Koji Watanabe


Ohnoya was once a long-standing Japanese style inn, but it has been reborn as a venue where you can enjoy music, traditional arts, and Japanese banquets. Mr. Koji Watanabe, master of the restaurant, is a gentleman who works tirelessly to inject excitement into the local area through various new and interesting ventures at Ohnoya. Koji is a much loved member of the local community, due to his strong desire to grow and preserve a large network of connections and friends.

Combining classic elegance with a contemporary style

Established in 1952, Ohnoya features a 660 square meter garden where you can enjoy the colorful tidings with the coming of every season. It is from the inn’s many traditional tatami rooms where you can enjoy the outstanding natural beauty of the garden. Originally Ohnoya was a Japanese style inn which would accommodate numerable guests at a time. However, due to a decline in demand, the Japanese inn was reimagined as a place to enjoy music, traditional arts, and Japanese banquets. The Japanese cuisine made using local, seasonal ingredients is both a delight to the eyes and the taste buds and is one of the most noteworthy aspects of Ohnoya. Additionally, the beauty and functionality of the tin sake cups, and shell-inlay products created using local artisanal techniques play an important role in the further enhancement of the dishes.

Koji reinvented the Japanese inn which was passed down from his grandmother in a bid to protect the business. It is his softly spoken tone along with his desire to socialize with anyone and everyone which draw people towards him. Koji is a true professional when it comes to looking after his guests. Male or female, young or old; the wide circle of friends which Koji has established is made up of a plethora of people. Whenever Koji leaves his home, he only has to take a couple of steps before he bumps into one of his many acquaintances. This is a stark contrast from the days of his childhood when Koji would often shy away from socializing. However, by regularly helping out at the family inn, Koji was gifted with many occasions in which he was able to converse with people far beyond his own age. Koji noticed that he began to enjoy conversing with others more and more, and eventually desired to work in an environment where he could socialize with many people. It was because of this desire that Koji made the decision to inherit the family business from his mother.

A place to connect with others

Ohnoya is the place where Koji trials new and unique concepts. One of which being the idea to transform the tokonoma* into a space in which to showcase the works of young local artisans. By arranging these pieces in a way which catches the customers’ eye, Koji has been able to establish a completely new connection in which the guests at Ohnoya interact with the work of local craftsmen. Sometimes there are those who say that the artwork displayed in the tokonoma should adhere with the strict formalities of the Japanese tatami room. However, Koji is adamant that he wants to increase the exposure of young artists who usually have a tough time getting their creations seen by a large audience.

tokonoma*: An alcove traditional featured in Japanese tatami rooms where hanging scrolls, vases of flowers, and pottery are decorated

It is a similar story with the Japanese rice wine on offer to the customers. Whenever Koji changes the sake on the menu, he serves the alcohol in a different type of drinking vessel made in the local area. It also provides a great opportunity for Koji to talk about the artisan who made the cup, along with the story behind the creation of the product. This is unique experience for the customers. There are some clients who become deeply interested in the product and listen intently to each word from Koji’s mouth. There are often occasions when Koji will introduce the craftsmen behind the work to customers who fall in love with the product or potential business acquaintances.

Food & Music: A Collaboration

The Food and Music Initiative is something which must be mentioned when discussing the recent efforts of Ohnoya. This is a regularly held event in which customers can enjoy traditional Japanese culture and music along with Ohnoya’s famous cuisine and signature dining environment. Authentic Italian x Washoku culinary fusion events, live jazz nights are just some of the unique experiences which can be enjoyed here. There is even a springtime event where you can admire cherry blossoms at an evening viewing party while watching Noh theatre. One of the main characteristics of the events is the closeness between Koji, the musicians and the chefs at all of his events. These range from well-known professionals to those just starting out. The reason for this is simple. They are all acquaintances or good friends of Koji. It is not unusual for the musicians and chefs to sit down at the table and join the customers after finishing their work. Events of this style are always a huge hit with the guests at Ohnoya.

Koji mentions that when he introduces two of his fellow acquaintances to one another, he often messages them afterwards to see how their relationship has flourished. It is because of this warm follow-up that increases the possibility of future connections and leads to a stronger network of friends. Koji also told me that it’s of great importance to ensure that you make an effort to meet up with those who you wish to maintain a long relationship with in the future.
Koji lives by the words of his mother who taught him the importance of hospitality, and it is because of this that he has been able to establish such close relationships with those around him. As a result, there are many guests who visit Ohnoya. After speaking with Koji about his Food & Music Initiative along with his thoughts towards young budding artists, I am left with the strong impression that Koji feels happiest when all those around him are happy.

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Mr. Koji Watanabe, master of the restaurant, is a gentleman who works tirelessly to inject excitement into the local area through various new and interesting ventures at Ohnoya...

Suehiromachi 2-39, Takaoka, Toyama