. Shizue somehow knew that when Mother died, her ambitions had not been fulfilled.

Shizue had also lost Grandmother Chiyo two years before. Although Chiyo was not Shizue’s blood relative — she was the second wife of Grandfather Yoshitaro, after the passing of Shizue’s mother, Chiyo was one person Shizue could rely on for moral support. Shizue gave birth to her first son, Daisuke, in Ueda under the care of Chiyo. Thus, Chiyo’s death was a major turning point for her independence.

Shizue concluded, therefore, that she must be the only one who could succeed to the family business of Hanaya.


There was another reason that had helped her to reach the conclusion.

One day, K, the person in charge of Hanaya in Ikebukuro Seibu, told Shizue, “We have a problem. We lost all the tableware after the fire at the department store. K said, “If only we have extra dishes like your father does at Hanaya.” Then Tsuji blurted out, “Those dishes in Hanaya’s warehouse ― why not use them?”

A variety of dishes had been stored at the Ueno Hanaya. Arae had never compromised on fine tableware items; he was always in search of dishes of high quality. Shizue could barely control her anger over the levity of the conversation between K and Tsuji. Dishes were a treasure to Hanaya. They should be treated with much respect. They should never evoke such comments as “Why not use them since they’re available?” Shizue felt strongly, “I cannot leave Hanaya’s management to those insensitive people. I must manage the restaurant.”


There was yet another reason for her independence.

One day Tsuji said to Shizue, “I want to spend my own salary as I like.” He went on. “I want to rent an apartment room as my art studio so I can make my paintings on my own time.” The work at M Company was hard and Tsuji had pressure-packed days. He made those comments as if he wanted to escape from those hard times.

It may be difficult for ordinary couples to understand, but Shizue accepted Tsuji’s requests.


I can no longer depend on this man financially. I’ll have to earn my own money in order to raise my children.

Shizue made up her mind. Although their relationship would continue and Shizue would consult Tsuji when something arose, she received no money whatsoever, including education expenses, from him until he retired.


Tsuji and Shizue ― they began to take separate paths of their own.



The Name of the Shop: TAIGAA


Since the fire at Ikebukuro Seibu, the restaurant had been long closed. Shizue racked her brains to find work for the Hanaya staff.

Shizue said to Tsuji, “I’ve been thinking about renovating and converting the building where ‘Children’s House’ was into a restaurant in Ameyoko.”

“That sounds like a good idea,” said Tsuji.

“And so, shall we go to Sapporo?”


Tsuji was taken back at the suggestion.

“Don’t worry. Leave it to me. There is something I want you to try.”

The two set out for Sapporo. Once arrived there, they went into a small shop. It was a Sapporo ramen shop. The ramen was quite tasty.

“I want to open a Sapporo ramen shop in Ameyoko. What do you think?”

Nowadays there are many ramen shops. But in those days, the ramen was not the popular soul dish that people line up to eat. On top of that, the Sapporo ramen was little known in Tokyo. However, Shizue had been on the lookout for food when she decided to make a living in the restaurant industry.

“No doubt this will be a hit in Tokyo, too,” Tsuji said while finishing the broth.

When Shizue heard those words, she felt, “Touché!”

“And I’ve already decided on the name of the restaurant. TAIGAA: Dai (Tai) of Daisuke, Masa (Ga) of Masashi, and A of Asia … in hope of them becoming successful in Asia.”


Quickly, Shizue gathered the idle Hanaya staff and had them learn how to cook ramen. She gained cooperation from Arae, too, which made her feel encouraged.

She was innovative in pricing. Every menu item, a bowl of ramen, a plate of gyoza potstickers, and a plate of Chinese fried rice, was 100 yen. They were considered inexpensive even those days.

In this manner, the Shizue’s first restaurant, TAIGAA, opened in Ueno. Ueno was a town of the common people. Thus, her strategy hit right on target. TAIGAA was a great success from the very first day with customers making long lines.



The Hanshi (Calligraphy Paper) Tactic


Shizue as an up-and-coming okami (center) with the staff of TAIGAA.


Tacked to the walls of the kitchen of the Ueno Hanaya were many sheets of hanshi calligraphy paper. Those sheets read: “Use Correct Measurements,” “Sugar: One Table Spoon” and “Soy Sauce: Half a Cup.”


Miyoshi, visiting Hanaya after a long time, was surprised to see them.

“Oizumi-san, what are they?”

“They? Oh, those are the reminders Shizue-chan made; we’re supposed to observe them.”

Oizumi, a chef himself, gave a wry smile.

The counter lady joined, “Really, Shizue-chan never learned what cooking is supposed to be.”

This hanshi tactic of hers was quite unpopular among the chefs.

At that moment, Shizue returned.

“Oh, Miyo-chan, glad you came. What brought you here? Have lunch with us.”

Miyoshi grabbed Shizue’s arm and took her to the end of the table seat section.

“Big Sis, don’t you think those things are rather tacky to the staff?”

“Those things? Oh, those hanshi sheets. It’s all right. I’m trying to change their way of thinking,” said Shizue, unconcerned.


Shortly before, Shizue had started commuting to an accounting school. To manage the restaurant, she had to know accounting. While running TAIGAA in Ueno, Shizue frequently showed up at Hanaya, out of concern. After a while, Shizue gradually learned the financial health of Hanaya. She thought the restaurant had been thriving, but despite the large number of customers, Hanaya’s profits were relatively small.

One thing she noticed while observing the chefs was that they used condiments in a rather generous manner.

Shizue had an idea.

“If we can control ingredients including condiments, we can cut down the cost by precisely measuring them.”

And that was where the hanshi came in.


However, to those chefs who took pride in knowing exactly what they were doing, to measure condiments was laymen’s work. Needless to say, there was strong resistance. Shizue, their boss’s daughter, was an unwelcome presence in the kitchen in the first place; now she had returned to Hanaya with this silly hanshi idea, no less.



What Can You Do? You’re Just a Woman!


“Ma’am, can I have a word with you?”

One day, a deep, intimidating voice stopped Shizue. He was one of the chefs. He was the maverick-type with a somewhat dark disposition. He had joined Hanaya as a reliable cook several years earlier. Shizue and the man went up to the cooks’ room on the third floor. They sat face to face on the tatami mats.


“To tell the truth, I was told by oyaji-san (boss) that he could leave the management of Hanaya to me,” said the man staring with daggers at her.

“When did he say it?”

“A couple of years ago, or so.”

That was when Arae and Tsuji were constantly clashing over almost everything. Arae might had felt that Tsuji was not the heir-apparent to his business. And when Area lost his temper over Tsuji’s behavior, he might had made a comment like that.

“You say he said so, but …” Shizue remained evasive.

Then, suddenly, the man became agitated, and started yelling at Shizue.

“You’re just a woman! What can you do? I’m telling you I’ll manage Hanaya!”

And then he produced a kitchen knife and angrily thrust it into the tatami.


Shizue was shaking out of fear. But, if she let him know that, he would take advantage of it. Not to be intimidated easily, she shouted back.

“I will risk my life to run Hanaya! If you want to stab me, all right, go right ahead!”

Perhaps surprised by Shizue’s unusual outburst, the man reluctantly withdrew.

But even after he was gone, Shizue had a hard time standing up. She felt, once again, “What a world I’ve stepped into!”


