The other week my coworker and I sat down with Michelle, the owner of Manpuku Shokudo restaurant in Chiyoda, Tokyo. We had a little chat about her story and the restaurant itself.
Michelle’s Japanese name is incredibly difficult to pronounce, especially for foreigners, so she decided to be called Michelle. She feels it fits her better as she doesn’t look traditionally Japanese with her short orange hair and fun fashion sense. Michelle wants to be approachable and make things convenient for her customers and her staff. She radiates kindness and preaches inclusivity. I couldn’t speak a word of Japanese and while she wasn’t able to speak much English she still made that effort with me. When asking a question about myself she would ask it directly to me and then look to my coworker for the translation. I found this incredibly comforting and kind.
We started with some simple questions about the restaurant and how Michelle came to be running it. The restaurant was bought by her husband 23 years ago but was originally opened in 1966. It has changed owners a couple of times but always maintained the same sort of theme until Michelle and her husband took it over. Michelle was full of laughter as she retold this “old story” of what it was like opening her own restaurant. Originally, traditional street food was served at Manpuku, but the current menu has been designed to introduce foreigners to traditional Japanese food in a delicate way that is easily palatable. This was a theme that became apparent quickly. Michelle and her husband have designed this restaurant to be incredibly foreigner friendly.
When you walk into Manpuku, your eye is immediately drawn to the murals on the wall and all the cute decorations that are hanging around. Michelle explains that when they bought the restaurant it wasn’t this warm and inviting. Originally, the restaurant attracted mainly old businessmen from the areas around it. However, Michelle wanted to change this and make the restaurant more attractive to foreigners and most importantly, women.
The murals that are such a big feature of Manpuku Shokudo were painted by one of the part-time workers and their friends. This worker asked to paint something for the restaurant and when given the go-ahead returned with a handful of their friends from art school. The murals are very Japanese-esque but remain cute. The mural containing the lady at the back looks a little bit like Michelle herself and you might think like I did, that this is on purpose; an homage to the wonderful lady in charge. This is also one of the only places that you can look up and see the original foundation for the train tracks that pass overhead.
Michelle says that the thing she likes the most about running Manpuku Shokudo is having conversations with so many different people and learning about their worldviews. When her husband was running the restaurant, Michelle had more of a traditional housewife role and she says she didn’t get to meet many people during that time. One of her favorite parts of seeing the different customers is watching them get drunk as the night progresses. We had a little laugh about this. She says that when her husband got sick she took over the running of the restaurant and for the first time she got to meet lots of people from all over the world. “Everyday you get to meet someone new. Even the staff is very international, there’s a person from Nepal, Vietnam, China, and even Brazil. So even without leaving the country, I got a broader sense of the world.”
“So why is it so important to you that you have an international staff?” Michelle’s response is long. There are several reasons, but she starts with the simple explanation that it is necessary. Because she wants Manpuku Shokudo to be welcoming to foreigners it is necessary to overcome language barriers. Her staff can converse in languages other than just Japanese and English. It makes the restaurant more welcoming to newcomers. It also makes the restaurant more memorable, because it’s not every day that you can walk into a small restaurant in a country completely new to you, sit down, and have a conversation with at least one of the staff in a language that you understand. Japanese is a hard language to learn, particularly for native English speakers and Michelle understands this. She has made it her personal mission to make sure that everyone feels welcome in her restaurant.
We asked Michelle if there were any places that she wanted to visit. Michelle gave us two lists, one as a restaurant owner and one for her own personal travel. Included in this list were some incredible places like New York and Paris. I was happy to find out that she wanted to visit the Great Barrier Reef in my home country. We spent some time talking about this while we finished our meals.
Overall the environment in Manpuku Shokudo is warm and inviting. The owner is absolutely lovely and the food served is just as delicious. This restaurant is a must visit for all people, especially foreigners. If you make it out this way be sure to have a chat with the staff and stay a while taking in the surroundings. Listen as the train passes overhead and as the day turns into night. Watch as businessmen and tourists walk through the tunnel from the big buildings of Chiyoda to the classy neighborhood of Ginza, transporting everyone from one world to another. Consider checking out our Allstar Food Tour for other restaurants like Manpuku Shokudo.
Hello there! I’m a writer from Brisbane, Australia. I’m currently interning in Tokyo. You’ll probably find me with a bag weighed down by books eating a cake in some small cafe somewhere. Or I’ll be resting in a shady spot reading and soaking up the summer air.