Up until a few years ago, Tokyo’s Akihabara district was strictly an enclave of computer, video game, and anime merchandise stores. All that changed when two pop culture movements both set up camp in the neighborhood.
The maid café scene exploded, offering patrons the chance to grab a bite to eat while being served and surrounded by cute girls dressed in frilly outfits. At the same time, the incredibly popular pop idol unit AKB48 built an intimately-sized theatre in Akihabara where they give regular concerts for their adoring fans, often accompanied by handshake sessions.
Not content to let Tokyo have all the glory from combining food with up-close musical performances, Nagoya is stepping up to the plate with an idol singer sushi restaurant.
At first glance, Goichi looks like a purely traditional sushi restaurant, with an elegant lantern-lit entrance, reed-floored seating areas, and chefs standing behind a counter as they shape sushi for customers.
Like many restaurants in Japan, Goichi also has a few banquet rooms. Some are equipped with stages and audio equipment, making it the perfect choice for wedding receptions, company parties, or weekly idol singer performances.
So how did this mash-up of raw fish and perky singers come about? It’s all the brainchild of the restaurant’s owner, Noriyuki Umemura.
Umemura took over management of the restaurant from his father in 2007. It’s a role he was happy to step into, but truth be told, music is the younger Umemura’s first love. Before moving back to his hometown to run the family restaurant, Umemura had spent time living and working as a singer/songwriter in Tokyo.
Not wanting to completely separate himself from the music scene, Umemura hit upon the idea of producing an idol group while managing Goichi. In September of 2008, Umemura held auditions in Nagoya’s Aichi Prefecture, as well as neighboring Gifu and Mie, for members for a new group to be called Idol Kyoshitsu. The following year, the unit gave its first live performance on the stage of the fourth-floor banquet hall in Umemura’s restaurant.
Idol Kyoshitsu performs at the restaurant every Monday, in addition to helping with preparing food and serving customers. “On average, each of them works in the restaurant three days a week, and on Mondays and Wednesdays, they’re always here to take care of our guests,” Umemura explains. “One of the girls hates sushi, though.”
Idol Kyoshitsu isn’t just a ploy by Umemura to staff his restaurant with photogenic waitresses, either. The group also performs at local shopping malls, festivals, and community events, and Umemura says the number of requests they receive for appearances and interviews has been on the rise.
“A lot of our new fans are girls who love sushi. And while a lot of our supporters are men in their 30s, we also see a lot of young girls bringing their family to the restaurant to watch their performances,” Umemura explains.
Idol Kyoshitsu released its first single in 2012, and the group’s second effort, last August’s “Boku wa Kimi ni Koi wo Shita” (“I Used to Love You”), hit #42 on Japan’s Oricon chart.
This month marks the band’s newest release, “Happy Christmas Dadadadaijo-V,” which Umemura himself composed.
“I didn’t want to make a typical Japanese-style Christmas love song,” the songwriter says. “Instead, I decided to make a song about everyone just enjoying a fun Christmas together. I hope it does even better than our second single.”
But this begs the question, at what level of popularity will Idol Kyoshitsu’s members be so busy performing they won’t have time to make sushi? Will Umemura have to hold another round of auditions and expand membership?
We figure it’s a dilemma Idol Kyoshitsu would be happy to have.
Sushidokoro Goichi / 寿司処五一
Aichi-ken, Nagoya-shi, Naka-ku, Shinei 1-26-5
Open 11:30 a.m. – 11 p.m.