Late that night, it began to rain. Shizue called her friend Shigeko.

“Anything wrong?” asked Shigeko. The sound of the rain was making Shizue’s voice almost inaudible. On top of that, Shizue was murmuring.

“What a day. Today was … really tough. I’m exhausted. The culinary world is totally a man’s world. I wonder if I can survive.”

Slowly, Shizue began to elaborate on what had happened that day.

“I see. That was hard, wasn’t it? Frightening, in fact. Then what happened next?”

“He said ‘I quit,’ and left.”

“Oh, that’s good. You need to cheer up.”

“Thank you for listening, Shige-chan. I feel better now. Talk to you later.”

Shizue hung up the phone.



Showdown with M


When Shizue obtained a certified copy of Hanaya’s commercial registration, she was surprised to discover that there were two joint representatives of Hanaya: Arae and M, the man who was in charge of Hanaya’s accounting.


After the war, M had made a living as an itinerant salesman while studying accounting. Before joining Hanaya, he used to come to the Ueno Hanaya to sell sweets to kids. Arae always had a soft spot for this type of man. He decided to take M under his wing, providing him with a three-tatami-sized room (tatami: 6’ x 3’) in Children’s House in Ameyoko. There, M hired a female clerk and opened his accounting firm. Since then, Arae had left all Hanaya business matters, such as accounting and transactions, to M.


However, after Shizue arrived to Hanaya to handle its management, she had grown suspicious about M. She found some matters disadvantageous to Hanaya in contracts between M and Ameyoko tenants, as well as unclear points in the account book. And now, Shizue made this discovery in the register.


“Dad, when did you make M-san a joint representative of Hanaya?” Shizue asked Arae.

Arae gave her an unforgettable look of surprise. Father had no idea about it, either. That totally made sense to Shizue. Arae had been involved very little in keeping the books, leaving every business matter to M.


Shizue had a very bad feeling about this. If nothing was done, Hanaya might be taken over. She must take action immediately. First, she consulted a friend of hers who was a certified tax accountant.


The accountant advised, “To be a representative, it has to be approved in the Board of Directors meeting. So, you need to find the minutes of that meeting. And then, since he still has the absolute authority over you, you need to persuade that person to step down.


Shizue worked out a plan. M had known all the three sisters since their girls’ school days. Children’s House used to house many rooms: M’s office, the Jomata-Hogi-kai (association of professional chefs) office, and grandmother’s room on the first floor; rooms for the sisters and freeloading college students on the second floor. Every day, a number of young people were coming and going; calling it a raucous place was an understatement. Thus, in M’s eyes, Shizue was still an ignorant tomboy, which, she felt, could be taken advantage of.


Shizue, clad in kimono, took along her younger son, Masashi, and visited M’s office, now located at a different site. It had grown into a large office, with many staff members.


“M-san, today I have a favor to ask you,” Shizue said, and quickly added, “Boy, am I starved. M-san, could you kindly treat us to soba noodle?”


M, believing that Shizue had nothing in particular to discuss with him, ordered two soba, unalarmed.


Between the slurps of soba noodle, Shizue began to talk about Hanaya, “M-san, you have done so much for Hanaya. I don’t know how to thank you, really.” Masashi was restless, moving here and there in the room. Shizue scolded him in an intentionally loud voice, “Masashi, no! Don’t do that! Come here and eat soba with me.” M seemed to be completely off his guard.


“Oh yes. Tsuji says he was asked by Mr. Tsutsumi to be the representative of Hanaya, in name only, of course. Tsutsumi-san said, ‘Otherwise, he can’t discuss business with the Directors of Seibu.’ So, just for a short period of time, is there any way Tsuji can be the joint representative?” After considering the matter for a while, M said, “I have no problem with that” and pressed the registered seal on the document.


Shizue also successfully borrowed the minutes of the Directors meeting for the sake of “studying it.” She discovered in the minutes that M was approved to become the joint representative of Hanaya using sute-in marginal seals of Arae. To anybody’s eye, it was a clear-cut method of fraud.


(Translator’s note: sute-in is an extra seal affixed in the margins of an official document in order to cover minor corrections.)


“He has taken us, an elderly man and a woman, for fools …”

Shizue could barely contain her anger.


After consulting with Arae and going through the required paperwork, Shizue became the joint representative along with Arae. After a time, M learned of this fact, but it was too late. M was ousted from Hanaya.





A leaflet celebrating the fourth and the second anniversaries of Ueno TAIGAA and Ginza TAIGAA, respectively.


The sales of the Ginza Hanaya had also been down. Shizue boldly decided to change its name to “Ginza TAIGAA.” The idea was to transform it from a Japanese restaurant to a ramen specialty shop. Arae also agreed to this idea.


However, this time, Tsuji was strongly against the plan. Tsuji said, “I did not marry a daughter of a ramen shop owner.” He was blunt. “Ramen won’t work in Ginza. Don’t do it.”

“Don’t worry. I’ve been planning it quite a while,” Shizue insisted.

“If that’s what you’re going to do, leave the house with the kids,” Tsuji rejected.

Shizue felt surprised and sad. Why does he object so much? He doesn’t like to see the name Hanaya disappear in Ginza? Even Arae has agreed to this plan.


In the end, it became a verbal tit for tat between them. As a result, Shizue left the house with the two children. She decided to move into Hanaya; they slept in a corner of the female staff room.


Shizue totally immersed herself in preparing for the new ramen shop, Ginza TAIGAA. She had one idea she had wanted to put into practice. It had been two years since the opening of the Ueno TAIGAA. Business had been good, so well that similar ramen shops had grown in number in the neighborhood. But, at close observation, she noticed that most customers were male. Thus, the new idea was to run a ramen shop where even a woman alone could casually drop in.


Characteristically, hordes of fashionable women shopped in Ginza. Shizue decided that the interior, as well as the entrance door, of the shop to be painted in red, which was quite eye-catching. Glued in layers on the ceiling of the shop were posters of the movies she had seen. Every time Shizue had gone to the movies, she bought brochures and posters. The collection had grown quite large over the years.


Thus, she opened a ramen shop that was very atypical. Ginza TAIGAA became a great success as the “ramen shop hugely popular among women.”

“Very impressive, Shizue.”

The once angry Tsuji had to acknowledge her achievement and ability. After that, Shizue and the children returned to the house. Tsuji felt, “The future is here. We’re in the age of talented, able women.”



Playing Indians


One morning, there was a commotion in front of their house in Sakuradai. Children were screaming with tears. Shizue also heard the voice of a young woman.

“Stop it, Masashi-kun! No!”


Shizue dashed out of the house, wondering what was happening. Masashi, her younger son, was throwing mud pies at a line of kindergartners on their way to school. With a smile, Masashi seemed to be enjoying himself. The voice was that of the supervising teacher.


Shizue yelled, “Masashi, No!” She gave him a bear hug to stop him from throwing mud pies. “Why can’t I?” Masashi looked puzzled. The kindergarteners were all muddy, crying. The teacher was agitated, too. Shizue was all apologies. Later, when Shizue asked Masashi why he had done such a thing, he said he was just playing with them. Shizue felt remorseful that she had failed to look after her children.


