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Special Interview with Masako SHIMOKAWA, Owner of T’s Restaurant - Part 2

  • Ari YATES
  • April 2, 2024

Owner of T’s Restaurant
Vegan Restaurant since 2009

Ms. Masako Shimokawa Interview:

Ms. Masako is the owner of the vegan restaurant “T’s Restaurant” and the supervisor for the “T’s Tantan” stores that can be found in many stations around Tokyo. Could you please briefly introduce yourself and what inspired you to start T’s Restaurant?

I am the owner of T's restaurant. Until the 24th of May 2009, 14 years ago, I was a full-time housewife. When contemplating what to do with my future I received advice that having a clear purpose often leads to favorable outcomes. Taking this advice to heart, I carefully considered my purpose. For everyone, being “healthy” is the most important thing. With that in mind, I established my purpose to convey the importance of health through “food”. As a result, three days later, the T's story began! I'm not a chef, but what the strength of my conviction, I have met various essential individuals. It feels like T's restaurant has been built up to its present state through these encounters and the support of those around me in a short period.

What motivated you to come up with the idea to create a vegan restaurant here in Tokyo?

A friend of mine fell ill, and she was advised by a doctor that avoiding animal products could help prevent a recurrence. Upon hearing about this, I thought, instead of changing my diet after falling ill, why not be mindful of my and my family's diet even when it's just for dinner! Initially, there were various challenges but after a while I noticed that her body felt lighter the next day. At that time, there weren't many vegan restaurants that I found delicious, and that became one of the motivations to opening T's restaurant.

How have you handled any challenges you have experienced since opening this restaurant?

My motto is “Now is the most important!” and “Enjoy every moment!” Even though I hadn't thought about the menu or anything else, the location of the restaurant was decided ahead of time, as if someone had guided me “You should open a restaurant here!”. There were many things to consider, such as designing the restaurant, deciding on the menu, choosing the restaurant’s name, planning the logo, creating the website, and so on. However, rather than feeling worried, rushed, or stressed about everything we had to do, I focused on “enjoying” the process. I concentrated on each task at hand and gradually brought everything to life.

What makes T’s Restaurant special compared to other vegan restaurants in Tokyo?

While I haven't compared it with other restaurants, the concept of this restaurant is to promote “food that is kind to people and the environment”. Therefore, I'm not only thinking about T’s restaurant in Jiyugaoka. Thanks to JR East Cross Station Co., Ltd., there are T's Tantan shops at Tokyo station, Ueno Station, Ikebukuro Station, Narita Airport Terminal 1, and Terminal 2. Furthermore, thanks to Yamadai Co., VEGAN NOODLES supervised by T’s Restaurant cup ramen has been released in three varieties and is not only available in Japan but also sold internationally. Additionally, at the Sagamiya Tofu store, T’s restaurant supervised the menu and released “VEGAN TOFU NOODLES” with the T’s restaurant logo. In this way, not only T’s restaurant in Jiyugaoka but also in various ways, the vegan food trend is expanding I hope that it becomes easily accessible in new culinary fields promote “food that is kind to people and the environment”.

What is T’s Restaurant’s best-selling point that makes it special from other vegan restaurants?

What I focus on is making people aware of the importance of food through dining at the restaurant and ensuring that they can enjoy a pleasant and comfortable feeling even after leaving the restaurant. I hope that as many people as possible can be both physically and mentally healthy and comfortable. Additionally, I understand that there are people who love meat, those who cannot consume it due to allergies or dietary restrictions, and those seeking plant-based diets for reasons such as animal welfare or religious beliefs. Although everyone has a variety of food related backgrounds, we hope that everyone can sit together at the same table and enjoy the meal together without stress and thinking, “It's delicious”!

What is the dining experience like for customers at T’s Restaurant?

Vegan cuisine is sometimes criticized for being “lackluster” or “lacking in richness” because it is made without animal products. At T’s restaurant, we prioritize one thing above all - “deliciousness”. We place great emphasis on ensuring that our customers do not experience any sense of “lack” or “missing richness”. We cherish the satisfaction our customers feel when they finish their meals and strive to create a dining experience that goes beyond expectations. Even without meat, our goal is to deliver surprises and moments of delight through each carefully crafted menu of development.

What ignites Ms. Masako’s passion for vegan food?

Our goal is to provide our customers with moments of “surprise and excitement” as well as “deliciousness” . While dining, customers ask, “Is this dairy cheese?” or “Is this real meat?” or “I can't believe it! This tastes like it's made with meat!” We feel joy every time. It becomes a source of excitement, making us think, “What can we create next to delight our customers?” Currently, at T's restaurant, we introduce new items every month, such as soups, parfaits, and sweets, with the aim of bringing joy to our customers.

Vegan and other diverse food options are becoming more accessible in Tokyo especially in the last couple of years. Have you noticed any trends in the appeal of options at T’s restaurant?

It's great to see that vegan and plant-based dining options are becoming available in various places. I'm happy that individuals following a vegan or plant-based diet can now find stress-free and delicious meal choices wherever they go. On the other hand, one of the appealing aspects of T’s restaurant is that even those who love meat, when they try our dishes for the first time, might think, “Is this vegan? Really?” So when the taste is good, it becomes an option they consider including in their weekly meals. In other words, initiatives like Paul McCartney’s “Meat-Free Monday” or encouraging occasional vegan choices could contribute positively to environmental conservation.
Moreover, a significant feature is that vegan ramen was included in the menu from the opening of T’s restaurant. This initiative led to the birth of T's Tantan at Tokyo Station in 2011. Currently, numerous foreigners visit T’s Tantan in search of vegan ramen, creating an atmosphere where you might feel like you are in a country other than Japan. The variety of vegan ramen has expanded, and both T’s restaurant and T’s Tantan continuously develop the menus tailored to each season.

It has been almost 15 years since you started your vegan restaurant business. What are your aspirations for the future of T’s Restaurant?

Throughout our daily lives, we encounter various frustrations, anxieties, and hardships. It would be wonderful if more people could perceive these challenges not as negative feelings but as opportunities for positive growth.
To be able to think this way, we must first be physically and mentally healthy ourselves! By being healthy myself, I believe that I will infect my family, friends, and colleagues nearby, creating a more comfortable environment, which in turn will make the community a more pleasant, conflict-free, peaceful, and serene place to live. I believe that “food” is one of the important things that contribute to the creation of a comfortable space.
Vegan meals are not only kind to individuals but also environmentally friendly. Understanding that our diet shapes our bodies, I aspire to spread the importance of this concept globally.