Shigeru Okada (Chef/Producer)
Shigeru Okada is a chef and producer known for his work at the creative agency 「en one tokyo」 which leads the art and culture scene in Tokyo's Harajuku district. He has been involved in the production of various spaces and dining establishments such as the authentic upon restaurant 「Menchirashi」, the music bar 「Fumin Yuugi Lion」, and「Tokyo Burnside」.
Born and raised in Asakusa.
Okada has produced numerous popular establishments across various fields including food, art, and music, mainly in the Harajuku area. He shared how he got involved in his current activities, starting from the beginning of his career.
"I was born and raised in Tokyo's Asakusa district, and I spent my days immersed in soccer. However, when it came time to graduate from high school, I was very unsure about my future path. Although I was passionate about soccer, I couldn't envision myself continuing to play and aiming to become a professional. At the same time, I had a love for fashion and was particularly drawn to the world of the 'go-getter' shop (known for its association with Daisuke Obana, the designer of N.HOOLYWOOD). Instead of pursuing a career as a soccer player, I wanted to work at that shop. Those feelings started to grow, and I began searching for an entry point into the fashion world."
However, it wasn't easy to find work at the shop, so Okada began exploring connections within the industry.
"At that time, 'go-getter' wasn't actively recruiting staff. I needed to personally get to know people in the industry, so I applied to various bars that were frequented by fashion professionals, based on information I found in fashion magazines. Fortunately, I was able to secure a position at one of those bars, and I started working there. Over the course of about seven years, I gained experience in the food and beverage industry and had the opportunity to see many aspects of Tokyo's scene that I was previously unaware of."
Afterward, he went on to establish several unique concept stores, such as the Izakaya "Robata Okada Ryuhei" in Nakameguro, which was at the forefront of the recent Neo-Izakaya boom, and "delifucious," a fish burger specialty shop in Nakameguro run by sushi chefs. Through the expanding network he built from his time as a bartender, these establishments became popular and beloved among industry professionals.
On the stage of Harajuku
Later, Okada met the members of the creative agency "en one tokyo" through a mutual acquaintance, where he is currently affiliated.
"Despite being the same age and in the same place, they were completely different types of people from me. They owned galleries in Harajuku, such as 'The Mass' and 'BA-TSU ART GALLERY,' and were involved in art-related businesses. From my perspective at the time, their work was strangely unpredictable in terms of profitability, and their hobbies and personalities were completely different from mine. However, spending time with them felt surprisingly comfortable, and we quickly developed a strong bond."
Since joining "en one tokyo," Okada has been involved in the creation of authentic spaces that exude a unique edge, such as the Udon restaurant "Menchirashi" and the music bar "Fumin Yuugi Lion," which have become popular spots representing Tokyo, attracting visitors from overseas. The latest venture led by Okada and his team is "Tokyo Burnside."
Tokyo Burnside is a space designed with a predominantly black theme, located above a convenience store on Cat Street in Harajuku. It is a food-themed platform created in collaboration with Ghetto Gastro, a food, design, and art collective based in the Bronx, New York, and the architectural studio Snøhetta from Norway.
"For us at en one tokyo, who are involved in various events, there was a growing need for a space where we could engage in activities more freely and experimentally, and also provide catering services. We wanted to create a space that not only focuses on food but also pays attention to the architectural and interior design aspects. In that process, we met the team from Ghetto Gastro and together, we created an open space that removes the boundaries between the kitchen and the table, mixing Tokyo and Bronx cultures. While 'Menchirashi' and ' Fumin Yuugi Lion' are examples of Udon restaurants for people of all ages, we deliberately aimed to create a closed space with Tokyo Burnside, where familiar people can come and play. In today's era, food establishments quickly become trendy and then fade away. We want to take our time and gradually expand, creating a place that will be loved for a long time."
The interior design is predominantly black, and Ghetto Gastro is known for their "Black Power Kitchen" culinary style.
The lighting evokes the image of charred cedar and the lanterns commonly seen in Japanese izakaya.
There are also flower sculptures designed by Makoto Azuma.
Creating something that continues to be cherished and loved.
When asked about the process of conceptualizing new establishments and realizing various new projects, Okada, the person responsible, said,
"I think about what is needed in Harajuku and what kind of shop I would personally like to visit. Based on that, I develop the basic concept. While I commute to Harajuku every day, I simply thought it would be nice to have a delicious Udon restaurant where I could also go at night. However, just running a regular Udon restaurant would be boring. If we were to do it, we wanted to create a high-quality establishment that combines Japanese and Western influences and incorporates art and street culture, which our customers have accepted. When I create a new shop, I first search for a location. I actually visit the building's location and feel the atmosphere of the interior. Then, I imagine what can be done there and decide on a specific place before thinking about what kind of experience to provide."
"I don't think about things like how busy the location is or what kind of people are around when deciding how to set up the shop. What matters most is whether it aligns with what I want to do and whether I will continue to love the shop I create. It has been about six years since Menchirashi opened, and I still have the utmost confidence that it is the shop I love the most."
The past that hold timeless charm and quality.
In order to continue creating the best experiences and cherishing the value of things from the past, Okada mentioned,
"I feel like I've gradually come to understand the value of things from the past. There are reasons and value in things that have been around for a long time. Even if it's not in the center of Tokyo, there are many attractive places in regional areas, so I make an effort to visit far-flung places. Those shops continue to exist in that town. While the customers may change, they continue to support the town. They keep going despite facing numerous challenges. And someday, that shop becomes a tourist destination, energizing the entire town. To achieve that, one must persistently pursue the same thing for a long time, and I'm always moved by the dedication and atmosphere embodied by those shops. I go there in person, experience them firsthand. I accumulate these experiences within myself, considering how I would approach things differently. And when the time comes to create something new, like opening a new store, I envision gathering the essence from my reservoir of experiences and shaping it into one cohesive establishment."
From individual to team.
In the midst of creating many hits, what does Okada aim for in the future?
"Until now, I have been able to pursue the things I wanted to do. There are still many things I want to do. However, recently I have started to question whether it's okay to just focus on what I want to do. Is it the best approach for the colleagues I work with? While I have been allowed to pursue my passions, perhaps it would be better to allow my colleagues to do the same. Or maybe it's more important to create a work environment that is more comfortable and provides better financial opportunities. These are the thoughts that occupy my mind lately. The food and beverage industry is an industry where job changes and resignations are common. If I can continue working together with my team for a long time, it would truly be a joyous thing. Creating new things alongside my colleagues, that is the major theme I envision for my 40s."
"From now on, it's a phase of connecting the dots. I want to do a hundred, two hundred more things that I love."