On another day, a friend of hers called Shizue at work, “I just arrived at your house, but Masashi-chan is trying to saw off a main pillar of your house.” Stunned, she hurried home, to find Masashi with total concentration cutting the main pillar.


“Why would you do such a thing?” Masashi answered nonchalantly, “I just found a saw. So, I felt like cutting something. Then I found nice wood in the house. See? I cut halfway into it.” Shizue had no choice but to heave a sigh of resignation.


Shizue could not take care of her children because she came home very late. She used maid service to feed them, but some household helpers could not handle the obnoxious behavior of the kids. They had a high turnover rate.


Sometimes the kids telephoned Shizue at Hanaya. “Mom, I’m starved!” However, the Hanaya people always looked at Shizue in a cool manner. She could not afford to leave early just because she was a mother.


On another occasion when Shizue was driving a car to deliver food, suddenly she saw Masashi before her, trudging his way. His arms and legs were bruised, and his clothes dirty. She wanted to run up to him and embrace him. But she didn’t. She took the delivery duty over him.


Every night when Shizue went home, she looked at the sleeping faces of her children, saying, “Thank you, God. The children were all right again today.”


Yet, another incident occurred. Shizue was at the Ueno Hanaya that day. She noticed she had forgotten something at home, and so she went home to retrieve it.

“I’m home,” she said, but there was no answer.

“Daisuke, Masashi, where are you?”

From somewhere, she heard the war cries of children, “A-WA-WA-WA-WA.”

They were from the outside storage shed next to the house. Shizue opened its door to witness five to six children dancing in frenzy surrounding a bonfire. The flames were high, it was about to reach the ceiling.

“Neighbors! Everybody! Fire, fire!”

Shizue shouted as hard as she could. Neighbors began to gather in an urgent rush. The adults, flushed in the face, poured water on the fire by bucket relay. The fire was put out just in time.

“Mom, what happened?” asked her children.

“You kids, what ARE you doing?! We almost caused a fire!” Shizue reprimanded them.

“We were playing Indians, you know.”

The house, without proper adult supervision, had become a perfect hangout for the neighborhood kids.



Sending Masashi to Niigata


Masashi was now in elementary school, but his grades were a total disaster. He still couldn’t read or write. One day, Shizue was summoned by his teacher. She learned that Masashi had been play hooky. She asked him what he had been doing. He said he had been hanging around in shopping quarters such as Ikebukuro. Often, he said, he had lunch by eating food samples on the food floor of the Seibu Ikebukuro Department Store.


One day Masashi thought, “I’m tired of Ikebukuro. I should try Shinjuku, this time.” While wandering around downtown Shinjuku, he grew hungry. So he went into a nearby shop. It was a snack bar. When the Mama-san saw a young boy coming into the dim-lit room, she was surprised.

“What happened, boy? Are you lost?” Masashi said with a friendly smile, “Today is the School Foundation Day. No school. May I have a sandwich and milk, please?” Mama-san did not question further. She brought a sandwich and milk to him.


The little Masashi was keenly aware that if he had stayed home, he would had been picked on by Daisuke’s friends. Masashi, a strong-minded boy, would always stand his ground. But because of it, he was always fighting. One day, children watched a TV show of chambara sword fights. They decided to act on it. They were using wooden sticks at first, but gradually the play became serious, and sure enough, Daisuke’s stick hit Masashi right on the head. Blood gushed out of it and an ambulance was called. If the wound had been several millimeters deeper, he might had lost his life.



Things like this continued for a couple of more years. As usual, Shizue worked from the early morning to midnight. Problems, at home and at work, occurred on a daily basis. If this situation continued, she felt, the children would be ruined.


To have time to bring up children, Shizue needed someone who could support Hanaya in place of her. She thought, “I’ll ask Keizo-chan to help manage Hanaya. Keizo is one person I can trust.” Together with Tsuji, Shizue went to see Keizo and asked him about it, but Keizo had already found employment and started a family. His answer was no.


Most outsiders believed that Hanaya had been managed just by a woman and an old man. They were right. Arae had been deceived by an accountant he was very familiar with. In truth, he had been surrounded by enemies on all sides. The Ginza Hanaya and Ueno TAIGAA were nearly taken over by different individuals. Just when Shizue thought that she had solved a problem, another unscrupulous person would become involved. She had to stay vigilant all the time. She could not afford not to go to the restaurant now. I must work things out for the sake of an ill father and a mother who had died young.


“This is the crucial moment for me. I have decided to succeed Hanaya. I’ll find someone who can look after the children for the next three years at least. After that Masashi will be in middle school. Then he can do most things for himself.”


But the person to raise her children must be someone Shizue could trust absolutely. She also hoped that that person would be warm-hearted and family-oriented. She tried friend Shigeko. She said, “No, I can’t. But how about hiring a helper? That’s not good?” Shigeko had already been married with children. Small wonder she couldn’t do it.


There was a teenage girl who worked at Hanaya; she had come to Tokyo from Niigata. Cheerful and a hard worker, she was liked by many, including Shizue. Once Shizue asked her about her family back in Niigata. Her parents were rice farmers. The girl’s older brother had two children, close to Masashi’s age. According to the girl, her hometown had nature in abundance; it seemed that remnants of life before the war still remained there. Perhaps if Shizue asked her parents, they may take care of one of her children, Masashi. The country life in woods and fields where one can run with total abandon might fit the energetic Masashi.


After spending sleepless nights, Shizue finally made up her mind, and asked the girl, “Is it possible to take care of my son for three years in Niigata?” It was a very painful experience. At first, the girl was stunned. But her parents in Niigata, upon hearing the situation, agreed to Shizue’s request.


It was a hard decision to make. But to Masashi, it was definitely harder a decision to comprehend. Why did he have to go to Niigata, of all places, where he had known no one, and live with strangers?


It was never that Shizue had no affection for her children. On the contrary, she took pride in the fact that she loved them more than other parents loved theirs. Yet, if she had stayed with them, she felt that she would follow in the footsteps of her Mother who had hurt her when she was a small child. After giving birth to her children, she could not help being aware that she was the daughter of her mother.


And, most important, once she had decided to “succeed Hanaya,” Shizue had to be the oni (ogre; devil) to fulfill the resolve.


At that time, this was the best decision Shizue could come up with.



High Time for Succession


Shizue (center) as okami-san at Hanaya


After sending Masashi to Niigata, Shizue worked much harder as if to distract herself from the sadness from it. She simultaneously supervised three restaurants, the Ueno Hanaya, Ueno TAIGAA, and Ginza TAIGAA, all of which had been doing brisk business.


Every day, Shizue dressed in kimono in a snappy fashion. To handle food involved the handling of the lives of people. If her employees caught her being lazy, that would be contagious. She disciplined herself, kept a strict eye on the cooking staff, and paid close attention to every detail on a daily basis.


When catering, she drove the van herself. She had staff members in the passenger-side seat, and often sang songs to help relax their mood.


There was only one day off a year at Hanaya: the New Year’s Day. On the New Year’s Eve, the Appreciation Dinner Party was held. Shizue devised and hosted the “Pun Raffles,” giving away various fun goods as the prizes for the employees.


Gradually, the chefs and other employees began to acknowledge her as the okami-san.


And then, all of a sudden, the leaseholder of Ginza TAIGAA told Shizue to vacate the building since it would be rebuilt. At Ginza TAIGAA, the business had been prospering. There was no way Shizue would let it go.


