A Western-style restaurant with many regulars in the sports and entertainment industries has closed its doors after 50 years in business. PONTA DINING was located near Hachimanyama Station in Setagaya, Tokyo. It was loved by members of the athletic department of Meiji University, which has a dormitory nearby, and was frequented by Kazushi Kimura, the ace of the Japanese national soccer team, and Yuji Matsuo, the leader of the Japanese national rugby team, when they were students. It was also the favorite restaurant of Hikomaro, who became a celebrity and gourmet reporter. Fumio Arai, the owner of the restaurant, looked back over the past half century, sharing some of their secret stories.
In front of the counter kitchen in the cozy restaurant, there is a ball on which the current members of the football team of Meiji University have written their messages. “I’ve been having trouble hearing lately,” Arai said, his eyes downcast, his voice strained so that he could be heard.
“It was also the time when the contract for this building was up for renewal, and then there was Corona, the Olympics, and the 50th anniversary…so many factors came together to make it easy for me to quit. I had done all I could do…”
He pulled at the threads of his memory. One of the topics was an episode about Hikomaro. Mr. Arai carefully spun his memories of the popular TV personality, who later became a regular at the restaurant because he lived in the neighborhood.
“Mr. Arai carefully spins his memories of the popular TV personality. Even so, he would say, ‘Please put up a poster of our play! I wanted to support him because he was working so hard. When I was working at another store during the renovation period, he came to me and said, “I’m going to live a long and prosperous life (in the entertainment industry)! He said. He said, ‘I’m going to live a long and prosperous life in the entertainment industry.’ After that, every time something happened, he would mention our ‘1/2 set.
The “1/2 set” refers to the “1/2 set of curry and Neapolitan. They had stopped serving it for a while, but were revived when Mr. Hikomaro, who had become busy, introduced this “1/2 set” in a town magazine. The price was 730 yen including tax. The omelet rice, also popular, was priced at 850 yen, a price even students could afford.
I don’t want to change the taste or the price as much as possible. It was after graduating from a high school in Tokyo that Mr. Arai began to pursue his career as a cook. After graduating from high school in Tokyo, Mr. Arai decided to “save music as a hobby” and pursue his other hobby of cooking.
After attending a vocational school for the hotel and service industry, he found a job at a French restaurant. He felt that left-handed people would have a hard time with Japanese cuisine, which has a patterned presentation. He opened his first counter kitchen restaurant in 1971, three years after he started working, at the young age of 23.
A relative in the same business entrusted him with the store space, so he decided to use the same name as his relative’s store, Ponta Dining. The location was in Hachimanyama, Setagaya Ward, and Arai found a new purpose in life in student sports.
This area has long been home to the sports ground and dormitory of the Meiji University Athletic Association, where the track and field, rugby, soccer, American football, field hockey, and archery teams are now active. There are days when meals are not served in the dormitories, so the inexpensive and voluminous “ponta” as it is called, comes in handy.
The first group to gather here was the American football team. When the restaurant first opened, Mr. Arai, who was close in age to the students, would serve them meals while teaching them the rules of the game. As he got to know them better, he gave them part-time jobs as dishwashers. When I offered him a meal, the number of club members who volunteered increased.
Taking root in the local community, Mr. Arai soon began to take charge of the goldfish scooping at the summer festival in the shopping arcade. At that time, he asked his soccer teammates, who were gaining regular customers, to arrange for a vendor to open a booth.
At the time, one of the club members who “started going with his seniors” was Kazushi Kimura, who played No. 10 for the Japanese national soccer team. Kazushi Kimura, who played No. 10 for Japan’s national soccer team, said he had never had a job scooping goldfish, but he had a vague memory of eating curry cutlets at a restaurant.
“I woke up around seven o’clock, did exercises on the ground nearby, and had breakfast. We would wake up at around seven o’clock, do exercises on the nearby field, have breakfast, and then those who had school would go to school. I would have lunch at Ponta, and practice would start around 3:00 or so.
One of Kimura’s classmates was Norio Sasaki, the famous captain who led Nadeshiko Japan to win the Women’s Soccer World Cup in Germany in 2011.
According to Mr. Arai, Sasaki, who became an instant celebrity, once designated Ponta as a memorable location for the location shooting of a TV program he was asked to do. When the production company accompanying her found out that Sasaki was a classmate of Kimura’s, they contacted Kimura’s office. The production company contacted Kimura’s office as well when they found out that Sasaki was a classmate of Kimura’s. Soon, they received a reply from the other side, and the program became a dialogue project between Sasaki and Kimura.
Kimura himself says that he doesn’t remember the conversation, but for Mr. Arai, that moment was the highlight of his life as a cook.
Mr. Kimura looked at Mr. Sasaki and said, “You’ve become a great director! “Mr. Kimura looked at Mr. Sasaki and said, ‘You are going to be a great director! Things and money disappear, but the human connection that exists in our hearts is a wonderful asset. I hope that people who play sports will be able to create something like that. I could only support them with food, but when they came, I tried to make them feel as relaxed as possible and talked to them.
As Arai reminisces, images of the great men of the rugby team also come to mind.
“In the days when Yuji Matsuo, “Mr. Rugby,” was a member of the club, members often played mahjong until dawn and then went out for a “night meal. On the day of the game, the blazer-clad members of the reserve team would eat a tonkatsu set meal for lunch. Over time, Kenta Fukuda, the 2018 captain of the team that won Japan’s top prize for the 13th time in 22 years, and Mitsuru Furukawa, who was a finalist the year before for the first time in 19 years, also frequented the restaurant.
In the track and field world, Kazuki Kawamura, who set a new Japanese record in the men’s 1,500-meter run in July this year with a time of 3 minutes, 35.42 seconds, and I have been communicating with him on LINE.
Kawamura, who set a new Japanese record in the men’s 1,500-meter run with a time of 3 minutes, 35.42 seconds in July this year, had run in the 10th section of the Hakone Ekiden just before graduating from university and lost a lot of ground. As someone who knew him at the time, Mr. Arai was deeply moved and sent a congratulatory message to him via “LINE.
As a person who knew him at the time, I was deeply moved and sent him a congratulatory message on line.
“I want to support people who are pursuing their dreams. I want to support those who pursue their dreams, and it’s really wonderful to see them go through four years of hard training in the gym. I could never do it! I just enjoyed being involved with them and wondered if I could catch up with their four years over the next 50 years. I was very happy.
I am now 73 years old. He is now 73 years old, and his left hand, which has always held the frying pan, has more muscle and is thicker and fuller than his right hand. The back of his hand, which also suffered from tendinitis, was a sign that he had spent “50 years” catching up with “their four years.
Reporting and writing by： Mukai Kazamiya
Sports writer Born in Toyama Prefecture in 1982. Has been active as a sports writer since 2006. He has been active as a sports writer since 2006, mainly covering rugby. He is the author of "The Challenge of the Sunwolves: Super Rugby: Records of the Fighting Wolves" (Futabasha).