While in Nagasaki with the ship for the first time, in October 2016, my then boyfriend (now husband) Nick, and I, visited the lovely town of Nagasaki in Japan. After sightseeing in the town, and visiting the heartbreaking Atomic Bomb Museum, and the inspiring Peace Park, we took the tram back to the ship area and wandered around looking for food.
Nick found a small local restaurant online so we proceed to search for it. After some wandering around trying to decipher street names and directions, we finally found the tiny place, tucked away on a small side street, called ‘Sushi Capital’. We weren’t even sure if it was open to start with. We knocked on the door cautiously, and an elderly Japanese lady opened the door for us smiling, beckoning us to come in, so we did.
The sight that met us was of a tiny, warm, traditional Japanese style family restaurant, with simple pale beige coloring throughout the décor, and a comfortable feel. On the left, there were tatami mats on the floor next to the only two, low wooden tables that could sit up to four people each, surrounded by cushions, and on the right, a high counter with just 4 seats at it, which was the sushi bar, with the kitchen preparation area right behind it. There was one Japanese lady sitting on one of the cushions on the floor, delicately eating her early dinner at one of the tables on the left with her legs tucked demurely under her, and no sign of westerners. Bingo. The menu was entirely in Japanese, so we had to rely on the few pictures on it and the limited Japanese we’d learned so far. We sat down and were immediately served two hot cups of the obligatory Japanese green tea. We chose a sashimi bento box from the pictures on the menu, and ordered some local sake to wash it down with.
While waiting, I decided to “spend a penny” as my grandmother used to say. Using the bathroom here meant walking through the small kitchen and past the living room, which had a sliding bamboo door, which was open the first time I went past, revealing the two little boys lying on the floor swinging their legs behind them in the air, giggling at a cartoon show on TV. This is when I realized that the restaurant that looked like you were in someone’s house, was actually just that. The kitchen for making sushi and miso was the family home kitchen, and the area customers dined in was their actual dining room. The tiny W.C behind it was adorned with the most amazing waste receptacle I’ve ever seen. It was my first experience of the ultra high tech Japanese toilets that can all but sing and dance and make you a cup of tea, including having a seat warmer and making fountain noises for you to assist your endeavors. This highly amused me, so, naturally, I pressed all the buttons, except I chickened out pressing the one that had picture of water shooting up fountain style, for fear of repercussions.
Perfection takes time and it appeared the food wouldn’t arrive with any time left to eat it before we had to go to be back on the ship for safety training. The food finally arrived and looked splendid. The sashimi bento box came with a piping hot bowl of home made miso soup, a small Japanese salad in a separate bowl, a bowl of sticky Japanese rice, tempura prawns, some pickled vegetables and a section with very yummy looking sashimi of salmon, yellow fin tuna, octopus and scallop. Sadly, we realized it was time to run, literally, so we asked (mostly by miming) to take the food to go. The friendly owner obliged and we took it back to the ship and enjoyed it immensely in the cabin after said training was complete.
During our second visit to Nagasaki, in March 2017, we had enough time to visit Glover Gardens, (I highly recommend it), and then wanted a second shot at actually having dinner in the lovely little restaurant we found before. The owners recognized us and welcomed us back. This time, we knew a bit more Japanese and were more au fait in general with Japan and Asia, and more confident to start up conversations, so we got chatting more to the family that run the restaurant. We learned that the grandfather Atsumi made the sushi, while the grandmother Mitsuki made the other dishes (miso soup and salad mainly) and took the orders. This time the floor tables weren’t there, it appeared they were being refurbished, which house proud Mitsuki was quite embarrassed about, but it made no difference to us). We opted to sit at the counter of the sushi bar on the two farthest right seats. The couple’s daughter, Yoru (in her 30s) who lived there too but didn’t work with them as far as we saw, came out to say hello. Then her two lovely little boys (the ones from the TV room last time) aged 6 and 8, came out to greet us too, shyly smiling and giggling at the funny foreigners.
