A five minute walk from Sensoji Temple is a small red sign that reads "Cafe and Curry". Usually parked outside is a small yellow “mama-chari”, or Japanese mama's bicycle. Bamboo and handwritten signs adorn the facade. The wooden door is always left cracked open and the smell of fresh curry powder sneaks out from the cracks. Inside you will see Tomoko Shimada stirring her pot full of onions, with locals sitting and chatting about the latest Asakusa gossip over beautifully crafted “mingei” pottery plates.
Shimada is originally from Niigata prefecture far north of Tokyo, and until recently she had never heard of traditional Japanese mingei pottery and a few years ago she would never have imagined that she’d be living in Asakusa. But here fate changed one day in 2012 when she stumbled upon a pottery store and fell in love with the Tottori style pottery on display. Since then, she has gone on to collect an extensive range of pottery from all over Japan. Her favorite is “onta-yaki” from Oita prefecture. Having collected so many pieces, she felt it was a waste for it to just sit in her house and wanted to find a way to show people how amazing and beautiful this traditional Japanese craft was.
The best way for plates and dishes to be showcased is in their natural environment, so her revelation was to open a restaurant - with the pottery and dishware as the main attraction. A small cafe in the deeper part of Asakusa went out of business, and in its place Unsuke was born. While half of it was coincidence, she also knew that Asakusa was an ideal area as the neighborhood folk would accept and support her in her endeavor. Shimada choose to make Japanese style curry not because it was her specialty, but because she felt this particular food would best match her pottery collection. She even jokes that people don’t go for the food, but instead just come to talk about and enjoy the pottery.
In this shop, Shimada makes all the curry from scratch with an onion based roux that combines both Occidental and Japanese techniques. The at-home feeling of the interior with its couch sofas and wooden flooring, combined with the excitement of examining each new plate as it comes out of the kitchen are the aspects that make Unsuke stand out. The community that has gathered around Shimada’s warmth and passion for pottery is a testament to not only great food but to Shimada’s dedication to what she does. Maybe if you’re lucky, Shimada will pull out the whole collection for you to enjoy.
4 Chome-17-3 Asakusa, Taito, Tokyo 111-0032
OPEN:Monday-Saturday 11:30–14:30, 18–21PM