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Hibiya Matsumotoro owner Tetsuro Kosaka

by Judit Kawaguchi

Tetsuro Kosaka, 78, is the owner of Hibiya Matsumotoro, one of Japan’s most historical restaurants. A three-story building resembling a cozy country estate, Matsumotoro was designed to sit in the center of Japan’s first Western-style park, Hibiya Koen, and it has been in business since the park opened to the public in 1903. Today, the restaurant continues to serve the same simple and inexpensive yōshoku (Western style foods) that made it famous 107 years ago, and guests can enjoy dishes such as omuraisu (rice omelet) and Japanese curry under a 400-year-old tree on the restaurant’s terrace. It was in the Matsumotoro building that Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925), often referred to as the Founding Father of the Republic of China, and his best friend Shokichi Umeya (1868-1943) — Kosaka’s wife’s grandfather — planned and prepared the 1911 Chinese Revolution to overthrow the Qing Dynasty. Today, Kosaka and his children keep Umeya and Sun’s memory, as well as their incredible contribution to history, alive.

Born in the park, raised in the park and died in the park: I hope that’ll be my life story. My family lived and worked in this building and my mother gave birth to me here. When I tell people I was born in Hibiya Koen, they assume I was an unwanted child who was dumped there. Not at all! My only hope is that I die in Hibiya Koen; that death will be instantaneous and happen when I’m happy. I’d like to be walking back to the restaurant alone, just after my girlfriend and I have parted. Then, while still smiling, boom, I fall and die, looking up at a tree.

As society develops and matures, people become more childish. My wife’s grandfather, Shokichi Umeya, was 14 years old when he traveled alone by boat from Nagasaki in Japan to Shanghai, China, in 1882. Sun was 13 when he sailed from China to Hawaii to study. Today few parents would allow their children to see the world so early on.

When you see injustice, you must do something to help the oppressed. In 1882, when grandpa Umeya arrived in Shanghai, he was robbed. Since he had no money, he had to work at the shipyard to make some cash. He saw how the British treated the Chinese: They beat them left and right and used them like slaves. Umeya was shocked and he set upon the idea of freeing China from the colonizers.

When your country is occupied, you may need a passport to enter your house. I needed one during the U.S. Occupation of Japan from 1945 till 1951, when our restaurant-home was converted into U.S. officers’ living quarters. One-third of Hibiya Koen was U.S.-occupied, so every day I had to show my special passport to the U.S. military police when I came home from school.

If your motivation is pure, you can achieve anything. Grandfather Umeya wanted to save China and the rest of Asia from the oppressive slave system that the Europeans had developed. In the 19th century, all of Asia, except Thailand and Japan, was colonized. People were suffering. In 1898, Umeya enlisted and fought in the Philippine Independence Movement against the Spanish. But to support a revolution, he needed lots of money. His desire to help others was so strong that he turned into a brilliant businessman. He founded a movie company called M. Pathe, which is one of the predecessors of today’s Nikkatsu, the entertainment company. He made a killing and was able to back the Chinese revolution with substantial financial support. He gave about itchō-en (today’s equivalent of \1 trillion or $1 billion) to Sun. He also convinced many of his Japanese friends to donate.

When your best friend recommends a partner for you, you can be pretty sure that you’ll be happy. Umeya and his wife, Toku, were friends with Soong Ching-Lin, a lovely Chinese woman who was living in exile in Japan. They knew she would be a perfect partner for Sun and so introduced her to him. As predicted, the two were very happy and their wedding took place in Umeya’s home.

When you see Japanese parks, you can tell we don’t have enough children. My childhood was heavenly because Hibiya Koen was designed to be a giant amusement park for children — full of jungle gyms, pools, sandboxes, and wild areas for butterflies and bugs. I remember that it was always full of happy girls and boys. Later on, it slowly turned into a beautiful park for adults. The sandboxes and pools got covered up and the amusement park was removed.

As long as you have food to eat and a roof over your head, you can survive. For six years, we lived in a space between the first and second floor of this building. It was originally designed as an area to stock rice and other items. The ceiling was so low that we couldn’t stand up; We had to crawl like rats. As a child, it wasn’t too tough because I ran around in the park all day. Also, it always smelled good from the aroma of delicious food coming up from the kitchen below. I’d sneak down and eat a lot.

The strongest friends are those who share the same goals. Umeya and Sun met in Hong Kong in March, 1895. Umeya was 27 and Sun was 29. The two shared the same ideas and immediately began planning and executing their mission: To end feudalism in China and to free the Chinese and other Asians from their Western colonizers. Their friendship lasted 30 years, until Sun’s death in 1925.

You know you’re getting old when at every meal you think, “How many more times can I eat such delicious food?” This thought doesn’t take away the pleasure; on the contrary, it makes every bite taste better.

Judit Kawaguchi loves to listen. She is a volunteer counselor and a TV reporter on NHK’s “journeys in japan” Learn more at: http://juditfan.blog58.fc2.com/ Twitter: judittokyo