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IMAGINE LITTLE TOKYO SHORT STORY CONTEST: The God of Sushi Mats (Makisu no Kamisama)


Translated by Tiffany Tanaka

(Editor’s note: Following is the winner in the Japanese language category of the 2017 Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest held by the Little Tokyo Historical Society. The English translation is followed by the original Japanese text.)

I am retiring tonight, tormented by an indescribable sense of guilt.

55 years since I started making sushi here in Little Tokyo…Or rather, it’s been 55 years since I started rolling sushi. The world changed dramatically since I came up with the Triple T Roll in 1963.

Back then, sushi was known only by Japanese or Japanese Americans and certain food connoisseurs. Most Americans were reluctant to try raw fish, and were disgusted by the black paper-like nori seaweed. Some customers would even peel the nori off. I wanted my restaurant to be known for authentic Edo-style sushi, but we barely got any customers, and were on the brink of closing down.

My wife and I were expecting our second child — I couldn’t close up shop now. Inspired, I got to work putting together a new menu that would breathe new life into my restaurant.

If raw fish is no good, how about tempura instead? Teriyaki sauce to add a burst of flavor. If nori is no good, what if I wrap the sushi inside out so the rice is on the outside?

And that’s how the Triple T Roll was born. “Triple T” as in “T” for tempura, “T” for teriyaki, and “T” for Tomio, my name. The Triple T Roll — inside-out teriyaki-flavored shrimp tempura sushi — became a Little Tokyo specialty in no time. Word got out and customers were coming from all over the United States and even overseas.

Many variations on the Triple T Roll were born, such as the California Roll with avocado and imitation crab, the Philadelphia Roll with smoked salmon and cream cheese, and the Rainbow Roll with its colorful ingredients wrapped on the outside. Roll sushi became the epitome of sushi culture, and spread like wildfire.

Nigiri (traditional sushi consisting of a small ball of rice topped with raw fish) is the essence of Edo-style sushi, but all my customers wanted were Dynamite or Spider rolls. Day after day, I made those rolls, and eventually the lines from the sushi mat were imprinted in my fingers.

Dear God, have I destroyed Japanese tradition…? I wondered.

“What are you lamenting about?”

An old man with a white moustache wearing a white kimono stood before me.

“Who are you?”

“I’m the God of Sushi Mats.”

“Sushi mats? Oh…well, I owe a lot to you.”

“I’ve been quite busy since you’ve made sushi rolls popular. Until now, the God of Knives and the God of Cutting Boards were at the top in the world of Sushi Gods, but ever since the 1960s I’ve earned a lot of points and I’ve beat the God of Dining Tables to become one of the top three Sushi Gods.”

“There’s a point system in the world of Sushi Gods?”

“Oh yes. Every time your tool is used, you earn one point, and you get promoted each time you reach one million points.”

“One…million points?”

“Anyway, why are you feeling troubled on a day when you should be celebrating the fulfillment of your life’s work, having run a successful business and watching your children grow up?”

“Well…it’s hard for me to say this when I’ve used sushi mats to make roll sushi countless times, but I became a sushi chef because I wanted to make Edo-style sushi popular in America. Now that my career is over, all I see is roll sushi everywhere, and I regret having destroyed the tradition of Japanese sushi. I wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t catered to Americans’ tastes and kept making nigiri…”

“I see… you’re tormented by your artisan spirit. I can relate to that. Well, I’ve benefited a lot from you already, so if you’d like, I can make it so that you never invented the Triple T Roll.”

“You can do that?”

“I have a trillion points saved up, so I can make a minor change to the past.”

“Then yes, please! I can’t stand this world where roll sushi is everywhere. Please make it so that the detestable Triple T Roll never existed.”

The God of Sushi Mats pulled out a huge sushi mat from his inside pocket, rolled it inside out, and put it back in his inside pocket. Then, nodding with a smile, he disappeared into the darkness.

I looked at the clock. It was a little past 3 p.m. It seems that I fell asleep on the chair in the kitchen. My wife Reiko, who waitressed, and the prep cook Jose appeared to be on break, and no one was in the restaurant. I looked over at the glass case on the counter where the sushi ingredients are kept. The colors were different than usual.

I rubbed my sleepy eyes and focused on the middle on the case. Tuna, yellowtail, salmon, shrimp, octopus, scallop, egg…the pile of imitation crab that usually sits in the middle of the case was missing, and kanpyo (sweet gourd) sat in its place. I hadn’t prepared kanpyo in years, since no one orders it and it’s a pain to prepare.