Around that time, Arae had myocardial infarction and was hospitalized at the Tokyo Police Hospital in Iidabashi. Arae was referred to the hospital by a former police executive who used to frequent Hanaya even before the war. Arae’s list of illnesses included gout, nerve pain, diabetes, and even lung cancer. His condition had already quite deteriorated. But Shizue talked very little about her restaurants lest it would worry him. However, the eviction notice was something too serious to avoid.

“Dad, I’ve been told to vacate the building of the Ginza TAIGAA.”


Father was silent for a long while. Then he said, “Take time to negotiate sincerely. Then if you receive the eviction fee, use that money for the next business project.”


Arae said this without pause and then closed his eyes. Shizue, bracing for a series of complaints, was surprised at the concise advice. She learned later that Shi-chan, commuting daily to the hospital, had been giving Arae the day-to-day report on Shizue’s efforts and success as the okami-san. Therefore, Arae had known that it had been high time for succession.



Ikebukuro PARCO is Born


Tsuji also was about to experience a turning point.


Despite his efforts, M Company went under three years after he joined it. He returned to department stores — and assumed the position of the Manager of the Start-Up Division; he did his best at Funabashi Seibu (opened in 1968) and Shibuya Seibu (opened in 1969). After that, he was back at the headquarters. His was a leisurely post belonging to the General Affairs Department. Tsuji indulged himself in reading books of Ryotaro Shiba [historic novelist, 1923 – 1996] all day long. But soon he grew tired of even that.


“This company can no longer offer me any work,” Tsuji began to feel. One day when he was preparing to quit the company by cleaning up his desk, he received a message from Seiji. It read, “Come to the coffee shop behind the Ikebukuro Mitsukoshi Department Store.” When Tsuji arrived, Seiji was already there.


“I’m thinking about rebuilding Tokyo Marubutsu. The debt is 800 million yen. What do you think? Are you interested in it?”


Marubutsu was a long-established department store based in Kyoto. It had stores across the nation. Tokyo Marubutsu was in the Ikebukuro Station area, but due to decline in sales, it had entrusted Seibu to restructure it. Tsuji, listening to Seiji’s story, was galvanized by the size of the debt. Tsuji immediately replied, “I’ll do it” and thus was put in charge of rebuilding Tokyo Marubutsu.


From here, Tsuji’s remarkable streak started.


Tsuji noticed that Ikebukuro lacked the presence of youths. Those days, Shinjuku was the area that attracted many young people as a cultural hub in Tokyo. One contributing element was the attraction of small specialty stores. Tsuji’s idea was this: why not incorporate specialty stores into a building, creating a vertically growing “town.”


However, Seibu, who made it a principle to manage collectively, found that idea difficult to accept. All of the executives said, “He has no clue.” However, Tsuji explained to them that the idea was to not just collect the rents as in conventional tenant buildings; it was to establish the initiative in managing the whole building by conducting concept setting, tenant guidance, and advertisement. Meanwhile, the debt amount of Tokyo Marubutsu ballooned to 1 billion yen. There was no time to be lost. In the end, Tsuji was given the green light to carry out the tenant-building plan.


Shizue’s success might had influenced him to some degree, but Tsuji had been convinced, “The future will be the age of women.” Thus, his target for this tenant building was the women. Tsuji researched women’s life styles and was soon busying himself with finding fashionable tenants. At first he struggled at it; occasionally he himself had to do planning of tenants before soliciting shop owners. As a result of hard work, however, Tsuji successfully found 170 tenants.


He called the name of the shopping complex PARCO. It means a park or square in Italian. The keywords in Tsuji’s basic principle of naming stores were “bright, glamorous, cheerful, and stylish.” Some suggested to add the word Seibu to it, but Tsuji rejected the idea. PARCO must be a unique, independent presence, not an attachment to Seibu.


In this manner, Ikebukuro PARCO was born in 1969.


The start of PARCO was with deficits. They could barely afford an advertising budget. Tsuji selected thirty employees, about one-third of the workforce, to be the new PR squad, and Tsuji himself took the leadership. Still, most of them were novices in this field. Since they could not afford TV, newspaper or magazine ads, they focused on tie-in advertising. Just about this time in Japan, new fashion magazines and women’s magazines were flooding the market. Those magazines sought refreshing projects and topics. Thus, PARCO, whose target group was the OL (“office ladies” or female office workers), became a perfect partner for these magazines. This was a godsend for PARCO.


The planning of Ikebukuro PARCO hit right on the money. By extending the business hours two hours longer than that of conventional department stores, PARCO absorbed the demands of OLs on their way home after work. As targeted, sales were concentrated in those nighttime hours. The pedestrian traffic in the Ikebukuro Station area grew, and dramatically changed its night-time landscape. PARCO’s sales grew at a steady pace.



Transmission of the PARCO Culture


In 1973, four years after the founding of Ikebukuro PARCO, Tsuji opened another PARCO in Shibuya.

Shibuya PARCO was located on a mild incline, several hundred meters away from the station area; everyone thought it was not a favorable location for business. However, Shibuya was a hilly town in the first place. Business must overcome the hill and, conversely, take advantage of it. Tsuji felt that hilly roads could generate the dramatic effect of “What’s beyond that road?” Based on that, Tsuji came up with the distinct catchphrase of Shibuya PARCO “Beautiful People Passing by One Another — Shibuya Koen-Dori.” He renamed the road from the Shibuya Station area leading to Yoyogi Park “Koen-Dori” (lit. Park Street). PARCO placed fashionable telephone boxes, staging the approach to PARCO.


In addition, something was needed to make PARCO an acknowledged cultural transmitting hub. Tsuji decided to create a theater (Seibu Theater, presently PARCO Theater). Its concept was this: “There is a PARCO in the theater, as opposed to there is a theater in PARCO.” Since his college days, theater had been Tsuji’s important theme and passion, something that he and Shizue shared.


Tsuji’s intent was to have people think, “Although the plays Seiji Tsutsumi directs in department stores and supermarkets are fascinating, those by Tsuji Masuda are distinctly different and fascinating as well.”



The reputation of PARCO as a cultural transmission base spread rapidly. The basic PARCO principle Tsuji promoted was “to find something interesting for yourself as well as others.” Under this principle, the morale of PARCO employees was boosted as they were searching constantly for anything fascinating. Various events by the PR squad included the following: a fashion show with a scout on the street, a ten-yen yose comedy theater, a nude photo studio, an all-night go-go party, a date search, a performance with a couple in the show window, and a midnight radio teach-in. Many of them materialized quickly.


They also focused on posters as a unique medium. Well-known catchy poster taglines included, “Don’t look at the naked. Be naked,” “Life is short. But the night has grown long,” and “Men get jealous of the men coming from PARCO.” At that time, the distribution industry had shown little interest in posters as passee. PARCO, in that climate, dared to pick this medium in the abundance of films and videos.


The accumulation of those attempts led to the “PARCO culture” that included the discovery and nourishing of creative talent, a publishing business, the management of theaters and live houses, the launching of a record label, and film production.



The Death of Arae


Arae used to say, “Tsuji is like a tapir. All he does is eat dreams.” But after the successful opening of PARCO, Arae finally accepted him. Eighteen years had elapsed since the elopement of Shizue and Tsuji.


