Fish­ing for com­pli­ments

Close to Tokyo’s in­ter­na­tional air­port, Sarah Ni­chol­son ex­plores the fam­ily tra­di­tions – and 60 eel restau­rants – of Narita.

Sunday Mail - Travel/Escape - - JAPAN -

KIKO Ishibashi has seen great change since mov­ing to Narita City in 1972. When the young bride ar­rived in the Ja­panese set­tle­ment to join new hus­band Kiku­taro, and work in his fam­ily’s fa­mous restau­rant, the des­ti­na­tion was a sleepy ru­ral set­tle­ment with a mod­est main street and a few res­i­den­tial roads sur­rounded by vast hectares of quiet farm­land.

But the bu­colic char­ac­ter was set to dis­ap­pear when the Ja­panese gov­ern­ment an­nounced plans to build a new in­ter­na­tional air­port near the vil­lage af­ter post­war devel­op­ment prompted the air­line in­dus­try to out­grow its pre­vi­ous ac­com­mo­da­tions at Haneda Air­port on the west­ern side of Tokyo Bay. Narita In­ter­na­tional Air­port – or the New Tokyo In­ter­na­tional Air­port as it was chris­tened upon open­ing in 1978 – pros­pered to be­come one of the world’s busiest hubs, now host­ing 98,000 trav­ellers and 490 air­craft move­ments ev­ery day, with nearby Narita boom­ing to sup­port the new army of air­line staff.

“Narita was slow when I first moved here, and I thought it was so bor­ing at that time, but that changed af­ter Narita Air­port opened,’’ the Ishibashi clan’s ma­tri­arch ex­plains dur­ing a brief lull in the lunchtime rush. “I didn’t ex­pect we would get such busi­ness from the air­port, but there are so many air­line peo­ple work­ing there that we have a full house al­most ev­ery day, this street is only 20 min­utes from the air­port and the air­line peo­ple want break­fast and din­ner at all dif­fer­ent times.’’

The Ishibashi’s restau­rant Kikuya – or Chrysan­the­mum House, as it was named af­ter get­ting the nod from the royal fam­ily to use its em­blem – isn’t just a Narita gem but one of Ja­pan’s most es­teemed eater­ies serv­ing seafood and the tra­di­tional fresh­wa­ter eel that’s a rare and prized del­i­cacy.

The Ishibashi fam­ily has been run­ning the culi­nary icon for 11 gen­er­a­tions, with Ishibashi’s son show­ing in­ter­est in tak­ing over the 300-year-old busi­ness when his par­ents re­tire. It’s one of the few es­tab­lish­ments still able to serve eel – or un­agi – now the catch has be­come rare and sky­rock­et­ing in price.

“To­day, we find 90 per cent of our cus­tomers want


REVERED SITE: The grounds of Nar­i­tasan Shin­shoji Tem­ple. The tem­ple has a his­tory of more than 1000 years with a three-sto­ried beau­ti­ful pagoda (main); and bar­be­cue eel at Chrysan­the­mum House (right).

iStock, Sarah Ni­chol­son

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