--Mr. Endo, you took over your family's butcher shop, Matsuya, after it reopened in 2017 and now you serve as the representative. Please tell us its story.
(Mr. Endo, CEO of Matsuya / "Roast Pork Meister") It wasn't actually the case that I had been helping out at the shop since the beginning. After I graduated from university, I worked at a publisher and was a magazine editor. My father fell ill, and I helped out at the shop while continuing my own work for a time. Then when my mother became injured, we ended up closing the shop for about six years.
To be honest, I was not interested in business in the beginning. But I had a strong will to do something to help the family business that we had continued since my grandfather's time. Everything was made fresh upon order and not ahead of time. Croquettes, fried minced meat and pork cutlets, the potato salad that is made using homemade mayonnaise, and of course our roast pork... All of Matsuya's flavors have been with me since my childhood, and I wanted to make sure that our customers could keep enjoying those traditional flavors, so I reopened the shop in the spring of 2017. First, specializing only in the roast pork, which I have inherited the recipe for. While I renovated the shop, I kept the refrigerators and their wooden doors from its butcher days. These hooks on the ceiling were used for hanging big pieces of meat, with the bone still in.
--Why did you decide that the shop would specialize in roast pork?
Our special savory and spicy soy-based roast pork sauce, which is used to cook the roast pork, has a light texture which is combined with the slight spiciness of chili peppers. It goes wonderfully with white rice. We have been selling roast pork for a long time, since our days as a butcher, but roast pork is never the main dish at dinners. I wanted to do something about that and find a way to give roast pork a place as the main dish at the dinner table. Our basic recipe is based on what was handed down to me by my father, but I am making improvements daily in my selection of meats, choice of spices, and the cooking process. I've taken on the name, "Roast Pork Meister," so I have a strong commitment to perfecting our roast pork.
--After you open at 13:00 on Saturday every week, the fifty cuts of roast pork quickly sell out. How did you decide on this sales method?
Before I opened the shop, I knew I wanted to offer customers freshly roasted pork. I handle everything, from the purchasing, preparation to the sale of pork. Based on my goal of offering delicious, freshly roasted pork, I decided it was best to start out opening for business once a week and closing once I had sold fifty cuts of pork. I am very grateful for the customers that come rain or shine, or even snow. When I think of all my customers, I get an adrenaline rush right before opening the shop (laughs). I really do have the blood of merchants flowing in my veins, so I totally fell in love with the rush. It is really fun to sell the pork while personally seeing each customer one by one. My customers include locals, people who happened to stop by while on a walk, and acquaintances who have known our flavor for years and come to visit my mother.
--We've heard that Okazu Yokocho ("Entrée Market"), which has many shops like Matsuya selling entrées, was developed because there were many craftsmen in the nearby factories.
This has been a shopping street since the old days. While we're now connected by the Oedo subway line, all the stations used to be quite far away, and we felt like a little isolated island (laughs). You're right, we are called Okazu Yokocho, the Entrée Market in English. This became so as all the busy craftsmen in the nearby shops would come to buy their dinner entrées here. The origin of Okazu Yokocho is a bit different from the shopping streets that came about because they were easily accessible.
--Your home is close to the shop as well. What are your thoughts on the distinct characteristics of this neighborhood?
I think it might be that there are still some neighborly relations remaining. I am in my late 40s now, but sometimes I'm still being called by my first name by my neighbors who I have known since I was a child (laughs). Like "Tsuyoshi, are you working hard today?" I'm used to this, so it's somehow comfortable and I feel at ease here. It's something you'll understand if you live here, but it's an unexpectedly quiet neighborhood. And if you go down one of the narrow lanes off the main road, it feels like a tenement housing row, which is very nice.
--Is there anything you would like to do with your shop in the future?
We're seeing more young people moving into the neighborhood, which is making things very interesting. I'd like to keep running my shop while sharing the charms of the neighborhood with others and finding some way to help people who are interested in this area. I'd also like to one day start making the croquettes and fried minced meat cutlets from my parents' days. I myself would also like to enjoy those flavors once more. Making food I personally want to eat might be the most fundamental motivation.