The Book of Five Rings author, Miyamoto Musashi, has a part to play in the company’s history.

Whenever we hear about a restaurant in Japan that offers free rice refills, it immediately has our attention. And when those refills are served up by a rice robot, we have no other choice but to visit the place to see what it’s all about, and that’s what our reporter Mr Sato did recently, heading out to a restaurant called Munashi, in Shiga Prefecture. 

Known as “Teishokuya Miyamoto Munashi” in Japanese and “Japanese Set Meal Munashi” in English, this teishokuya (set meal restaurant) opened its first branch in Amagasaki City, Hyogo Prefecture, back in 2003. At one stage, there were branches in the Tokyo metropolitan area, but all these branches have since closed, with stores now limited to Osaka, Hyogo, Kyoto, Shiga, and Aichi prefectures.

▼ Mr Sato visited the JR Ishiyama Station store in Otsu City, the only store in Shiga at the moment.

For people in Japan, the name of the store stands out, as it brings to mind the famous philosopher and legendary swordsman Miyamoto Musashi (c. 1584 – 13 June 1645), who wrote The Book of Five Rings.

According to the company, the founder’s son was unable to properly say “Miyamoto Musashi” when he was young, instead saying “Miyamoto Munashi”, which gave birth to the restaurant’s name.

The chain offers meals based around a “It’s hot! Meal for one” concept, supporting the needs of solo diners with hearty favourites in single servings. The menu includes standard set meals such as karaage fried chicken, Hamburg steak, and shogayaki (ginger pork), but the best seller is the Nanban Set Meal with Homemade Tartar Sauce (860 yen [US$5.79]).

▼ So that’s what Mr Sato ordered, and instead of going with the regular miso soup, he paid an additional 200 yen to swap it for tonjiru (pork miso soup) instead.

The three essentials for a Japanese set meal were on his tray — a bowl of rice, soup, and the main dish. Taking a bite of the rice first, Mr Sato was pleased to find the grains were plump, moist and delicious.

Like many Japanese diners, Mr Sato is able to tell the quality of a restaurant by the quality of its rice and soup, and they were both well made, raising his expectations for the main dish.

▼ The soup was  so good that Mr Sato wished they’d served it up in a slightly bigger bowl.

As he’d anticipated, the main dish was outstanding. Chicken nanban consists of a crispy, deep-fried piece of chicken served with a vinegary sauce and topped with plenty of tartar sauce, and the one served at Munashi is so popular it’s become its signature dish.

Sometimes restaurants that serve chicken nanban fall short on the crispy chicken element, instead relying on the tartar sauce to carry the flavours. However, this one had a strong vinegar flavour and a distinctly sweet and sour taste that was perfectly balanced.

The chicken was so delicious and Mr Sato so hungry that within moments, the bowl of rice on Mr Sato’s table was empty. This wasn’t anything to worry about, though, as the “rice robot” on the premises was ready to refill his bowl for free.

The “robot” looked more like a drinks dispenser, but there was  no liquid on offer here. The only thing being dispensed was rice, and it was easy enough to operate by simply placing your bowl beneath the dispenser and pressing the amount of rice you’d like.

▼ Left to right: A mouthful, Small, Regular, Large

After pressing the button for a regular serving, the robot whirred into action and perfectly delivered the correct amount of rice in a single swift movement that would do a swordsman proud.

It was incredibly fast and efficient, and as Mr Sato returned to his table to finish the rest of his delicious meal, he wished more restaurants around Japan would have robot rice waiters on the premises.

Everything about the meal, from the taste to the quantity and even the customer service, left Mr Sato feeling highly satisfied. While he’d initially come for the robot rice waiter, it turned out to be just one of many reasons why this place is well worth visiting, and Mr Sato is now lamenting the fact that the chain doesn’t have any branches in Tokyo. He’ll just have to mend his broken heart at this chicken nanban specialty restaurant in Akihabara until his next trip out of Tokyo!

Restaurant information
Teishokuya Miyamoto Munashi JR Ishiyama Station store / 定食屋 宮本むなし JR石山駅前店
Address: Shiga-ken, Otsu-shi, Awazucho 4-9 Ishiyama Station Plaza 1F, right
滋賀県大津市粟津町4-9 石山ステーションプラザ1F右
Open 7:00 a.m.-12:00 a.m. every day

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