By Sawako Takeda / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterTAKASAKI, Gunma — The Takasaki city government has made a list of “endangered meals,” launching a website that introduces 35 eateries in the Gunma Prefecture city that have long been loved by local residents but are in danger of disappearing.
The website is titled “Zetsu-meshi list” (https://zetsumeshi-takasaki.jp). Zetsu contains two meanings — “zeppin,” which means superb work, and “tayasuna,” which is a call to stop something from becoming extinct.
The city launched the website last autumn, and the number of page views had exceeded 1 million at the end of March this year. The list has gradually begun to have an effect — the number of visitors from inside and outside Gunma Prefecture to the restaurants has increased, and there have even been inquiries from people who heard some eateries’ call for successors.
The hollowing-out of a downtown area is a common phenomenon in regional cities where independent shops and restaurants close down one after another due to the aging of the owners or a lack of successors. The Takasaki city government listed restaurants that are “too good to be shut down,” aiming to support them and make the city better known.
Thirty-five private restaurants and shops, including Chinese and Western food restaurants, are introduced on the website. The list includes a shop selling “yaki-manju” — a Gunma specialty in which steamed buns coated with miso sauce are grilled. The shops are chosen based on criteria such as their popularity among local people; a mood evoking the Showa era (1926-89); and serving superb unique dishes or having an atmosphere not found anywhere else.
The restaurants are introduced by multiple magazine writers who specialize in food reports. The interviews, with photos attached, reveal such things as history of the restaurants and secrets about the tastes of their dishes.
In one interview, the owner of a restaurant that serves set meals said casually, “A signboard fell off in a typhoon a few years ago, but I have no plan to fix it.” The owner of a sandwich shop that opens from 5 a.m. every morning said, “People on their way home from drinking overnight sometimes come into the shop while we’re making sandwiches.”
The interviews are filled with witty conversations with interesting owners and eye-opening behind-the-scenes stories. The website makes a bold statement to lure viewers, saying, “It’s your fault if these dishes become unavailable someday.”
One of the restaurants listed is Kikunoya, which was established in 1971 and is run by Susumu Kikuta, 74, and his wife Setsuko, 71. A thick pork fillet cutlet and rice boxed meal is the eatery’s star item.
The number of its customers started declining after its heyday from 1965 to 1985. However, after the restaurant’s report was posted on the website, Kikunoya began welcoming tourists and people on business trips. There’s even a young customer who regularly comes to the place with presents.
“We no longer have the stamina to continue. We’ve become an endangered species,” the couple quipped. However, the arrival of new customers seemed to have given them the vigor to go the extra mile. “After all, a simple word makes us happy — ‘yummy.’”
Some restaurants on the list are looking for people to carry on the business. There have been inquiries as well as offers of support from companies.
This summer, the Takasaki city government plans to offer students at chef-training schools in Gunma Prefecture and Tokyo the chance to learn management through short-term employment in the city.
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