I checked the glass case where we kept the vegetables, and the avocados….were there. But there were only two, much less than what we usually stocked. Bulk-sized teriyaki sauce and piles of nori cans were nowhere to be seen. I looked at the glass case again, and found snapper, halibut, horse mackerel and even rosy sea bass. What an authentic lineup of ingredients! The God of Sushi Mats made my wish come true.

With two hours left until opening time, I decided to go for a quick walk. I went outside feeling great. From Honda Plaza I went west on Second Street and north on Central Avenue to First Street, the face of Little Tokyo. I love the nostalgic feeling of the historic buildings.

The lunch rush was over, but there were still a few people waiting outside the ramen shop Daikokuya. Its reigning popularity is impressive, given the competition due to L.A.’s rising ramen culture in the past few years.

The sushi restaurants on First Street were nowhere to be found. Toshi Sushi, Enya, Oomasa…they’ve all been replaced by ramen shops! Was sushi destroyed by ramen because I didn’t invent the “T” Roll? I shuddered.

Oh well, at least my restaurant still exists, and just because it’s Little Tokyo doesn’t mean there has to be tons of sushi restaurants. The skilled sushi chefs probably just opened up shop elsewhere.

I walked west on First Street, glancing at the stores left and right. A bar, nightclub, bail bonds, adult goods store…quite colorful and far from wholesome. I felt a slight dizziness and ran into the Little Tokyo Koban and Visitor’s Center.

“Um… excuse me.”

“Hello. May I help you?” A gentleman about my age greeted me with a soft demeanor.


“Is there something wrong outside?”

“Since when has the neighborhood been like this?”

The gentleman at the Koban let out a sigh.

“Ever since the economic bubble of the ’90s burst, the old Little Tokyo disappeared, and this street…”

“I remember a club called Nirvana, but it wasn’t this shady. What happened to Japanese Village Plaza? You know, they had the gift shops and the Nijiya Market, the popular shabu-shabu restaurant and the revolving sushi bar…”

“Ah…Japanese Village Plaza. Brings back memories. That area was bought by Foster Real Estate in 2001, and now it looks like a regular shopping mall.

No way! My eyes widened, and I ran out of the Koban. The bustling Japanese Village Plaza was sold to an American corporation?

Bunkado on First Street is still there, and Koyasan Buddhist Temple as well. The red yagura tower that serves as a landmark is still there!

With trepidation, I peered into the Japanese Village Plaza. Foster Café, Foster Bakery, Foster Outlet… the Nijiya Market was now a Foster Mart! Foster businesses left and right. What could have happened to change the neighborhood so drastically?

My feet dragged as I headed back to my restaurant. Second Street is lined with retail fashion stores, and Hama Sushi and Komasa are gone. Even though they were my competition, I felt a sense of loneliness now that they were gone. Even the popular Kula revolving sushi bar was now “Shanghai Revolution” revolving dim sum!

“Welcome back, Taisho (boss).” Back at the restaurant, Jose had returned from his break.

“Jose, why are all the other sushi restaurants gone?”

“What are you talking about? In America, only connoisseurs eat sushi, so we’re the only sushi restaurant around here.”

Only our restaurant? Sushi in the world without roll sushi is so unpopular… I felt overcome by guilt as I stared at the glass case displaying the raw fish that I had felt so proudly of earlier.

However, Americans must like tuna. We have beautiful tuna bright as a ruby…wait, what are those weird striations?

“Jose, what is this?”

“Ohh that’s a beautiful red sunfish.”

“Red sunfish? What happened to the tuna?”

“Taisho, please don’t joke like that. Tuna is almost extinct due to over-fishing. It’s no longer allowed to be imported.”

“You’ve gotta be kidding me. Sushi’s not popular, so who’s over-fishing it?”

“Well, it’s really popular in Asia, and all they’re eating is tuna.”

What kind of logic is this? Since filling roll sushi doesn’t exist, tuna consumption increased exponentially?

“So, where’s Reiko?”

Jose shook his head with an awkward look on his face.

“Taisho. You’re acting weird today. Your ex-wife went back to Japan several decades ago.”

Ex-wife…did she take the kids and leave because my restaurant was failing since I didn’t invent the Triple T Roll? That can’t be — Reiko wouldn’t leave me because I failed once or twice. I’m so confused my head is about to explode. Could one detail change my life so drastically? There’s no point in making authentic sushi if my wife and kids aren’t here! God of Sushi Mats, please!! Change my world back to how it was!!!

I looked at the clock, and it was now 10 minutes before 5 p,m. It seems I had a nightmare.

“Dear, it’s almost time to open the restaurant. We have to get ready.”

“Reiko, you’re back?”

“What are you talking about? Never mind, look outside. Since you’re retiring, about five of your regular customers are already here.”

