Encyclopedia of niime

The Years End and a New Beginning in 2022-2023

2022 . 12 . 31

On the seventh of December, 2022, beloved Ms Hatsuko Sakai, the Mother of ‘tamaki niime’, passed away. That happened on the evening of the day she left work early, feeling tired after making lunch for the staff as usual.

In their sudden grief, they had a company funeral with much appreciation for her, and it was called, ‘Thank you, Hatsuko’. Her viewing on the eleventh and funeral on the twelfth of December took place in the ‘tabe room’ where she worked.

She was one of the staff since ‘tamaki niime’ was moved to Nishiwaki when opening the Shop & Lab, and she worked hard together with Ms. Tamaki and Mr. Sakai. She was indeed the Mother of ‘tamaki niime’. Delicious bottomless, tasty lunches have been the original energy for the staff’s creations.

In the last ‘Encyclopedia of niime’ in the end of 2022, I would like to talk about her with Mr. Sakai and Ms.Tamaki and write them down here with mourning and gratitude.

Tamaki: The years end and a new beginning, Mr Sakai, would you like to speak first?

Sakai: As you know, at the end of the year, it was shocking that my mom passed away on the seventh of December.

Tamaki: Do you feel better now?

Sakai: Well, what can I say? The funeral of ‘Thank you, Hatsuko’ was a culmination that I sent out to my mom with my whole body and soul.

—— I see.

Sakai: We have done it. I have no regrets anymore. I won’t linger in sadness. My mom had been working and was gone at the last minute. I really appreciate her hard work. That’s how I felt.

Tamaki: Why don’t you tell us what kind of person Hatsuko was? When my dad Tatsuo passed away, we talked about him for a while… what kind of person he was.

—— Yes, we did.

Sakai: Well, it’s hard to describe what kind of person my mom was…she was frank and temperamental.

Tamaki: I think so, but some people don’t know her as part of ‘tamaki niime’.

Sakai: Hatsuko is…

Tamaki: She was the very first member when we came to Nishiwaki and started working as a store manager.

—— First, you were a group of three people, Ms Tamaki, Mr Sakai, and Hatsuko.

Tamaki: Yeah, I was the person to create things, and Sakai was the person to spread to the world.

Sakai: Yeah.

Tamaki: Hatsuko was the one to welcome customers and suggest the products which fit them. Each of us had a different mission and worked simultaneously. So we worked so fast.

Sakai: Yeah, many things changed rapidly.

Tamaki: Hatsuko made meals because she was a mom.

—— You were in the small building called ‘589’, the original shop of ‘Shop & Lab’ of ‘tamaki niime’.

Tamaki: Yeah.

Sakai: Yeah, that’s right.

Tamaki: We even got a power loom.

—— It must have been the smallest shape of ‘tamaki niime’.

Tamaki: It’s the smallest, shortest, and the best…

Sakai: It’s the smallest but the strongest in a sense, right?

Tamaki: Yeah, even though we didn’t plan to do anything.

—— We worked in a triangle.

Sakai: Right.

Tamaki: We worked like this; receive, toss and attack.

—— I see. It makes sense.

Tamaki: When we got some cash, we said, “let’s go out to eat yakiniku!” So the three of us went out to eat.

Sakai: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s how our life was. (laugh)

Tamaki: Around that time, customers who paid with cards increased; that’s why we didn’t have much cash on hand.

Sakai: No, we didn’t.

Tamaki: It’s been 12 years since we started working in Nishiwaki with Hatsuko.

Sakai: So we had many things at work. But when I was asked to talk about memories with her, I cannot recall anything.

Tamaki: They are your memories with her.

Sakai: Is that right?!

—— Hatsuko was the Mother of ‘tamaki niime’. She lived with ‘tamaki niime’, and her life had no separation between public and private.

Sakai: Yes, that’s true.

Tamaki: After we increased the number of workers, she became responsible for cooking for the staff instead of working at the shop.

Sakai: She started working as a cook at the Ueno shop we used to have, which was much smaller than the ‘tabe room’ or ‘Hacchan Dining.’

Tamaki: We could have a kitchen for the first time at Ueno because we finally got the ‘Shop & Lab’.

