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No matter how scholastically talented you are, it’s hard to concentrate on an empty stomach. Even the bright minds at Tokyo University, Japan’s most prestigious institute of higher learning, need to take a break from studying and grab some chow now and again.

Of course, it’s hard to give yourself a mental recharge eating bland cafeteria food. Thankfully, that’s not a concern for the students of Tokyo University’s Kashiwa Campus, who’re lucky enough to have an amazing sushi restaurant right on the school grounds.

Tokyo University is like a lot of Japanese colleges in that while its main campus is in the city center, it has a number of detached campuses as well, the result of available land being too scarce for the school to simply expand outward from its initial location. As a matter of fact, the Kashiwa Campus isn’t physically located inside Tokyo, as it’s actually in neighboring Chiba Prefecture.

The Kashiwa Campus is home to the school’s Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute, known by the acronym AORI. The facility used to be housed in the Nakano neighborhood of downtown Tokyo, but relocated to Kashiwa a few years ago. This put one member of the laboratory in a bind, as he’d grown quite fond of eating at the Osakana Club Hama sushi restaurant in Nakano. So during one of his meals, he suggested that the restaurant’s owner, Hiroyasu Hama, pack up and make the move with AORI.

Hama liked the idea, and in 2010, he opened his current location of the identically named Osakana Club Hama on the first floor of the new AORI building.

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Five years later, he’s still doing a brisk business not just with Tokyo University students and teachers, but also with visiting academic luminaries who often stop by for a bite to eat between academic conference panels. Inside the restaurant, you’ll find a minimalistic yet invitingly bright interior, and behind the counter you’ll find the invitingly friendly Mr. Hama.

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Since starting his career working at the famous Shintomi Sushi restaurant in Ginza, Hama has spent 55 years as a sushi chef. As further proof of his vast experience, he keeps a photo album with snapshots of the more than 1,000 fish-based delicacies he’s prepared over the years, whether sliced as sashimi, broiled, or stewed.

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While the restaurant is open to anyone, its location obviously means that much of the clientele is made up of the Tokyo University student body and faculty. As such, Hama keeps things fresh with a daily lunch special sashimi bowl that’s only 500 yen (US $4.20), with the assorted tuna bowl and salmon with whitebait bowls being big hits.

On the day we stopped by, though, a sawara (mackerel) bowl was on offer. Seasoned with miso and seared just before serving, it was moist and delicious, plus something a little different than what you’d find at a less creative sushi joint.

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In order to keep his prices low, Hama makes the rounds of fish markets across Japan, regularly going to Kyoto, Shizuoka, and Iwate Prefectures. By selecting fish that are fresh and delicious but different from standard sizes, he’s able to buy them at a discount, and pass the savings on to his customers.

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Dinner is also incredibly affordable, with a 12-piece set of nigiri-style sushi costing just 980 yen ($8.30). With tuna, squid, saltwater eel, and more working out to an average of just roughly 80 yen each, this is very inexpensive for a non-revolving sushi restaurant.

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There’s even an impressive selection of regional sake varieties. When we visited the restaurant, Hama was pouring the hard-to-find Juyondai, Hiroki, and even Dassai, the sake from Yamaguchi Prefecture featured in hit anime Evangelion (and which we scored a bottle of for a taste test a while back).

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▼ Still more sake options are listed on the wall.

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At 780 yen ($6.60) each, you won’t hurt your wallet too much trying one or two. And if you’re still hungry after your nigiri set, you might want to sample some of Hama’s more unique offerings such as longtooth grouper, doroebi shrimp, and crescent sweetlips, all of which we were seeing for the first time on a sushi menu and were priced at about 300 yen ($2.53).

“I get excited when I find a new kind of fish,” explained Hama. “I want to find even more than I already have.” We’re hoping he gets to do just that, especially since it means we get to go back to Osakana Club Hama and eat them.

Restaurant information
Osakana Club Hama / お魚倶楽部 はま
Address: Chiba-ken, Kashiwa-shi, Kashiwa no Ha 5-1-5, Tokyo University Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute building, 1st floor
千葉県柏市柏の葉5-1-5 東京大学大気海洋研究所 1F
Telephone 04-7134-5656
Open 11:30 a.m.-2:45 p.m., 5 p.m.-9 p.m. (11:30 a.m.-1:45 p.m. only on Saturdays)
Closed Sundays and holidays

Photos: RocketNews24
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