Iwate Pref. Restaurant Spreads The Deliciousness Of Tofu; Manager Hopes The Store Will ‘Energize’ Locals

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Takuya Onitsuka

FUDAI, Iwate —TOFoKU, a restaurant where visitors can enjoy various tofu dishes, opened in April on the grounds of Aonokuni Fudai, a roadside station in the village of Fudai, Iwate Prefecture.

The restaurant is run by Takuya Onitsuka, 42, a former member of the village’s regional revitalization cooperation team who took over a local tofu shop. He is determined to “make it a place of relaxation for the village.”

Onitsuka is originally from Miyazaki City in southern Japan. He was working as a systems engineer in Tokyo in 2011 when the Great East Japan Earthquake occurred. Faced with a situation where he had money but could not obtain products at supermarkets, he became interested in primary industries, realizing that “if you have food, you won’t have trouble living.”

About a year after returning to Miyazaki, he established a systems development company as a way to make a living while he learned about farming. He was thinking about creating a new base in the north, away from his hometown, when he learned about Fudai, which was recruiting members for its regional revitalization cooperation team, and decided to move there.

He came to the village in January 2015. During the next few years, he had a variety of experiences such as training at a spinach farm and cultivating shiitake mushrooms on logs. Then, as his three-year term on the regional revitalization cooperation team was coming to an end, he heard that Shizuko Kamishita, 80, who ran a tofu shop near the roadside station, was closing her store due to poor health. Since his own grandparents had also run a tofu shop, he offered to take over, thinking, “This is the only way I’ll be able to make a living in this village.” After a good deal of negotiation, Kamishita agreed to it. He spent three weeks learning how to make tofu from her before taking over in October 2018.

However, the tofu did not sell as well as he had hoped, and the business struggled. To overcome this problem, he also trained at a famous tofu shop in Hachimantai, also in Iwate Prefecture, in the spring of 2019. For his main ingredient, he switched from using foreign-grown soybeans to two varieties that are grown in the Tohoku region, and he devised a way to make tofu that was both sweet and firm. In the fall of 2020, he also started door-to-door sales within the village. Thus the deliciousness was spread to more people, and the shop finally began to gain traction.

The decision to open the current restaurant was made in December of last year. As he was looking for a location that would help him acquire new customers, he learned that a corner of the roadside station had become available around the summer of the same year and decided to open there. He applied for it, purchased an oven and refrigerator and began developing new products. The mamekara (deep-fried grilled tofu) available for ¥220 including tax and the “Fudain-mi” for ¥500 including tax, which sandwiches mamekara and kelp-flavored namasu (a mixture of shredded carrots and daikon radishes) between baguette bread, are the store’s most highly recommended menu items.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Mamekara, deep-fried grilled tofu, is a popular menu item at TOFoKU.

In addition to rice bowls with mamekara or ganmo (deep-fried tofu mixed with thinly sliced vegetables), the restaurant offers eight other varieties of dishes, including hiyajiru, a cold soup which is one of Miyazaki’s local delicacies. Before Onitsuka took over, the store offered only two kinds of tofu: firm white tofu and grilled tofu. He has added two more: firm green tofu, which is made from green soybeans that taste like edamame, and soft tofu.

Kamishita, who helps make tofu at the store, said, “I’m grateful that the business has been carried on. I want to support the restaurant so that it thrives.” Onitsuka said, “I hope it can become a place where villagers and tourists can interact and feel energized. I want them to enjoy the healthy tofu that we’re so proud of.”

The restaurant mainly offers takeout, but dining in is also possible. Business hours are from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and it is closed on Tuesdays.