Inside Tokyo’s oldest onigiri restaurant

Inside Tokyo’s oldest onigiri restaurant - Arts and Culture - News

Onigiri Asakusa Yadoroku: The Oldest Onigiri (Rice Ball) Restaurant in Tokyo with a Rich History and Authentic Taste

Just a stone’s throw away from Sensoji, the oldest temple in Tokyo, lies another historical gem – Onigiri Asakusa Yadoroku. Established in 1954, it is believed to be the city’s first onigiri (Japanese rice ball) restaurant.

A Humble Beginning: Providing for a Family

“My family started this business out of necessity,” explains Yosuke Miura, the third-generation owner of the rice ball diner. “My grandfather was unemployed, and my grandmother struggled to make ends meet.”

To support her husband and their family, Miura’s grandmother founded the onigiri eatery – an origin story that is reflected in the restaurant’s name.

The Name Behind the Name: “A Useless Person’s House”

“Asakusa refers to the district where our shop is located,” Miura adds. “However, Yadoroku, which translates as ‘House Six,’ has a less flattering meaning.”

“Roku also means ‘rokudenashi,’ which translates to ‘useless person.’ So, directly translated, the restaurant’s name means ‘a useless person’s house.’”

The Timeless Appeal of Onigiri: A Snack for All Generations

“I believe that rice balls are the most typical food in Japan,” says Miura. “From children to the elderly, there is probably no one who hasn’t eaten one.”

Onigiri, also known as omusubi, have been a popular snack choice for travelers and workers for centuries. They can be found in convenience stores across Japan and come stuffed with various ingredients, from spicy cod roe and pickled greens to grilled slices of beef with mayonnaise.

The History of Onigiri: A Culinary Tradition Rooted in the Past

Archaeologists have discovered a fossilized clump of rice from Japan’s Yayoi period (300 BCE to 250 ACE) that resembles the onigiri eaten today. Old paintings and records suggest that rice balls have been enjoyed by hungry travelers and workers for centuries, even being included in Japan’s first bento boxes on trains in 1885.

The International Allure of Onigiri: A Delicious and Versatile Snack

With its international appeal, Onigiri Asakusa Yadoroku now attracts visitors not only from around Japan but also overseas. The 16-seater eatery has been included in the Michelin Guide as a Bib Gourmand Restaurant since 2019.

The Elements of a Delicious Onigiri: Balancing Seaweed, Rice, and Ingredients

“There are three elements to making a delicious rice ball,” Miura shares. “A good balance of seaweed, rice, and ingredients.”

The shop uses rice and fillings sourced from around Japan. However, only nori (seaweed) from Tokyo is used. Of all the ingredients, Miura emphasizes the importance of rice.

Sourcing the Perfect Rice: A Passionate Pursuit

“Every September and October, after the annual rice harvesting season, I gather grains from around the country to sample,” Miura says.

“I taste dozens of different varieties before deciding which one we will use for the rest of the year. For instance, in 2023, I chose Koshihikari rice from Niigata prefecture.”

Creating the Perfect Rice Ball: Traditional Techniques and Adaptability

To make an onigiri, Miura places rice into a triangular mold, selects the chosen fillings from the numerous buckets along the counter, and slaps them into the rice before wrapping it in crisp nori.

“It’s then handed to customers in a bamboo basket,” Miura adds. “Customers are advised to eat it quickly before the warmth of the rice softens the nori.”

The Global Influence of Onigiri: A Delicious and Adaptable Snack

“Onigiri’s popularity has risen globally in recent years, and they can now be found around the world,” Miura notes.

“While onigiri doesn’t have to be traditional, it’s about putting your favorite ingredients in it and enjoying it deliciously,” he says.

Preserving a Cultural Legacy: A Passionate Third-Generation Owner

“I didn’t take over Yadoroku out of obligation to my family,” Miura confesses. “I have been passionate about onigiri since childhood.”

“Every day when I came home from kindergarten and elementary school, I ate rice balls my grandmother made for me,” he recalls.

“I do it because I like it. I have no intention of preserving tradition for the sake of it,” Miura concludes.

Onigiri Asakusa Yadoroku: Visit Us

Onigiri Asakusa Yadoroku, 3-9-10 Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo, 111-0032, Japan