Public eye #37

Kiyoto Torii (39) in Maruyamacho, Shibuya

Public eye #37

Kiyoto Torii, owner of Zoniya Torii bar

Where are you heading to?
KT: I’m just heading to a Charan-po-rantan concert. They’re a band I’ve only recently gotten into, but all of their songs are ones which would make anyone Japanese feel a real sense of nostalgia. And it’s two sisters who are still in their teens who are doing the performing and singing, so I was really surprised.

What other artists do you like?
KT: Originally I liked Ego-Wrappin’, and I always said that even in my shop I would only ever play Ego-Wrappin, but a friend introduced me to Charan-po-rantan, and I was hooked.

What kind of shop do you run?
KT: It’s a zouni [soup with mochi rice cakes in it] bar. It’s called Zouni-ya Torii. We opened on December 12, 2009, so it’s nearly our first anniversary.

Is the restaurant closed today?
KT: [Laughs] Today I’m opening at 10pm, after I get back from the concert. I posted an update on Twitter saying, ‘We will open at 10pm tonight because I’m going to a Charan-po-rantan concert’, so it should be OK. Also, we’re often busiest late at night.

Even so, to open a zoni bar is quite unusual, isn’t it?
KT: Yeah, it is. I have always really loved zouni. When I was first starting up the business, I was grappling with what to go into, and why; this seems like it will become popular, or that seems like it will sell well. But I thought, if time passes and the business hasn’t succeeded, it would be so draining. So I asked myself, what could I do, and keep on doing, because I like it? If I was to look back at my life, the two things that stand out for me are zouni and drink. On top of that, when I looked into it, there weren’t any other zouni restaurants so without even having to try hard, I was an instant pioneer! [Laughs]

Where are you from?
KT: I’m originally from Kyoto, so the zouni that was made in my home was mainly made with white miso. But my father was from Tokyo, so we also had zouni made with a clear broth. So even when I was a kid I was thinking that there were lots of different kinds of zouni. Before I started the restaurant I asked my friends, and there really wasn’t a universal dish that was the same everywhere.

How much is a serving of zouni?
KT: ¥888. All of the dishes on our menu are priced with numbers in doubles and triples. Zouni is a food eaten at New Year that brings good fortune, so I chose an auspicious number.

What would you recommend from the menu?
KT: The zouni changes every month, and there are two kinds on offer: ‘Higashi no Wan’ (‘Bowl of the East’) and ‘Nishi no Wan’ (‘Bowl of the West’). At the moment the ‘Higashi no Wan’ is Chiba-style with raw nori seaweed, and the Nishi no Wan is Kyoto-style white miso with ebiimo [a kind of tuber used in Kyoto cuisine] and Kyoto carrot. We make lots of different kinds when each month changes, like the Niigata-style with salmon and salmon roe, the Hiroshima-style with oysters and buri [yellowtail], the Kagawa-style with satoimo [taro] and umefu [plum wheat gluten bread], and the Fukui-style made with red miso. Apart from zoni we also have sashimi and other side dishes. I’d recommend drinking Hoppy with our food and, actually, we are very particular about the ice we use and have the most delicious oolong-hai (oolong tea and shochu) and ryokucha-hai (green tea and shochu) in Shibuya, so please do stop by sometime.

More from Kiyoto:

‘I came to Tokyo when I was 24, and I was in a band at the time. I’d like to be involved in music again sometime, with stylishly middle-aged, but bratty music!’

‘I bought the clothes I’m wearing today at Pass the Baton. I look like Umezu Kazuo, or Wally from ‘Where’s Wally?’, don’t I?’

‘I’m growing my hair long as a kind of a prayer to the gods. When I started Zoniya Torii, I made a wish to find a good location and shaved all my hair off. Since then I’ve been growing it. Thanks to that I found a good place! But I still won’t cut it yet. It’s good – like a samurai, don’t you think? There’s also a rumour that I’m from the Jomon period…’ [Laughs]

Photos by Mai Michitsuji
By Akiko Toya
Translated by Virginia Okno
Please note: All information is correct at the time of writing but is subject to change without notice.



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