“You think the restaurant is small? Wait until you see the kitchen!" Setsua Maruyama

all of the sudden I saw the entire street filled with the typical East-German cars." Setsua Maruyama

In 1973, Setsua Maruyama left his home country Japan behind to start a new adventure in Berlin. Now, 40 years later, Setsua runs one of the city’s most famous sushi-restaurants. ‘Musashi Sushi’ is known for its tasty sushi, but also for its minuscule one-room space and authentic look. Setsua comments: “You think the restaurant is small? Wait until you see the kitchen!”

It’s so tiny, that it’s actually hard to find on the always crowded Kottbusser Damm in Kreuzberg. But once you’ve found it, you’ll quickly be taken in by the hand-drawn menus and the sumo wrestling posters. Setsua himself is cooking the last dishes before leaving his little kitchen. It’s lunch break for the employees, but the few tables in the restaurant are still occupied. People are standing in front of the closed door and try to read an old sign posted on a barstool in front of the door that says: ‘Mittagspause: twenty minutes’.

Grand opening
The 62-year-old Setsua finally takes a seat and talks about how he first settled in Schöneberg in former West Berlin when he arrived 40 years ago. “I always wanted to live abroad – not just visit a county for a holiday, but really experience living there.“ Then the opportunity arose to move to Berlin: “I knew somebody who was opening a Japanese restaurant in Berlin. I could start working there, so I took the offer and made the move.”

Later he decided to open up his own Japanese restaurant together with his companion in Kreuzberg. Setsua started out as the chef. Coincidence or not, the restaurant opened up one day before the Berlin Wall fell on the 9th of November 1989. “I couldn’t believe my eyes. We were exhausted from getting everything ready for our opening and all of the sudden I saw the entire street filled with the typical East-German cars, called ‘Trabant’. I immediately switched on the radio and heard about the news. It was a historical day.”

It’s now twenty-four years ago and a lot has changed since that remarkable day. “Back then we weren’t that familiar with this area. A lot of Turkish immigrants lived here – this area was often called ‘Little Istanbul.’” But Musashi managed to build a name for itself amidst the countless Turkish döner kebab shops: “We started making more and more sushi for all the tourists from Japan and we noticed that Berliners like it too. Later I actually opened up another restaurant in Steglitz, a district in the southwest of Berlin.”

When Setsua opened this second venture, he thought of a way to promote the place: “I wanted to attract more costumers, so I organized a discount evening. Everything was half-price.” It was a big success: “Actually too many people came that day. We didn’t have enough staff and almost couldn’t process all the orders in time.” He laughs: “It was a catastrophe, it was so crowded!”

A few moths later Setsua again organized special discount evenings, but this time he was better prepared and hired more people. “It was a great success, I got a lot of regular customers out of it. But I stopped doing it, it was just too much stress.” Later Setsua noticed other Sushi restaurants in Berlin also started with the discounts: “Now it is ridiculous, many restaurants have 50% off all day, every day. Then I thought to myself, this doesn’t make sense anymore.”

Small but effective
Unlike most Berlin sushi Restaurants Setsua doesn’t do any discounts anymore: “My sushi is not as cheap as in other restaurants because the quality is very high. Other restaurants for instance add less fish to the sushi to cut back on the costs. That’s why it is that cheap.”

Although he works very long days, Setsua still loves his small sushi restaurant. “It can get quite crowded in here. But because it’s this small, I can always oversee the quality of the sushi.” Setsua stands up again, ready to unlock the front door to the let waiting customers in. “And people seem to enjoy it, the restaurant is almost always packed.”

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