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Japanese Abroad

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Mototsugu Hayashi

  • Japanese
  • Chinese

Let's imagine that one evening you decide to go for some nice sushi in an exclusive restaurant in Ginza. The prices are very high, but the quality of the food is too. You enter the premises, and the chef comes and asks, "What will it be?" And that's when you notice that he is a blue-eyed, blonde foreigner. Well… if the guy is working there, he has to be good. Would you call the manager and ask for a Japanese replacement?

Now let's imagine the same, but in Italy. You are in a very prestigious restaurant in Tuscany or Milan, and the sommelier comes to advise you on the best wines for the food you ordered. Not two words are exchanged before you notice that the sommelier isn't Italian – or even French – but Japanese!

Hayashi Mototsugu knows very well how difficult this situation can be. Even after being declared 'Sommelier of the Year' by Le Guide de l'Espresso in 2010, and again by the Italian Sommelier Association (AIS) in 2012, as well as working in some of the most prestigious restaurants in Italy, there are still customers who ask for "an Italian sommelier. "

Mototsugu is philosophical about it: "Living outside one's own country is difficult. It's not just the language – everything is different. But if you don't go out there, it's impossible to make comparisons. You will never know what's good about your own country, and what needs to be changed. The next generations need this – they need to do this. I love Japan, but if young Japanese people don't go out there, they won't know who they are. And while Italy is not as simple to live in as Japan, there is beauty everywhere. There are more UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Italy than in the rest of the world combined. But the important issue is: why? What kind of culture created this? What kind of people created this? Japanese people need to understand these things...

"Out in the world, you need to know how to relate to people. And in the service industry, what customers feel and think comes out. Relationships are as important as the food we serve." After 13 years in Italy, Mototsugu is someone who understands this very well.

Born in Nagoya in 1975, Mototsugu grew up with an image of Italian and French cooking as something prestigious, and a little bit too expensive for a high school kid, and little more. While he gave little thought to haute cuisine, a one-month homestay in Vancouver gave him the travel-the-world bug, and a part-time job at an Italian restaurant in Nagoya gave him enough money to reach his next objective – a move to Italy.

For Hayashi, the world of gastronomy was just a ticket to experiencing life abroad. But an encounter with Etsuro Kotani, the first Japanese sommelier to become famous in Italy, moved him in the direction of wines. "In the beginning, I couldn't understand why in certain places there was a bigger menu for the wines than there was for the food. Discovering the reason behind it was fascinating. After meeting with Kotani, I decided that I wanted to become as good as he was." And he did.

Mototsugu's impressive curriculum vitae now includes many famous restaurants in Milan, Rome and Tuscany, and he owns a company that imports high-end wines into the Japanese market. "After many years in Italy, I am showing that even a foreigner can be good at this," he says. And the clientele in his restaurants can taste the proof.

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