A tuna from Ohma, Aomori prefecture was auctioned for the unprecedentedly high price of 56,490,000 yen at Tokyo Tsukiji's first auction of the year on January 5, 2012. This news is still fresh in our minds. High prices are often set at an opening market with celebratory prices. Even so, at 210,000 yen per kilogram, this was an unbelievably high price.
The person who finally determined this price was Kiyoshi Kimura, President of Tsukiji Kiyomura and the founder of the Sushi chain, Sushizanmai.
His opponents included a Hong Kong trader, who has continuously been setting high prices for the past three years, and a long established up-market sushi restaurant in Tokyo's Ginza. However Mr. Kimura never halted his stride, for in his heart, and the passion that drove him, was the thought that "because we experienced the Great East Japan Earthquake, today a Japanese buyer must do the best."
Many ideas are born from pure energy
Mr. Kimura' s dream was to become a fighter pilot and when he was fifteen years old he enlisted in the Japanese Self Defense Air Force. However, his eyes were damaged in an accident and he was unable to become a pilot. Amid his despair, he underwent a complete change, and with his sights at that time set on passing the extremely difficult National Bar Examination he entered the Correspondence Division at the Faculty of Law, Chuo University. Through fierce study, he passed the first examination in two years, but his education funding ran out and he had no alternative but to abandon the second round of exams.
After having part-time jobs selling encyclopedias, etc, and while still at university, Mr. Kimura entered a company with ties to Taiyo Fisheries (now Maruha Nichiro Holdings). He found work more interesting than study and it was from there that his path toward the fishing industry truly began.
Although striving to become a pilot and studying for Bar Examinations appear to reflect completely different paths, his life was based on the mental attitude that the important thing in working is to your best and to do something with all your heart.
He believed that, through pure energy, ideas continue to be born and change into reality.
One example of this was when he was struck with the idea of using small cut fish that would otherwise be thrown out. Selling them to conveyor belt style sushi shops was a hit.
When he discovered that frozen soy beans sold at beer gardens no longer sold after summer, he made an indoor beer garden, and set up a stove heater. Then soy beans were sold in winter as well.
Mr. Kimura was always thinking about how to sell things, and what makes people happy. In 1979, he went into business on his own at a very early age and founded Kimura's Store. With the spirit of trying out anything that came to mind, he has gained experience in more than 90 industries.
Mr. Kimura has had an overabundance of ideas and an extraordinary ability to take action. At a time when no one would try their hand at such things, he developed new food items, and opened a warm bento shop, a convenience store, a Karaoke establishment, a rental video store, etc.
The birth of 24 hour Sushi restaurants
At one stage, however, Mr. Kimura thought about giving up his businesses. In the middle of the financial crisis during the period when the bubble burst, his bank sought a one lump payment on a loan for tens of millions of yen. He had never once been late with a payment, so the way the bank treated him, a long time customer, made him angry and left him with a sense of futility. It was at that time that he contemplated liquidating his company and shutting down its operations.
However, he stood firm on the words of those around him encouraging him not to give up, and started a small sushi shop. This was the birth of Kiyozushi, and would be the model of what would later become Sushizanmai. The idea was to offer sushi that was of higher quality than conveyor style sushi, yet to be cheaper than a regular sushi restaurant and to have a clear billing system. Kiyozushi became a popular restaurant in a short time with people forming lines to get in.
People from Tsukiji noticed this success. At a time when the number of their customers was decreasing and vigor was fading, they requested him to "bring people in" and to "bring back splendor and strength" to Tsukiji.
Mr. Kimura stepped up to the plate. Doing something that no one else had done before, he hatched the idea of a 24 hour sushi restaurant. He already had a route for a continuous supply of fresh cuts. He had been in the fishing industry for a long time, had travelled the world, and knew everything about tuna. It was because he had personally developed an individualized supply system that all this became possible.
Furthermore, due to a policy that opening a new store is not about falling in line with sales projections, but about employees, Mr. Kimura puts a lot of energy into personnel training. For this purpose, he made a training school for his staff. From the second day of training he has them clasping the sushi, and after two years they become as well-trained as full-fledged sushi chefs.
In 2001, when opening Sushizanmai's flagship restaurant, Mr. Kimura introduced three concept ideas: 1) easy to enter; 2) easy to eat; and 3) high quality service.
Good toppings, Good flavor, and Good price provide Sushizanmai with success, and branch restaurants are continually opening. They are planning to have more than 302 restaurants with sales of more than one hundred billion yen by 2017.
Happiness comes from sharing tasty food with everyone
Even while vigorously developing a chain, in Mr. Kimura's heart the feeling of sharing tasty food with everyone is more important than wealth.
This is also true for the tuna that he dropped 56,490,000 yen for at the opening market. He would never get his money back unless he sold the lean parts for 10,000 yen, medium-fatty cuts for 15,000 to 20,000 yen and large-fatty cuts for 20,000 to 30,000 yen. However Mr. Kimura provided it at a price that would incur a deficit saying that he simply wanted people to enjoy eating high quality tuna.
This past January 14, he gave away 1,300 sushi meals to students (some of whom were affected by 3/11) and graduates at an event called The Gathering of Hakumon - Praying for the Reconstruction from the Great East Japan Earthquake - held in the Surugadai Memorial Hall, Chuo University.
He has made his way to the disaster-struck regions 8 times and continues to support them by delivering sushi and other things for free.
Amidst nature with mountains, oceans and rivers, and blessed with the harvests of the earth and the bounties of the sea, we can live with full vitality - this kind of utopia gave the inspiration for the name Kiyomura. By offering tasty meals, Mr. Kimura wants to contribute to the making of a richer community for everyone.
The name, Kiyomura, envelopes Mr. Kimura's dream.
And so again today, many people gather at Kiyomura to claim their share of tasty food and happiness.