From the land of the rising sun, where bullet trains bring throngs of suited business men and women into the heart of the capital city to work long hours, and where people unwind at the onsen, hot spring, or karaoke bar when time permits, one young man dreamed of building a life on the other side of the Pacific Ocean.
Dai Fukusaku left Japan when he was 19 years old and has worked his way through North America until he discovered this friendly city on the North Coast.
“I have lived in 13 different towns and cities in five different states and provinces. Prince Rupert is the only town that I actually left and came back,” he said.
Dai, known for his sushi restaurant in Cow Bay, Fukusaku, always wanted to go to the United States, not for marinating fish or crafting rice rolls, that came later.
At first, he enrolled in a two year college in New Jersey for general education and to learn English. He admits he may have picked up a bit of a Jersey accent but that’s gone now.
Despite never being outside of Japan, Dai doesn’t remember experiencing culture shock.
“I was so happy. I still remember the first morning when I woke up when I was in the States was my first time to be abroad. When I woke up and went outside and saw the grass and everything was so big,” he said, with a toothy smile.
He went on to study at Mansfield University in Pennsylvania for music with a concentration on voice, and a minor in saxophone and piano. He performed in the university concert choir all over the state. When asked if he still shares his musical talents, he says he still sings in the shower.
Years later, while living in Ohio, where the Honda headquarters are located as well as a sizeable Japanese community, Dai took up training with a Japanese chef, who had been trained in Japan. His instructions were simple.
“He said ‘Dai, stand behind me, watch and learn.’ That’s it.” Dai said.
This was in the early 2000s, when instructional online videos through the Internet and YouTube were getting popular. Dai said he would supplement his training with the growing wealth of information online.
“I’m still learning,” he said from inside his brightly lit restaurant that offers views of the Cow Bay Marina.
Before he discovered Prince Rupert, the rainy coast, he lived in Gibsons on the Sunshine Coast. For a year he worked as a sushi chef until the restaurant shut down, which happened to have a sister restaurant, Opa Sushi, in Prince Rupert.
His wandering spirit was then drawn to another opportunity across the country. In 2010, he moved to Oakville, Ontario to try his hand at a sushi restaurant in an affluent suburbia on the fringe of Toronto. But he soon realized the community wasn’t quite his cup of tea.
“I don’t like the way people speed on the QEW and people drive crazy. It wasn’t my lifestyle at all,” he said. But for the first time since he left Japan, he wanted to return to the same community he had just left.
“I knew how friendly this community is and I knew I was going to open up a restaurant and I knew I was going to do it locally focused with local seafood and I know how much of a connection I have in this town,” he said.
In 2012, he opened his own restaurant — Fukusaku — which is now the oldest ocean-friendly, by Ocean Wise standards, sushi restaurant in Canada. Originally a restaurant in Toronto took that title, but Just Sushi has since closed.
Ethically, he feels it’s important to go 100 per cent sustainable.
“We have such great seafood here and I want that seafood to be available for the generations to come. If we keep doing what we’re doing right now studies show there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by year 2050. I want to avoid that,” he said.
By following Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise Seafood Program, Dai supports sustainable fishing practices, meaning that the seafood is harvested in ways that limit damage to marine habitats and the species is not over-fished. Dai hopes that his mission draws people’s attention to the importance of keeping the ocean clean and healthy.
Five years later, his mission garnered him enough votes to win a 2016-2017 Business Excellence Award from the chamber of commerce for sustainability.
As much as he loves delighting palates at his restaurant, he puts in 65 plus hours a week, and admits he wants to spend more quality time enjoying the landscape. Fishing, kayaking, scuba diving are all hobbies he lists off that he wants to learn. He also wants to spend more time golfing in the summer and skiing at Shames Mountain in the winter. A goal is to get an avalanche course under his belt so he can explore the pristine powder in the backcountry.
This January, he returned to Japan for the first time in six years. Tokyo has become more foreigner friendly with the Olympics coming in 2020, but just as the city has changed over the years, so has Dai.
“I was a fish out of water,” he said.