On a cold, rainy day of January in 1975, Arae passed away. The funeral was held at the Ueno Hanaya. Shizue had come down with the flu and high fever. But she acted valiantly, hooked up to an IV drip from the hospital. Under the snow-white silk futon covers, Arae looked one size smaller after a long fight with many illnesses.


The funeral was carried out on a grand scale. Masakichi Mita, a relative from the head Hanaya restaurant in Ningyocho and the president of the Meijiza Theater, served as the master of the ceremony. The Meijiza staff had come to prepare the funeral. Other notable attendees included Bunbei Hara, an old friend of Arae’s and the one-time President of the House of Councilors, and Seiji Tsutsumi, who used to frequent Hanaya for dinner.


In the culinary world, Arae was respected as one of the “Kanto (Tokyo) Five.” He also chaired the Jomata-Hogi-kai (a 500-member association of professional chefs and a purveyor to the Imperial Household Agency). As a person of character, Arae had a quite broad circle of friends and acquaintances. That day, traffic control officers were mobilized due to the large attendance. In place of Shizue, who had to remain sitting on the tatami floor under high fever, Tsuji gave the mourner’s speech.


Those who had known Arae all said the same: he was a reserved, quiet man and very strict on his apprentices. At the same time, he also made sure to look after them, valued loyalty and was compassionate. Although it has been nearly forty years since Arae’s death, even today, there are always flowers placed, perhaps by one of his apprentices, at the grave of the Kuroiwa family in Yanaka.


With the Kuroiwa sisters all married, there was no son to carry on the family name. It might disappear. Concerned about the possibility, Shizue suggested to Arae that he adopt Masashi, the second son of the Masuda family. Arae agreed to the idea. Thus, Masashi, upon returning from Niigata, became the adopted son just before Arae’s death.


Masashi was Arae’s favorite grandson. When Arae heard anything disagreeable and became irritated, he would rant on about it in a beranmei (vulgar; working-class) tone. Masashi often mimicked it, which gave Arae a big laugh. The laugher brightened the whole hospital room Arae was in. The happy expression on Arae’s face was priceless. Shizue felt, “By this adoption of Masashi, maybe I was finally able to play the role of a dutiful daughter.”


A long time ago, Mother died. Now, so did Father. But I’m passing on their wishes. Shizue had a sobering, yet somewhat rejuvenated feeling.



Problems Involving Hanaya


Even several years before Arae’s death, Shizue had begun to face a number of problems over Hanaya.

In one instance, she was expected to make payment as a joint guarantor of a debt by an old friend of his. The debt amount was 170 million yen. However, at that time, Arae had already been hospitalized; there was no way he could had pressed his registered seal on the document. Since his hospitalization, the registered seal had been entrusted to the counter lady at Hanaya. After questioning her, it was revealed that an acquaintance of Arae’s, the debtor himself, had come to Hanaya and asked the counter lady to stamp the paper with the seal. The counter lady, trusting that old acquaintance, readily handed over the registered seal.


After hearing the debt amount to be 170 million yen, the lady was shaking terribly. The case ended up going to court. Shizue crammed for the trial by studying the Compendium of the Six Codes, and attended the trial nearly every month. Although the case took seven years to close, she finally resolved the case without paying even a penny.



In another instance, a problem surfaced when Arae fell into a coma. Because the counter lady had also been ill, Shizue was sitting at the counter in her place.

One day, the front sliding door clattered open and a slender clerk-like woman came in.

“Hello, how do you do? May I have the registered seal here, as usual?” The woman placed a sheet of paper before Shizue.


“What is this?” She asked.


“This is a bill that we always use your seal,” said the woman. Looking closely, Shizue saw the amount to be 10 million yen.


“What? I can’t put my seal on the paper for such a large amount.”


The woman countered, “But we’ve done this on a regular basis.”


After further arguments and counterarguments, the woman left, very reluctantly.


And then, after a while, a man named K, calling himself a Managing Director, came to Hanaya. He wore his suit in a very proper manner. He informed Shizue that on the suggestion of Arae’s old friend, T, they had started a real estate company with Arae as the nominal president. Arae was also a guarantor at the time of financing. The man then produced a bill, saying, “Please stamp your seal. The counter lady has done it every time.”

“Are you kidding me?! You think you can hoodwink us because we’re all old men and women, don’t you? What are you trying to do, ruin Hanaya? I’ll never do this. Leave!”


Shizue was furious, and sent back the Managing Director. Then that night, another friend of Arae’s, T, called her. She gave T the same conclusion that she had reached after a long consideration to this matter.


“T-san, as you know. My father is almost in a vegetative state. So, please remove him from the President post. We’ll pay 10 million yen this time, but this is the last time.”


“I understand. I’ll send you K one more time. Thank you.”


T hung up the phone.


T was an outstanding citizen of society. He had gone to considerable lengths to arrange Arae’s hospitalization. For that reason, Shizue could not bluntly reject T’s word, which would had been equivalent to making her father lose face.



When Tsuji heard this case from Shizue, he summoned K to his PARCO office. “How much money does Arae guarantee?” “2.3 billion yen,” answered K. Tsuji was livid. “How long do you have to prey on him!”


Tsuji continued, “I’ll notify the bank that the guarantor is in a vegetative state, thus no longer able to underwrite money.” K turned pale. “Please don’t. If you do such a thing, the company will go bankrupt. We’ll find another person to stand surety, so please wait,” K said and left.


Shortly after, the new president was assigned to replace Arae. Area’s liability on guarantee was removed one by one. However, with only two to go, Arae passed away. In the meantime, the real estate company declared bankruptcy.


Six months after Arae’s death, a letter arrived from S Credit Union. It was about the payment method for the remaining liability. Shizue went to the bank at once, and told the subsection chief, “My father has passed away six months ago.” He said, “Really? Who sent this letter anyway?” and went to the back of the office. The subsection chief reappeared after a long consultation and advised Shizue, “We may call you up again. Please come back then.”


Afterwards, seven years later to be exact, Shizue was summoned by S Credit Union. They demanded her that she pay approximately 400 million. After fighting that demand, she made a deal with the bank to pay 4 million yen.



Shizue deeply and painfully realized one thing: Those who exploited Arae’s position were bad people. Still, ignorance is frightening. The ignorant and naive who believe that one should only work hard in life would not stand a chance against devious and smart people.



Jack & Betty


The eviction case of the Ginza TAIGAA was finally settled on the terms that Shizue would receive an eviction fee. Using that money, she decided to construct a new building on a site where the Ueno TAIGAA used to stand.


In 1976, the five-story Ichibankan Building was completed. The shoe company that had a store in PARCO opened another on the first floor. Tsuji scouted Shoji Oyamada, a former Marubutsu employee; he was welcomed as Shizue’s personal manager and went on to support her business projects for the rest of his life.


Shizue, meanwhile, saw this a good opportunity to close the Ueno TAIGAA. The restaurant had been doing a good business, yet it was not comparable to that of the peak years. In addition, there existed already a number of other Sapporo ramen shops. It was time to close this one, and start a new shop.


Shizue opened a coffee shop named Jack & Betty on the second floor of the Ichibankan Building. The shop’s name was derived from the English textbook Shizue had used in her school days.