“Ohh okay…” I walked over to the prep area and there were two men helping Jose. They were my sons Hiroshi and Takashi, who each work at other restaurants…

“Dad, are you okay? You sounded like you were having a nightmare,” Hiroshi the worrier asked.

“Maybe he doesn’t really want to retire.”

Takashi laughed, his eyes smiling just like when he was one year old.

“What are you two doing here?”

“We came to help so you won’t pass out from being too busy,” said Hiroshi.

“Karen and the little ones are coming later, so make your cute grandkids some sushi with the good stuff!” said Takashi, pushy as always.

“Sure, they can eat all the red sunfish they want,” I replied.

“Taisho, but we have the best tuna today,” said Jose.

Oh good… there’s still tuna. But never mind that. There’s nothing better than to be surrounded by family on my last day as a sushi chef. Who cares if it’s Edo-style or nigiri. I’ll roll anything whether it’s a Berry Roll or an adhesive roll!

I looked at the clock, and it was 9 p.m. A customer I hadn’t seen around sat at the counter close to closing. An elderly man with a white mustache…just like the God of Sushi Mats from my dream.

“What can I get you?”

“Hm… omakase – I’ll leave it up to you.”

“Anything you don’t like?”

“Not really, but I’d like to finish with something sweet and salty – you know the one.”

Bring it on. The perfect ending to the 55 years of rolling sushi in Little Tokyo — the Triple T Roll that changed the world!


Born in Nagoya in 1965, Masafumi Mori graduated from Osaka University (B.A.), moved to the U.S. in 2002, and is now living in Los Angeles. He has been subtitling for movies, documentaries and dramas since 2009 and authored a non-fiction book, “Crazy Stupid Hollywood (Sho-Pro),” in 2012. He is currently working as a specialist of Japanese localization QC for various entertainment contents. “The God of Sushi Mats” is his first published fiction.



 ここリトル東京で寿司を握って55年… いや、正確には巻いて55年と言うべきかもしれない。1963年、私があの“トリプルTロール”を考案して以来、世界は劇的に変わってしまった。



生魚が苦手なら、代わりに天ぷらはどうだ? 味は流行りのテリヤキソースでパンチを効かせよう。海苔が苦手なら、ご飯が外側にくるように巻いてみては? こうして編み出したのがトリプルTロールだ。“トリプルT”は、天ぷらの“T”、テリヤキの“T”、そして私の名前であるトミオの“T”を表していた。


握りこそが江戸前の神髄だというのに、客は、やれ“ダイナマイト”だの “スパイダー”だのカタカナ名の巻き寿司ばかり頼んでくる。私は来る日も来る日も巻き続け、指には巻きすの縞模様がくっきりと刻まれる始末。

神様… 私は伝統を破壊してしまったのでしょうか?





「巻きすの? おお… これはすっかりお世話になりました」




「ひゃ… 100万ポイント?」。さすが神様の世界はスケールが違う。


「あ… いや… さんざん使わせていただいてこんなことを言うのもなんですが、私は江戸前寿司をアメリカに広めるつもりで寿司職人を志したというのに、終わってみれば、どこもかしこもロールだらけでして、日本の寿司の伝統を完全に破壊してしまったと後悔しているのです。あの時、安易にアメリカ人の好みに合わせず、じっくり腰を据えて握り続けていたらどうなっていたかと…」

「なるほど… 職人気質ゆえの苦しみか。分からんでもないな。まあ、ワシも十分いい思いをさせてもらったことだし、なんなら、そなたがトリプルTロールとやらを考案しなかったことにしてやっても構わんぞ」



「では、ぜひお願いします! こんなロールだらけの世界は我慢できない。どうか、あの忌まわしいトリプルTロールを、無かったことにしてください」


 時計を見ると、午後3時を少し回っていた。どうやら、板場のイスに座ってうたた寝していたようだ。給仕を担当する妻のレイコも調理場のホセも休憩をとっているらしく、店には誰もいない。ぼんやりとカウンターのネタケースを見ると… おや? なんかいつもと色合いが違うぞ。

 寝ぼけまなこをこすってケースの中に焦点を合わせる。マグロ、ブリ、サケ、エビ、イカ、タコ、ホタテ、タマゴ… 普段ならケースの真ん中に堂々と積み上げられていたカニカマがなく、代わりにかんぴょうが置いてある。アメリカじゃほとんど誰も頼まないし、調理も面倒なのでここ数年、作ったこともなかったかんぴょうが!