Sakai: It was called ‘Island Kitchen style’.

Tamaki: Yeah, Hatsuko cooked there. That’s how we got our original dining style where everyone gathered.

—— Basically, her role was making meals and taking care of everyone, right?

Tamaki: Yes, she was like a mother to everyone, especially in recent years.

Sakai: Yeah.

Tamaki: ‘Tabe room’ is the place for gathering to rest, so everyone consulted with each other. Hatsuko also opened up about her worries and chatted.

Sakai: She chatted a lot.

Tamaki: …so everyone looks like they have their own memories with her.

—— I think so.

Tamaki: Well, ‘tabe room’ is the central place where everyone gathers. So it was essential to keep this place by someone. We still have it here because Hatsuko had been working to keep it.

—— I see.

Tamaki: It was kept with ‘delicious meals’, which is one of the…

Sakai: Yeah.

Tamaki: It’s the most important thing. Because we were living with food, she was the main person dealing with that.

Sakai: Yeah.

Tamaki: So we are afraid that this place might be dismissed because Hatsuko is gone, but we discussed it.

—— Because it was a sudden incident.

Tamaki: If preparing our meals interfered with our business, it doesn’t fit its purpose. Since there’s no substitute for Hatsuko, we had some ideas like taking turns making meals.

—— I see.

Tamaki: But I said that we shouldn’t do it because it would interfere with our business, and if assigned staff makes it because of his or her turn, we won’t enjoy eating it. So we don’t have to do it with such efforts. Instead, we can buy lunch boxes.

—— I see.

Tamaki: Then one of the staff said, “No, I don’t like it! I don’t want this place to be dark. I want to keep the ‘tabe room’ because Hatsuko created it.” So we don’t only cook by assigned people, but by people willing to do it. So she said she wants to keep this place until we have the next person to take care of it.

—— I see.

Tamaki: I feel like, “Oh, thank you!!”

Sakai: Yeah.

—— … that’s so sweet.

Sakai: When she was alive, she left many performances, but when she died, all those things she did become her history.

Tamaki: Yeah…

Sakai: It is dramatically changed. When people die, the value of their existence is altered. We become aware of their worth and appreciate them.

—— Yeah…

Sakai: We can never experience it again and have her cook for us. They become mythical tastes.

—— …

Sakai: Well, she was a genius cook. Absolutely she was!

Tamaki: …they were outstanding. No one can imitate her.

Sakai: She was a genius in cooking. Even now, thinking back, they were so good.

Tamaki: Yeah.

Sakai: I still can’t believe she’s gone. Feels like she is taking a day off…

Tamaki: (laugh) You may feel like that throughout your lifetime. When my dad passed away, you felt like that, too, telling me that he would stop by sometime…anyway, I am so grateful for them.

—— For you, Mr Sakai, they are the taste of mother’s cooking which you have been so familiar with since childhood.

Sakai: That’s right. They are the taste I got used to since childhood, especially for hamburgers. When I think back, at a young age, was that hamburger taste. The dishes like simmered potatoes or simmered ones are my grandma’s recipes.

Tamaki: When you were a child, you watched her cook by her side in the kitchen.

Sakai: Yeah, I was always watching my mom cooking. Even though I was told I was in the way, I said to her that I wanted to watch.

Tamaki: So I want you to cook for us.

—— You want a chef, Sakai.

Tamaki: He knows the difference of tastes, telling us to do with the taste in this way.

—— Oh, I see.

Tamaki: But he doesn’t cook.

Sakai: I know my mom would do it this way, but we won’t have a person like the second Hatsuko.

—— In the discussion of the way for ‘tabe room’ from now on, all the staff accept Hatsuko’s absence and pains, knowing there’s no substitute for her and then what are you going to do.

Tamaki: At first, we talked about using her recipes, trying to ask the people who used to cook with her, but they insisted it’s absolutely impossible.

Sakai: There’s no way.

Tamaki: It’s not easy to get her flavours even though we follow her recipes. If we do that, both sides will be disappointed — for people who cook and eat. On the other hand, no one would be happy knowing Hatsuko’s flavours are much better than that. We could take over her spirit but shouldn’t follow her ways.

