True To Its RootsCover Story
September 23, 2018
Story By: Caroline Wright | Photos by: ANTHONY CONSILLIO
The story of Yajima-ya Japanese and Local Cuisine has its charming roots in the Yajima Cosmo Service Station just across the way, on the opposite corner of Sheridan and South King Streets.
It all began when the service station’s owner Kuniaki Akahane dreamed of opening a tachigui sobaya (noodle shop) — small noodle shops are often found in train stations all over Japan. In the absence of a train station, Akahane bought a food truck, repurposed a service station employee with prior restaurant experience, and in October 2009 began selling authentic sanuki udon and other dishes from the parking lot right next to his station.
“I used to go to school at KCC (Kapiolani Community College), and I would eat at the food truck all the time,” remembers Miha Fukumasa, whose friend Tomo Ito managed the truck.
The Yajima-ya food truck soon became the stuff of legend on social media. With its booming popularity, Akahane decided to expand into a brick-and-mortar spot. Yajima-ya Japanese and Local Cuisine opened in December 2016 with Ito as general manager.
Today, Miha Fukumasa herself is general manager at Yajima-ya, which continues to sell her two favorite dishes, mushroom chicken and cold noodles. “We still have such good portions,” she says proudly.
Generosity is part of the spirit of omotenashi – wholehearted hospitality – that prevails here. With simple, comfortable furnishings, helpful descriptions of teishoku set meals (includes main dish, miso soup, rice, and pickles) and beautiful Hanafuda “flower cards” replicated in bright signs over the open kitchen, Yajima-ya offers a warm visual welcome.
It doesn’t stop there. The menu is a long list of surprises and delights, which includes Tempura ($15.50), a set that comes with rice, pickles, small dishes of vegetables called kobachi, and your choice of miso or the soup of the day — broths and soups are made from scratch here, a lip-smacking secret that reveals itself at first taste.
There’s also Miso Butterfish ($20), a set that includes a lovely slab of tender fish marinated in house-made miso sauce, then grilled.
Rib-Eye Steak with Garlic ($21) set is a savory sensation, sliced and covered generously with fried garlic. “We have four types of steak, and this is No. 1, the most popular,” reports Fukumasa.
Catching up on the hit parade, check out Chirashi Sushi ($25), a rice bowl packed with a mouthwatering assortment that might include ahi, hamachi, salmon, squid, ebi, shrimp, unagi and/or ikura.
Yajima-ya’s Daily Special Bento ($25 dinner bento), which changes daily according to the whims and sensibilities of the chef, is a treat for in-house dining. “It usually has our daily special sushi, sashimi, tempura, a little fish, veggies, meat … a bit of everything, and the chef makes a special bento salad for it,” says Fukumasa.
Better set your clock for an early hour, if you want to try a bento, as they are made fresh each day in very limited quantities and sell out quickly.
Rice Is Nice
Coming soon to Yajima-ya Japanese and Local Cuisine is kamameshi meals. Kamameshi, which translates to “kettle rice,” is traditionally cooked in an iron pot called a kama. The term emerged in 1923 after the Great Kanto Earthquake — survivors in the devastated town of Takeshitakama used iron pots or kettles to transport meals. Modern kamameshi is cooked in small-scale replicas of the kama. “It’s entertaining and exciting, and really good,” says general manager Miha Fukumasa.
Save Room For Dessert
Every season, Yajima-ya Japanese and Local Cuisine offers a tempting new assortment of house-made treats. Featured desserts have included haupia tarts, Kona coffee ice cream pie and Japanese sponge cake with green tea from Japan’s famed Shizuoka region. Green tea, black sesame seed and vanilla ice creams as well as yuzu sorbet, always are available. Additionally, children 12 and younger get their own free special parfait (with ice cream, fruit, chocolate syrup, and cornflakes) weekdays (Monday-Thursday).