Backstage Path: Hard-core Sushi Chef

Have you been looking for a good sushi restaurant? Recently, sushi has become extremely popular in the United States. However, it is always hard to find an authentic sushi restaurant in the states. In Chicago, I found a sushi restaurant where a Japanese chef showcases the beauty of sushi. His name is Shoji Takahashi. He works at Matsuya as the head sushi chef. Not only is he a sushi chef, but used to be a professional musician!

Shoji started playing guitar when he was 15 years old and living in Sendai, Miyagi. He made a hard-core punk band with his friends and performed locally. His band was called “Half Life”. Shoji played guitar and composed all the songs for the band. When they became famous in Sendai, they signed a contract with HG FACT label.

HG FACT label is now inactive, but they were a Japanese hardcore, punk and noise label. Operated by Tadashi Satoh. HG FACT had a contract with Yusaku Maezawa who is a founder for ZOZO town, and sold CDs and LPs online. Shoji’s band, Half Life, released CDs and LPs through the label. After switching to a different label, Toy’s Factory, they started performing live concert at Club Citta in Kawasaki!! Half Life was very busy!

In 1996, Shoji decided to leave Half Life. He told me “It was very hard to keep making songs and performing”. He left to look for a different opportunity.

In 1999, a friend of Shoji’s brother brought interesting news. He was looking for a Japanese sushi chef in Chicago. At that time, Shoji had a parttime job. He thought that might be a great opportunity, so he took the offer and flew to Chicago. He started his journey as a sushi chef after retiring as a hard-core punk band musician.

Shoji had tough time when he arrived in Chicago and started working at the sushi restaurant. He had no experience making sushi and could not speak English. He learned how to make simple sushi. but the Japanese sushi chef at the restaurant did not teach anything to Shoji. He could not learn anything from his senior sushi chef. So, he decided to teach himself. He was eager to learn chef techniques from anytime, anyone, everywhere!

Shoji moved to several sushi restaurants during his 22 years of living in Chicago. He even worked with Masaharu Morimoto who is known as an Iron Chef. The restaurant was closed in two years and Shoji took a job offer to become a head sushi chef at Matsuya.

As a head sushi chef, Shoji always serves great quality sushi to the customers. He said, “We prepare any food we are able to.” They make their own egg omelets (Tamago), prep Mackerel, monkfish liver etc… He also noted that they imported Bluefin Tuna (Honmaguro)! Shoji does not want to disappoint Japanese customers and his regular customers. So, he preps everything and teaches young sushi chefs carefully. He works with two sushi chefs who are not Japanese, but they know how to make sushi very well. They also understand fish and Japanese food very well. Clearly Shoji cares about the employees and makes his restaurant popular and tasty!

Shoji is a very humble sushi chef. He has never eased up his job. That is why we Chicagoan always enjoy his sushi. Some Japanese tourists even said his sushi is the best in the world!! He switched the guitar to a knife about 20 years ago. His new toy creates an art of Japanese food “sushi”. We all cannot wait what next creation he will make at his sushi restaurant. Please visit at until you will have a chance to enjoy his beautiful creation…

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Mai Claypool
Mai Claypool
Mai Claypool was born in Saitama, Japan and moved to the United States to study dance in 2003. She is a professional dancer and a teacher. She has lived in New York, Florida and Illinois. She loves dancing, singing, and eating!