One unique element of this coffee shop was the swing. She made the interior space look larger by lining the walls with mirror, and then placed four swings. From the opening day, schoolgirls and young women who could not wait to enjoy a cup of coffee while riding a swing, formed long lines. The menu included pancakes, which quickly became the favorite item among girls. Jack & Betty flourished as a hangout or rendezvous spot for schoolgirls and young couples as well as a waiting place for OL female workers who visited Ameyoko for dining and drinking.


There were all sorts of people in the coffee shop: women engaged in lively conversation; people quietly reading books; girls slowly moving on the swing; and a group of OL workers speaking in whispers. Unlike the Japanese restaurant or ramen shop, coffee shop offered a space where people could enjoy talk over tea or coffee, or be alone and contemplate something deep; it was also a place for women to casually chat or share a fun, sad or tough experience as well as daily cares, empathizing with one another.


While observing those girls and ladies coming to Jack & Betty, Shizue had a vague notion, “It would be great if I could create more places like this.”



The Marching Bugle


The front sliding door of Hanaya opened with a clatter. It was past noon and there were no customers. Shizue, dozing off over a newspaper at the counter, was awakened by the noise.


“Welcome to Hanaya,” said Shizue.

The person who came in was Branch Manager of K Securities. The company operated in a 14-tsubo (approx. 500 sq. ft; one tsubo: 35.5 sq. ft) space facing the main street next to Hanaya.


“Hanaya-san, I have something to discuss today.”


“Our building has become old. When it rains, water gathers in the building; there are plenty of mice living there; and an electric short circuit is waiting to happen. In a nutshell, we can’t do business without rebuilding it. So, here’s our proposal: Could you sell us your place?”


Though Shizue was flabbergasted inside, she answered in a cool manner, “No, no, no. On the contrary, we’ve been wondering if we can buy your place.”


In the past, there had been a plan to jointly reconstruct a three-house building complex with Hanaya and its neighbors on either side. However, due to lack of capital, the idea failed to materialize.


Today, Branch Manager decided not to discuss any further, and left. As soon as he was gone, Shizue grew anxious. “I was bluffing when I made the remark. If he comes back and asks us to buy his place, what shall I do? We have no money for that.”



Sure enough, everything went as she had worried. K Securities came back with a proposal to purchase their place, and pressured her with specific numbers, saying “We can no longer do business here. We’ll vacate the building. So, please buy it for 9 million yen per tsubo. “I’m in big trouble,” Shizue felt. She consulted Tsuji. He said, “Better not do it.” Those days, Tsuji was very busy with his work at PARCO; he lived in a rented condominium in Shibuya. They seldom met face to face. When they talked, they did so on the telephone.


While Shizue remained undecided on the proposal, the impatient K Securities Branch Manager showed up.


“If you don’t buy it, we’ll sell it to someone else. There are already twenty candidates. I told you 9 million per tsubo, but A Company will buy it for 12 million. Our Board meeting is leaning toward A. But since I have spoken to Hanaya-san first, I’ll give you one month to think it over.”


He said so, and promptly left. The busy end-of-the-year holiday season was approaching. There was very little time. A was a major restaurant chain, which had recently expanded, opening multiple stores. It had momentum.



Around that time, Shizue’s own house in Sakuradai was under reconstruction. So Shizue had been lodging in her late father’s room in Hanaya.


It was a rainy night. Shizue had trouble falling asleep.

“If ‘A’ comes next to us, that will threaten the survival of Hanaya. Father and Mother worked so hard to preserve this restaurant, and it may be gone. Can you accept that?”


The rain turned harder, the sound of it hitting the sliding storm shutters. Thunder began to rumble. Forked lightning zigzagged in the sky. The flash was so bright it lit up the room and Arae’s framed photograph on the wall. It looked like his eyes had flashed.


Somewhere, there was a loud crash of thunder. Father’s voice said, “Buy it. Buy it.”


Surprised, Shizue looked at the photo. Father certainly seemed to be saying, “This is a buy. This is a buy.” The clock read two in the morning. Shizue got up and telephoned Tsuji in his condominium.


“I think I’ll buy that place.”


“I’ll be too busy to cooperate. If you want to do it alone, I say, give it a shot.”


“Okay, I’ll do that.”


Shizue made up her mind. The bugle for the advance sounded. Every time Shizue decided to challenge something, a bugle call always rang out in her head. Here came the opportunity to show what she could do.



The Heartfelt Spirit of Shizue


First, Shizue had to go to K Securities. In the morning, she wore a white pongee kimono, and fastened it with a broad Saga brocade obi belt, with a red heart pattern on the front and the back of it.


While driving to her destination, the temporary branch store of K Securities, Shizue devised her strategy.


“Now, I’ve missed out on so many opportunities, but I need a story to make them to come aboard.


Shizue visualized and focused on Branch Manager’s name, her name, and her restaurant’s name.


When Shizue entered K Securities, she was greeted by Branch Manager and Deputy Manager. She happily and strongly tapped her obi belt and declared, “Today I brought with me my whole, sincere heart, gentlemen.”

“Oh, please. This way, please.” Deputy Manager ushered her into the back room.


Shizue said, “I’m awfully sorry to bother you, but may I borrow a calligraphy brush, ink, and hanshi paper, please?” A lady worker promptly brought her what she requested.


“Gentlemen, please look the other way,” Shizue said, and with plenty of ink, fluidly wrote a 31-syllable tanka poem on the paper. Visualized in her mind were the name of Branch Manager, YOSHIDA, her own name SHIZUE MASUDA, and the restaurant name HANAYA. After completing the poem, Shizue proudly raised it high over her head. She had incorporated those key words into one poem, which read:


SHIZUkanaru, HANA no yakata ni hito michite, yagate MASU-MASU, YOSHI to naruramu. (When a quiet mansion of flowers becomes full of people, things will soon become better and better.)


The poem suggested, “Once the building is completed, the place will prosper absolutely (with many customers).”



Shizue said, “By all means, please sell your place to us.” Branch Manager folded his arms, grunting, “Mmm.” After a while, he said, “I understand. I’ll immediately propose this in the Board meeting.”


Several days later, Branch Manager telephoned her.


“In the Board meeting, I showed the tanka poem to the Directors. They all grew quiet. They were deeply moved by it. In the end, we unanimously agreed, ‘All right. Let’s decide on Hanaya-san.’”


Those were the times when such heartfelt spirit was still alive. By coincidence, it turned out that another Director in the meeting was also named Yoshida.





Now that the seller gave her the green light, Shizue had to secure funding. It was the 24th of December, Christmas Eve, in the middle of the busiest time of the year. In Hanaya’s office, Oyamada was busying himself preparing year-end oseibo gifts. The sake was the oseibo of choice since they ran a Japanese restaurant. Shizue wrote the recipient’s name on narrow tanzaku strips of paper, and then Oyamada glued them to the sake bottle. Many years earlier, Shizue learned calligraphy using The 100 Poems by 100 Poets (a collection of classical tanka poems). She was told her calligraphy was dynamic and fluid, and had character.


“Oyamada-san, we need to make a courtesy visit to K Bank. Please call its branch manager.”