—— I see.

Tamaki: It’s all right if you cook the dishes that each of you likes that you have been eating. You don’t have to imitate what she made.

—— You can’t make the ones like her.

Tamaki: Of course, if you really want to make her flavours personally, you could try to cook her recipes. But we concluded that Hatsuko’s cooking was beautiful, and that’s all.

Sakai: She was our genius chef. Genius food creator.

—— During her life, I remember interviewing her; she said that she enjoys cooking with her inspirations at moments based on the home cooking she has been making for a long time.

Hearing her in the interview, I felt she knows precisely how much to put in to bring out the best flavours in cooking. She also loved reading cook books and got hints for cooking. However, what can I say? Even though she got recipes, her unique way of cooking would start from there.

Sakai: Yeah, that’s right, right, right.

Tamaki: Talking to herself, “well, it should be this way.” She was changing methods during cooking. (laugh)

—— Having a recipe doesn’t mean anything.

Tamaki: That’s useless.

Sakai: My mom had no need to measure in cooking.

Tamaki: Never, ever. That’s too much trouble. She goes, “that’s about it”. We didn’t know how much it was. (laugh) We don’t know. It’s just her measurement.

Sakai: She had an exquisite sense of cooking.

Tamaki: But the people back in time took over such senses and remembered with their understanding of the tongues and bodies. They didn’t have measures and scales in the old times. So it’s natural for them to measure with the senses. There are no measurements in nature.

There is no arrangement beforehand. Instead, making use of the things taken from generation to generation, melting with all requirements and senses at the right moments and places, only Hatsuko makes her own ‘mother flavours’ which would never be repeated, a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ chance dish.

One-time irreplaceable, thankfulness and preciousness, they have something in common in one-item products, the way of creation of ‘tamaki niime’.

Tamaki: Please give a word for Hatsuko.

Sakai: I want to say ‘thank you’. Representing everyone, thank you so much, Mom. Please rest well because you worked hard.

Tamaki: I also appreciate having the ‘Thank you, Hatsuko’ gathering.

Sakai: We really appreciate her, and thanks for her hard work. That’s everything we want to say to her.


Tamaki: We have had many events so far, and this was its culmination.

Sakai: Yeah, it was the culmination.

Tamaki: Ms Ueda was the master of ceremonies.

—— Ms Ueda’s conducting voice was good.

Tamaki: It was excellent. With her heartfelt voice…everyone had a role and sent her off. Even though we are sad, we feel very warm because we all sent her off together.

—— I think so.

Tamaki: For Hatsuko’s funeral, we didn’t want to have a formal style to send her off.

Sakai: Yeah.

Tamaki: We wanted to do it our way, more like niime style.

Sakai: It was really a tamaki niime style.

—— I think you chose the best place right here. This ‘tabe room’ was Hatsuko’s workplace where she expressed herself…

Tamaki: Here’s her life testimony.

—— That’s true, I really think so.

Sakai: And it’s also her playground.

—— Hatsuko’s warmth will stay here forever.

Tamaki: But we have more Moms here.

Sakai: Mine. My moms.

Tamaki: Yeah, Sakai’s Moms. Everyone worries about Sakai and takes care of him like his mom.

—-Oh, I see. (laugh)

Tamaki: Everyone says, “Hi, Mr Sakai”, or “I made some meals. Don’t you want to eat?” You are so lucky. You are so loved.

—— That’s great.

Sakai: I am a spoiled child.

Tamaki: You are spoiled.

Sakai: That’s right. Because I am spoiled, that’s why everyone tries to help me.

Tamaki: You should be grateful.

Sakai: I have been and will be like that…well, just as I said before, I should be grateful and respectful for each small thing.

—— I see.

Sakai: It’s not ordinary to possess. The opposite of normal is, grateful, right?

—— You are right.…

Sakai: ‘Having something’ is not ordinary. Everyone, I want you to know that. I hope you welcome me next year with your love for Hatsuko.

Original Japanese text by Seiji Koshikawa.
English translation by Adam & Michiko Whipple.