The Japanese Table / Chef eager to convey the excellence of washoku to children

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Masahiro Kasahara

The Yomiuri ShimbunThis series discusses washoku traditional Japanese cuisine as it is now and its future. In this installment, The Yomiuri Shimbun interviews a renowned chef about his commitment to the profession.

Masahiro Kasahara / Owner of washoku restaurant Sanpi Ryoron in Tokyo

One of my specialties is cooking with chicken. Have you thought about the reason why Japanese cuisine uses meat less than vegetables and fish?

One is a cultural reason — it was long forbidden to eat meat in Japan. But more important is the fact that meat is not typically considered a seasonal food, and reflecting the sense of the season is an integral part of washoku.

However, my starting point in cooking was my father’s yakitori restaurant. Customers who know this like me to serve chicken dishes, so I try to include them in the courses I prepare.

For example, I use a seasonal vegetable in my broiled jidori specialty chicken with crumbs of fukinoto butterbur sprouts, so that customers can get a sense of spring.

I trained in a ryotei traditional Japanese restaurant for nearly 10 years after graduating from high school. At 28, I took over my father’s yakitori restaurant when he died.

Managing the restaurant was a challenge initially because of the obvious differences between working in a ryotei and running a yakitori restaurant in a local shopping district in terms of ingredients and dish prices, among other things. Fewer regulars were coming to the restaurant, so to attract new customers I tried doing things that ordinary yakitori restaurants don’t do, such as serving cakes. Fortunately, the number of customers gradually increased.

I could have kept running the yakitori restaurant. However, I heard from an acquaintance that my father had said that he hoped I would open a restaurant in an exclusive area one day. It made me think that I wouldn’t be letting my father down if I closed the restaurant.

The concept of the new restaurant I envisaged opening was a place where visitors can enjoy authentic Japanese cuisine in a relaxed atmosphere. People say that young people don’t like washoku — but the truth is that, even if they want to have traditional Japanese cuisine at a restaurant, they can’t because it is often expensive.

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Broiled jidori specialty chicken with crumbs of butterbur sprouts at the Sanpi Ryoron restaurant in Ebisu, Tokyo

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Nibitashi steeped green vegetables

My restaurant isn’t close to the station, but I hope that my customers appreciate the walk back to the station, talking about how much they enjoyed the meal.

It is also thought that children don’t have an appetite for washoku. I sometimes visit elementary schools with other chefs as part of our activities to promote Japanese cuisine in schools. I asked a school nutritionist why there were so few washoku dishes on school lunch menus, and the answer was that there were always leftovers when washoku was served.

However, when children tried dashi stock I had made, there was a chorus of “Wow,” and “Yummy.” Even children know what tastes good, and they like to eat delicious dishes.

So I hope adults provide more opportunities for children to experience washoku. Not much effort is required at home or at school. Japanese cuisine utilizes the natural taste and flavor of ingredients.

If we use seasonal food in our cooking, the dishes will taste great without having to use too much seasoning or complicated cooking processes. One good example is having boiled potatoes as snacks at home, which used to be relatively common.

I hope the next generation will appreciate how delicious simple dishes are, such as white rice and miso soup made with good-quality dashi. I look forward to continuing to convey the splendor of traditional Japanese cuisine.

— This interview was conducted by Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer Yukako Fukushi.

Nibitashi steeped green vegetables

Nibitashi is a cooking method of simmering or steeping food such as vegetables and fish in lightly seasoned broth. The flavor of the dashi stock permeates the ingredients as the broth cools. Kasahara’s recommendation this season is steeped green vegetables.

Kasahara used asparagus, okra, haricot verts and snap peas when he showed us how to make the dish.

Use kombu and dried bonito to make the dashi. To make the nibitashi broth, use a ratio of 16 parts dashi stock, 1 part light soy sauce, 1 part mirin. Remove from the heat soon after bringing to a boil and leave to cool. The broth has a mild and refined flavor that can be enjoyed just as it is.

Parboil vegetables and add them to the broth. Make sure not to overcook the vegetables so that they maintain their vivid colors.

“After boiling, cooling the vegetables in iced water is best, but the procedure is not necessary at home,” Kasahara said.

It is better to keep the vegetables in the broth for half a day in a refrigerator. Spinach, mizuna and spring cabbage are also good ingredients to use for this dish.

■ Masahiro Kasahara

Kasahara was born in Tokyo in 1972. After gaining experience at Shougatu-ya Kitcho, of the Kitcho restaurant chain, he took over his father’s yakitori restaurant. He opened his own restaurant, Sanpi Ryoron, in 2004, and he now owns three directly managed restaurants in Tokyo and Nagoya. He often appears in the media, including on TV and in magazines, and has written many books. His main restaurant offers two courses, for either ¥6,800 or ¥8,900 (excluding service charge). The chef decides what dishes will be served each day.

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