K Bank was affiliated with K Securities. Years before, when the talk of constructing a joint building surfaced, Tsuji had told her to switch the bank from the previous one to K. He said that the decision would come in handy someday. Since then, Shizue had deposited Hanaya’s sales proceeds in K. But the newly appointed branch manager was the serious type, who could not take jokes, not Shizue’s type.


“Hello, we’ve come to pay our respects at the end of the year,” Shizue said. Oyamada unwrapped the furoshiki bag, containing the oseibo gift. To their horror, however, the recipient’s name read A Credit Union. The branch manager froze. Oyamada, pale as a sheet, apologized profusely, wiping his sweat. “We’re so sorry. We’ll take it back immediately and bring back the right one.” Shizue shuddered. Oh, no! I’ve done it again. She had a bad feeling about discussing financing after this debacle.


But she took the plunge and began, “I’ve already told the previous branch manager about this, but there was a talk about combining building with K Securities. K Securities came to us, requesting us to buy their land. We’d like to, but we have no capital.”


“How much do you need?”


“The land is 9 million yen per tsubo: the area is 14 tsubo,“ said Shizue.


“Since I’m new, I don’t really have a sense of geography here. Still, 9 million is a lot. If you borrow that much, can you repay it?”


“Yes, we can. We’ll have enough tenants to pay the rents.


The branch manager did not mince words. “Who will move into such an expensive place?”


“But we’ve got to. We must borrow money or we’ll be in a bind. We’re totally committed to your bank. That’s why we’ve been depositing our proceeds here,” Shizue insisted.


The branch manager said, “In that case, let us request ringi (lit. circular memo) approval. The process will take three months.” But Shizue could not afford waiting for three months.


Outside, a cold December wind blew against their faces. “No good, as expected,” Shizue muttered. “President, I’m so sorry,” Oyamada apologized.


“No, no. We stood no chance with that manager in the first place. Now, we’ll go to A Credit Union. Leave all the talking to me, okay? You can’t say not even a word. Don’t laugh, either.” Oyamada was a tall man; if he remained silent, he could pass as a menacing-looking bodyguard. But he was a gentle soul by nature. Every time Shizue cracked a joke with her counterparts, he could not help bursting into laughter, although, being on her side, Oyamada was supposed to stay silent.


Shizue was a firm believer in the theory that if you can make bankers laugh, you win. That’s why she desperately dispensed clever jokes. But it would be meaningless if a person on your side laughed at her joke first. After reiterating that to Oyamada, they went into A Credit Union.



Shizue handed to the branch manager the oseibo gift with the name A Credit Union, which had been brought from K Bank. Then, she began to casually chat with the familiar face.


“By the way, K Securities has recently pressured us to buy their land, and we don’t know what to do about it.” The manager leaned forward.


“They say they would sell it for 9 million yen per tsubo,” said Shizue.


“That is a buy, absolutely,” the manager said strongly. Shizue thought, “Bingo!” This manager was very familiar with the local area.


“Let me know when you decide to buy it. We’ll help you.”


“But I was told, ‘If you want to buy it, give us the money within a month.’”


“We’ll lend you money in a month,” the branch manager reassured her.


Shizue, smiling inside, folded her arms and grunted, “Hmm.”


“Well, then, we’ll think it over and come back.”


Outside, Shizue and Oyamada were all smiles. They didn’t mind the nippy, cold wind.


Three days later, Shizue was back at A Credit Union.


“We decided to buy it. That location is where my father had wished to own for a long time. He used to say, ‘On main street rather than the second building on the block.’ The area is 14 tsubo, which means 126 million yen. The amount we’d like to borrow from your bank is 120 million even. Ichi, ni ichi ni (one two, one two) has a nice, auspicious ring to it; it is like taking the first and second steps forward.”


Thus, the problem of funding the new land purchase was resolved.



The Joint Building Construction Plan


Shizue went on to purchase the land owned by K Securities. At the same time, she decided to construct a joint building with a well-established kimono fabric shop named Koikeya whose history harking back to the Edo period [1603 – 1867]. Koikeya and Hanaya shared the same block that had survived the wartime fires in the Ueno vicinity. Cats used to come and go between the windows of the three-story building of each family, and they would seem to say, “Since the father of the new born is Hanaya’s house cat, please take this kitten.” Those were the days when they still had maintained typical Shitamachi relationships. Now, according to a carpenter, the Koikeya building was in very bad shape, and just one step away from having a leak of electricity. So was the Hanaya building. For that reason, the two families agreed to construct an eight-story joint building.


It was decided that another securities company, not K Securities, would be housed in part of the first five stories. But this stirred up a major problem. Some locals started a protest movement against it. Newspaper headlines included, “Traitor of Town: Shizue Masuda” and “A Major Disturbance in Peaceful Ueno.” Turning on the radio, one heard, “Today’s Topic: In Ueno now …” Shizue became a quite famous figure. One big reason for the opposition was this: “Don’t allow large securities companies or banks on the main street. They shutter the buildings at three in the afternoon. Town will look deserted.”


Shizue went around the whole neighborhood door to door, patiently explaining, “We’ll never make our buildings deserted-looking. Please understand.” Yet, the opposition persisted. In addition, Shizue being a woman president, there was some harassment. Exasperated, Shizue went on the offensive, saying, “I’ve been working so long in this town. And to begin with, it’s nobody’s business to question whether I should rebuild my own place.”  They reached a tug-of-war-like impasse. Eventually, mediators emerged, and they decided to hold the “Meeting to Have a Deal.”


Shizue modified the initial plan to house a picture book store in a corner of the first floor, which had been initially allocated for a securities company. She believed that if the store operated till late hours, the bright lighting of the whole building would be preserved. As a result, the dispute came to an end, and the construction of the building started.



Playing the Role of a Good Wife


Around that time, besides the role of a female president presiding over Hanaya and Ichibankan Building, Shizue assumed yet another important role, the role of the understanding wife of Tsuji Masuda, the Managing Director of PARCO. Her duties included attending business-related parties with her husband, and paying occasional visits to PARCO.


The social image of a traditional wife during those times in Japan was the one who supported her husband, always walking three steps behind him. The norm was that she had very little knowledge of his work, took good care of him after his long day at work earning money for the family; the next morning, she would send him off to his job. However, Shizue could not do all that.


In a nutshell, Tsuji and Shizue were not an “ordinary husband and wife.”


When their children were still little, Tsuji declared, “I want to spend the money I made for my own purposes only” and went on to do so. Shizue, likewise, had trouble getting into domestic chores. Home was not the place to feel at ease for either Tsuji or Shizue. The two had continued to struggle with leading a married life and then, they decided go their own separate ways. Tsuji had rented a condo near his workplace, and seldom had gone home in Sakuradai. Shizue had been occupied with her job, too. She had typically worked very late every day, and if work had finished early, in appreciation for her employees’ hard work, she would have taken Oyamada and other workers out for drinking.


When faced with an important decision, Shizue sought Tsuji’s advice, but otherwise, she mostly shouldered her work alone without whining or complaining. And although Tsuji frequently threw cold water on her crazy, off-the-wall behavior, in the final analysis, they were two rivals who acknowledged each other’s talents.


In such relationship, nevertheless, Shizue had continued to play the role of what was considered a good wife. A close friend of hers recalled later, “There were plenty of hard and lonely times for her. I really think she could have used a little bit more moral support from Tsuji-san.”



