Shotaro Ikenami

(Reproduction of an article carried in July 1990. I began writing this column in June 1984, and this is the 382nd installment. The July 1990 column is one of my favorites.)

There are two well-known soba restaurants in the vicinity of Kanda-Sudacho, Kanda Yabu Soba and Matsuya. They are both about a 10-minute walk from our office, so I frequently go there for lunch. I myself prefer the more plebeian Matsuya, but when I have guests who have come from afar, I take them to Kanda Yabu Soba so that they can experience not only the never-changing delicious taste of the noodles there but also the restaurant痴 excellent hospitality to customers, which has continued for more than a century since its founding.

Customers order several dishes. Some have hot soba in broth and chilled soba, others have maybe roast duck and sake with their soba. In other words, although it would be easier for the restaurant if customers ordered just one dish each, here many customers actually order more than one. At Kanda Yabu Soba there is a counter between the customer tables and the kitchen where for ages an elderly woman has sat and relayed orders to the kitchen. 哲umber so-and-so, four chilled soba, two soba topped with tempura, and one bottle of sake, she calls in a clear, singing voice. Finally she adds, 鄭nd two pairs of chopsticks. That tells the kitchen how many customers there are. Wisdom born of tradition!

In the case of Matsuya, many customers order soba in sesame sauce and chilled soba with tempura, although sesame soba and hot soba topped with tempura or egg soup soba, or sesame soba and soba with roast duck, are popular combinations too.

On March 29, with the cherry trees blossoming early and already almost in full bloom, I visited Matsuya for the first time in ages. Even though I had timed my arrival for just after the rush, there was still a queue of people waiting. Luckily I managed to get a table after a while and ordered sesame soba and chilled soba with tempura. While I was waiting for the meal to come, I folded my arms and looked at the enormous light on the ceiling. Then I glanced round, and another customer caught my attention. I blinked to focus my eyesight. Yes indeed, it was the author Shotaro Ikenami.

I knew that Mr. Ikenami was a regular visitor to Matsuya, and several times I had seen him strolling in this neighborhood. I smiled. 鉄oba topped with roast duck today, Mr. Ikenami?

My sesame soba came first. I am a fast eater and soon emptied the bowl. When people tell me that I eat fast, I often reply jokingly, 鼎oncentration! Concentration! Then my chilled soba and tempura came: two pieces of bright yellow shrimp tempura, each measuring about 15 cm in length, with warm tempura sauce and a tray of chilled soba. As always, the tempura was crisp and tasty. As I ate, Mr. Ikenami again caught my eye. He stood up, put his hat on his head, and carried his walking stick. After paying, he began to walk toward the door. For a moment, our eyes met. He seemed to smile at me, although he was probably thinking, 展hat an odd fellow! He痴 been gazing at me ever since he came in. When he closed the door, the sound resonated in my ears.

There are many fans of Shotaro Ikenami in our industry. Unanimously they say that his attraction lies in the fact that his heroes are appealing as human beings. Condemning the offense but not the offender was his natural style.

Mr. Ikenami passed away in May. In one essay he wrote, 展e are living in order to die. I wonder what his thoughts were on that day, March 29? Maybe he had come directly from the hospital out of a desire to eat soba at Matsuya.