もしやと思い野菜を冷蔵するガラスケースを見やると、アボカドは… 一応ある。だが2個だけで、いつもよりずっと少ない。徳用サイズのテリヤキソースは見当たらないし、のりの缶も山積みになっていない。再びネタケースを見ると、タイ、ヒラメ、アジに… ノドグロも? なんと本格的なラインナップ! きっと巻きすの神様が願いをかなえてくれたに違いない。

 開店まであと2時間ある。軽く散歩でもするか… 私は上機嫌で表に出た。ホンダプラザからセカンドストリートを西へ進みセントラルアベニューを北上すると、そこはリトル東京の顔ともいえるファーストストリートだ。歴史的な建造物をそのまま生かした、この懐かしい雰囲気がたまらない。


 そういえば、ファースト沿いに数件あったはずの寿司屋が見当たらないな。利寿司もえんやも大政も… 全部ラーメン屋に変わっているぞ! 不意にぞぞっと悪寒が走る。私がTロールを考案しなかったがために、寿司がラーメンに駆逐されたのか?


 さて、ラーメン屋以外はどんな店が… 私は左右を見渡しながらファーストを西へ向かった。バーにナイトクラブ、保釈金立替業者にアダルトショップ… おいおい、なんだかクセがすごいぞ! お世辞にも健全とは言い難い。私は、くらりと軽いめまいを感じ、案内所がある小東京交番へと駆け込んだ。

「あの… すいません」


「そ… 外の様子が…」


「い… いつからこんな街並みに?」

 交番の紳士は、ふう… とため息をついて答えた。


「確かにニルバーナみたいなクラブはあったけど、こんなに怪しげじゃなかっただろ。じゃあ、ジャパン・ビレッジは? ほら… みやげ物屋とかスーパーニジヤとかあって、しゃぶしゃぶ屋や回転寿司の前には行列が…」

「ほう… ジャパン・ビレッジとは、懐かしい響きですな。あの辺一帯は2001年にフォスター不動産に買い取られて、今じゃ、どこにでもありそうなショッピングモールです」

 そんなバカな! 私は目を見開き、そのままの勢いで駆けだした。あんなに賑わっていたビレッジがアメリカ系大企業の手に? ファースト沿いに文化堂はまだあるし、高野山別院もある。ランドマークとしておなじみの赤いやぐらだって、しっかり残されているじゃないか!

 ビレッジの入り口から恐る恐る中をのぞいてみた。フォスターカフェ、フォスターベーカリー、フォスターアウトレット… ニジヤがあった場所はフォスターマートに! 右も左もフォスター産業一色だ。こうも街並みが変わってしまうなんて、一体、何が起こったんだ?





 うちだけ? ロールが発展しなかった世界の寿司は、そんなに人気がないのか… 私は、さっき誇らしげに思っていたネタケースを改めて見渡し、カニカマを置いていないことに罪悪感を覚えた。

 そうはいっても、アメリカ人だってマグロは好きなはず。ケースには、ルビーのように輝く立派なマグロが… あれ? 待てよ。筋の入り方が妙だな。



「赤マンボウだと? マグロは、どうした?」




 どういう理屈だ? 腹にたまるロールがなくて、その分、マグロの消費量が急増したとでもいうのか?




“元奥さん”って… まさか、私がトリプルTロールを考案しなくて、商売が軌道に乗らなくて、妻が愛想をつかして、それで子供を連れて日本に帰ったとでも? いやいや、そんなはずはない。レイコとは裸一貫からやってきたんだ。一度や二度、失敗したくらいで私を見捨てるほど薄情な人間じゃなかろう。なぜに… ああ、混乱して頭が割れそうだ。たった1つのことが、こうも歯車を狂わせてしまうのか? いくら本格的な寿司を握っているからといって、最愛の妻と子供がいなけりゃ意味がないじゃないか! 巻きすの神様、お願いです!! どうか元の世界に巻き戻してください!!!



「レ… レイコ。戻ってきてくれたのか」









 よかった… まだマグロがあったんだ。いや、そんなことより、職人生活の最終日に家族に囲まれて、これほどありがたいことがあるだろうか。ええい、こうなったら江戸前も握りも関係ない。ベリーロールだろうが粘着ロールだろうが、何だって巻いてやる!

 時計を見ると、もう9時。閉店間際に、この辺では見かけない客がカウンターに座った。白い口ひげを蓄えた老人… その風貌は、まるで夢で見た巻きすの神様だ。


「うむ… お任せで頼む」


「そうだな。特にないが、最後は甘辛く締めたいな… 例のやつでね」

 望むところだ。ここリトル東京で寿司を巻き続けて55年。有終の美は、もちろんこれで飾る… 世界を変えたトリプルTロールで!

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