As we sat down, we nodded to the only other client, a lone man sitting on the farthest left seat at the sushi counter, in his early 60s with a kind face, and sporting a baseball cap, who seemed like a local regular customer.
We perused the menu again, to decide which tasty treat we’d like to try this time, and while we were figuring out translating it, the regular leaned over to try to help us translate. The only thing was, he only spoke Japanese too. We chose a sushi and a sashimi bento box and ordered a small carafe of sake again, and struck up an (albeit limited) conversation with our new neighbor. For the next hour while we sat and waited for the food, then ate and enjoyed the food when it arrived, we chatted to our new friend, who introduced himself as Ooto. We managed to have a pleasant chat with Ooto conveying in Japanese general chit chat, like that we worked on the ship, that I sing for a living and Nick plays piano, that we were from Scotland and England respectively, and that we love Japan, Japanese food and people. He laughed at our attempts at conversing several times as I’m sure our pronunciation and grammar wasn’t always on point, but it was in a convivial way, thinking us sweet for trying. We learned he was from Kagoshima, is friends with the owners and he works in the fishing industry. After we finished our lunch, we asked for the bill, and our new friend said no, that we don’t pay, Ooto wanted to pay for his new friends. It was very unexpected, and very unlikely to happen in most other countries, to meet someone and then be offered to pay for lunch and sake for two, just to be nice. This was very kind of him, and too much, and we protested, but it was no use, it would offend him to decline the offer. We thanked him and then had to be on our way back to the ship feeling very lucky and privileged to have had such a nice time and made new local friends.
In April 2017, we went back to Nagasaki one more time. This time, we went to Chinatown to check out the area, quirky shops, stalls and atmosphere there. Having had such a lovely time the first two times, we decided to have our last meal in Nagasaki in our now favorite Nagasaki restaurant. This time as we entered the owners warmly greeted us. They were smiling as they ushered us to the newly refurbished table in the corner where we’d sat the first time. We quickly ordered a special deluxe sushi plate of hand formed sushi and another sashimi bento box, with a final carafe of sake. Atsumi and Mitsuki seemed happy to see us again, and shouted through to the living room in the back to their daughter Yoru that we’d returned. She came out beaming a smile hello, and then she called out her sons. The two boys came out in their karate outfits, apparently about to go to a lesson. Their mother said something to them, and after they stopped giggling again, their cute faces became shy, then serious looking, and they proceeded to show us a few of their karate moves. We applauded enthusiastically and the boys seemed very pleased with this reaction. They both bowed quickly, and then were ushered out by their mother who evidently took them to class. Our food arrived and as usual did not disappoint. We enjoyed the food even more this time, feeling more like in the company of new friends which seemed like almost a secret society that we made it into, befriending people literally in their own home, on the other side of the world from where we are from, in another language previously completely alien to us. After we finished our main courses, the owner, came out and asked us if we liked something, after a couple of minutes using Nick’s Japanese translation app, we figured out she asked if we like cake. We both answered “hai” and then moments later, Mitsuki reappeared from the kitchen, proudly holding a tray full of a variety of fresh delicious looking cakes. Some had vanilla, custard, cake, or strawberries on top. Mitsuki told us it was her birthday and she would like to share her birthday cakes with us. I smiled from ear to ear at such a thoughtful gesture. We selected the strawberry variety and sat politely tucking into them. We had brought a small gift for the owners, Yoru, and the boys, and for our friend Ooto from last time, as gift giving is an important part of Japanese culture, and a great sign of respect for someone. We gave the gifts now, and asked them to pass the final one on to Ooto next time he was in to say thank you to him too. These were received with big smiles and a hug from grandmother the birthday girl.
We settled our bill, and before we left we asked if we could take a photo with our host/friends. They obliged and we fondly waved goodbye, promising to return next time we stop in Nagasaki.
Nick and I walked back to the ship with our stomachs and hearts full, and with a real sense of affection for Nagasaki and our connections made there, which holds strong. If you go there, I highly recommend trying ‘Sushi Capital’, or any tiny restaurant, as you never know when it’ll be more than happy taste buds that you gain.