Women’s Film Festival


In 1978, International Women’s Film Festival was held at the Yotsuya Public Hall. The event, particularly a Danish film titled Ta’ det Som en Mand, Frue! / Take it Like a Man, Madam (1975), directed by Mette Knudsen, Elisabeth Rygaard and Li Vilstrup, left a major impact on Shizue. The synopsis was like this: A fifty-year-old full-time housewife, after child-rearing years, fantasizes that male-and-female roles are reversed. In reality, she finds a job, gets involved in a strike, and loses her job. She then takes a yet more positive step forward in her life.


Shizue felt strong empathy with the female staff who had hosted the event as well as with the women who had gathered there. She wrote about this experience in a letter to a friend of hers:


Since I attended this film festival, my heart has been aflame with passion; and my head has been spinning. I’m calling it, “gone crazy, gone mad.” I’d like to utilize this crazy energy into something constructive. We shall see.


Regarding the “pub or hangout for women” we discussed, I no longer think about other districts; I feel, ‘Why not do it in Ueno?’ That’s because the cost is way cheaper in Ueno.


And I want to make that hangout a liberated venue with no regard for profits. How about this idea? At first, we’ll make the place a large, cavernous space with a screen and a mini-stage, and as the demand rises, we’ll provide food and drinks. It will be great if this really happens. If there is God and He can grant my wish, I’ll pray to God or the Buddha or anything. But speaking of praying, first, I must pray to my late father, and then to my mother who had to die without achieving her goals. That’s because my feelings for my mother are strongly supporting me right now.



Shizue had been brought up under unusual circumstances. Her father never allowed her to cook because “cooking was for men.” And then, for her to enter that feudalistically rigid culinary world was extremely hard. Every time she tried to do something, she was told, “Don’t you dare do! You’re a woman,” or “What can you do? You’re just a woman.” A craftsman-type chef once took her for a fool, and stabbed a kitchen knife into the tatami mats right before her eyes.


Shizue was not versatile enough to handle cooking, domestic chores and child care. She often felt, “Why should women always have to do those tasks?”


When she launched a new business, she was looked down on by those involved just because she was a lady president. She was angry about gender discrimination, and had enough gumption to always fight back and say what she had to say. She worked at a feverish pace and fought alone in a man’s world. Soon, however, she witnessed and heard that a great number of women, particularly young women, in similarly tough situations as hers, had begun to have their voice heard.



The women’s liberation movement, which had evolved into a worldwide phenomenon from the mid-1960s, began to spread in Japan as well with its first Japanese convention as a turning point. The movement then led to various other social events. For the women of the younger generations, the window of opportunity is wide open to the world. This was totally unthinkable to Shizue when she was young. Shizue recalled the zeal she used to embrace, but had long forgotten.


Shizue truly felt, “I want to create a venue for women to gather and get across their message.” As the first step, Shizue envisioned “a cavernous place with a screen and a mini-stage.” That was because Shizue had devoted her energy to theater since her student days, and in return, received the zest for life from it. For this reason, she hoped that she would be able to create a “women’s theater” to present various social issues.



After the International Women’s Film Festival, Shizue began to show up at numerous gatherings in an effort to support women’s causes. Shizue stood out in those assemblies. Though physically petite and somewhat reserved in manner, her distinctive air and unique comments were sufficient for people around her to feel, “She’s no ordinary person.”


In the meantime, Shizue also met the members of the theater group Bluebird (Aoi Tori). Bluebird was founded in 1974 by six women. One of the founding members was Hana Kino [1948 – ]. Shizue fell in love with the troupe. She supported the theater by advising the continuing members, who took on part-time jobs, that they could increase their profits by selling play script collections during their performances; she also bought many of their tickets, and took them out for lunch and dinner.



Hanaya is Closed


Since Arae’s death, Shizue had managed Hanaya as okami both in name and in substance. However, head chef Oizumi had grown aged, making it difficult to work as he used to do. Nishizawa, the last protégé of Arae’s, had been working diligently, but still could not stop the decline in customer base. The absence of Arae, a “noted oyaji (boss; a father figure)”, certainly made a big difference. Also, new shops had emerged one by one in the surrounding area of Hanaya. The values in society had changed as well.


Shizue initially considered operating Hanaya in the new building. But she became involved in a factional dispute and other problems inside the association of professional chefs. As a result, she could not use skilled artisan-type chefs. Without them, a Japanese restaurant cannot survive. She pleaded to the association repeatedly. However, due to the conflicts in their relationship, the issues remained unresolved. On top of that, Shizue was criticized by chefs from Arae’s generation, further isolating her. Her discontent toward the world of professional chefs, which she had been harboring from her youth, grew only worse. Their world was feudalistic, old-fashioned and male-dominated; when they met, they all wore black suits; and there were no chances for women to participate.


To make things worse, the trial regarding the liability on guarantee by Arae had still continued.


Tsuji was against the idea of Hanaya doing business in the newly constructed building. He said, “If you were a chef, maybe. But in such a deteriorated relationship with those people, I don’t see why you have to continue to run it.”


Shizue agonized over the decision. Can I afford to lose the restaurant that I inherited from Father and Mother? There was no answer to the question. Sleepless days ensued. After a series of troubles, Shizue became totally exhausted.


Ultimately, the decisive blow came when Nishizawa-san, whom Shizue had hoped would be the next chef-owner, had to return to his hometown for personal reasons.


“Well, about Hanaya …”

Shizue began.

“You cannot continue to run it, you know,” Tsuji said simply.


On the last business day of Hanaya, nearly 100 people gathered. Shizue and Tsuji had mailed invitation letters to those who had ties to Hanaya. Head chef Oizumi served Hanaya cuisine with all his heart. Tsuji and Shizue joined the ring of customers, and thoroughly enjoyed the food and sake.


Hanaya closed in 1979. Shizue paid a severance to every employee, including the chefs and the counter lady.


After that, it seemed that there was a huge hole in Shizue’s heart.



Central 21 Building


In 1980, Central 21 Building opened in Ueno. It was a new building in matte-silver color with slightly curved lines. The building had one basement floor and eight floors above; on a fine day, it reflected the sunlight brilliantly. The name of the building signified progress by leaps and bounds toward the 21st century.


Shizue opened a small picture book store named Jack & Betty (the same as the coffee shop) in a two-and-a-half tsubo (89 sq. ft) space on a corner of the first floor. Koikeya occupied one corner on the second floor. Securities firms took the first floor through the fifth; restaurant tenants occupied the basement, seventh and eighth floors. Tsuji who had ties with a number of shops in PARCO played a big role in tenant selection.


However, they could not find tenants for the sixth floor. “In that case,” Shizue decided to have a little office for herself. She thought, “Now that Hanaya is gone, I want to at least have a place of my own.” She furnished her own little space with a sofa and a desk she liked. Then, she happened to catch her own image in the mirror. With her hair up and clad in kimono, the quintessential okami of a Japanese-style restaurant was there.


“I’m no longer okami-san of Hanaya.”


Shizue rushed into a hair salon. She had her hair drastically switched to a bob cut. Changing into a bright floral-patterned Western dress, Shizue felt like she had been finally liberated from all the old baggage she had carried from the past.



→ Chapter 6.  Niki Is Me!