The oldest location of the beef-on-rice specialist is tucked away in a part of the country where hardly anyone is thinking about meat.

As Japan’s favorite place to get its beef fix, you might expect Yoshinoya to trace its roots to one of Japan’s prestigious cattle-raising regions, like Hyogo Prefecture’s Kobe, Gifu’s Hida, or Mie’s Matsusaka. But actually the oldest Yoshinoya in Japan is located in a place where beef, and meat in general, is the farthest thing from many people’s minds (and stomachs).

The oldest Yoshinoya branch in Japan is inside Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market, the culinary mecca that draws sushi lovers from all over the world. Technically, this is the second Yoshinoya to ever open, as the very first restaurant to bear the name was in the city’s Nihonbashi neighborhood, also near a fish market. However, when that market closed down due to damage from the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, the fish merchants migrated to Tsukiji, and Yoshinoya followed its customers, shutting down the Nihonbashi restaurant and transferring the staff to the Tsukiji location in 1926, thereafter designating it “Yoshinoya Branch #1.”

Sadly, a large section of the Tsukiji market is scheduled to close on October 6, as part of the long-delayed relocation of the facility’s professional auctions and wholesale activities to Toyosu, a section of Tokyo farther away from the city center. Yoshinoya’s oldest branch will be shutting down then too, so we decided to stop by for one last meal at the holiest of holy sites in the beef bowl faith.

Over the years, Tsukiji has grown into a bona fide tourist destination, and even though we showed up at 10:30 in the morning on a Friday, there were long lines stretching from the local restaurants, with about twice as large of crowds as usual having turned up to see the market on its last full day of full operation. Yoshinoya fans had turned up in force too, and as we approached the entrance, we saw a crowd control employee holding up a placard marking the end of the line.

But “quick” is one of the three pillars of Yoshinoya’s success (“tasty” and “inexpensive” being the other two), and after waiting for about 10 minutes or so, the staff ushered us inside. There are a couple of unique order options that are only available at this Yoshinoya branch, such as having your meat placed at the bottom of the bowl and the rice on top, or substituting cold rice for hot. But since this is the oldest Yoshinoya in Japan, we decided to go with the standard beef bowl.

▼ But we made sure to order a large, since this would be our last chance ever to eat here.

As we munched on the familiar and comforting mixture of stewed beef, onions, and rice, we reflected on the sign posted above the restaurant’s entrance, which says:

“In striving to satisfy the fish market workers, we learned that our purpose was to provide them with quick, delicious, and inexpensive beef bowls. The flavor of Yoshinoya, loved first in Japan and now around the world, came from the careful consideration of each and every aspect of producing our customers’ meals, from the ingredients we use to the way we cook them. It is a flavor that, truly, was born in this very spot.”

Yoshinoya’s beef is seasoned to a sweet and salty broth, but we couldn’t help but feel a little bittersweet as we finished our food and walked away, glancing back for one last look at the humble beginnings of a restaurant chain that’s become not just a shared cultural experience among anyone who’s ever lived in Japan, but an edible ambassador of the country to other nations. Thankfully, the traditions developed at the original Tsukiji Yoshinoya are carried on at its other branches, and while we’re sad to see branch #1 go, at least we can still enjoy the ultra-premium Yoshinoya that we can only get at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport.

Restaurant information
Yoshinoya (Tsukiji #1 branch) / 吉野家(築地1号店)
Address: Tokyo-to, Chuo-ku, Tsukiji 5-2-1, Tsukiji Ichiba Building 1
東京都中央区築地5-2-1 築地市場 1号館
Open 5 a.m.-1 p.m. October 6, closed thereafter

Photos ©SoraNews24
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