I always used to dream of hanging out in Shibuya, Roppongi, says Jun Yoshino. Those sorts of places. When I was in high school, that was where it was all happening. They were the meccas. I was into club culture, surfing. I thought Asakusa had nothing. It was dirty, Hoppy Dori with all the drinking places was just shabby, and there was nothing but the old geezers and the big horse-racing betting centre. Then it became cleaner and we got more tourists and more shops and it got better. I came to like it. Actually, I always got into the festivals, and I have always liked the people around here. It was just that the place seemed out-of-time and uncool.
I’m 39. My family is third-generation Asakusa. You could say I am a second-generation taiyaki baker, but there’s a bit of a story to it. You know, there are all sorts of people in Tokyo. When people come here from other parts, like the countryside, some of them say things like, Well, Tokyo people are cold or unkind. Well, you know – those cold people, they are mostly not from Tokyo! Here we look out for each other. Even some old derelict passed out on the street, someone will bend down and say, Hey gramps! You OK!? We have a sort of love for each other here.
Yep there are many types. You know Nishi Asakusa has a reputation as a gay town. Down the street at Asakusa View Hotel, there used to be the Kokusai Gekijo – International Theatre – on that site, and some of the performers were descended from the boys who the samurai kept as companions. You know, before battle, the samurai are stuck in a castle with no women, and maybe they think they’re going to die soon…? So even now there are bars and saunas.
So we have yakuza, old codgers, and aunties, merchants, bar owners, gays, more foreign tourists, all sorts.
What’s special about our taiyaki? Well, we make them one by one. The trick is in the timing and conditions on the day, like the temperature. The pastry has to be a little crisp. Our taiyaki is sweet but not syrupy sweet. We make a big batch of filling two or three times a week. You steam the azuki beans, then add sugar, and this stuff called sei-an to smooth it out, and salt, that’s all. Look on my mobile phone, I have this footage of our azuki-bean mixing machine.
I’ll bring you one of our moulds. See, it’s nothing special but did you know some stores use shallow ones so they can get away with putting in less filling? That’s right. One taiyaki costs 150 yen. Yeah, it’s not easy to make a living out of this.
We’ve had this shop for four years. This is my mum. Our main shop is in Kannon no ura, you know, that means up toward Senzoku, behind the Kannon Goddess of Mercy at Sensoji. Dad works there. Yes, it’s just near Chiba-ya daigaku imo, university potato. How long? We only started doing taiyaki 10 years ago. Why? I don’t know why! Dad used to run a clothes boutique. And there was no taiyaki shop in Asakusa and he just decided to get into it. The boutique was called Sharaku after the woodblock artist. Dad already had this Sharaku logo, so we kept it for the new shop.
I feel happy when people say they enjoy Asakusa.