An anniversary celebration was held in July commemorating Moshi Moshi’s 30 years of serving Japanese cuisine at 2092 Third Street. Phil Atkinson, front house manager, said that staff from the restaurant’s prior decades traveled from throughout California to participate in the event. The evening was filled with stories shared by founder and owner, Mitsuru “Mits” Akashi, employees, patrons and friends.
“The vibe was so happy when you walked in,” recalled Frank Gilson, Potrero Dogpatch Merchants Association president. “Moshi Moshi is one of the happiest places in the world. It’s a Dogpatch institution. The place was packed, and there were a lot of hugs and smiling. It was a great event.”
Akashi, 83, started in the restaurant business in 1962 at Nikko Sukiyaki, on Pine and Van Ness. He volunteered his labors in exchange for bartending lessons. Soon, he quit his day job as a mechanical engineer, which he loathed, to pursue his newfound career. He eventually purchased Nikko Sukiyaki, but lost the lease on the space, subsequently discovering the Dogpatch location through word of mouth.
Akashi endured long days during Moshi Moshi’s early years, as well as through several economic downturns, including the Great Recession. “We’ve been here for 30 years,” said Akashi. “The area around Third Street was nothing at that time. I call Third Street the Industrial Riviera. It used to be blue collar and industrial. Now it’s much fancier.”
“The changes in the neighborhood have been good for business because it represents progress,” he continued. “You don’t want a city to become stale, and San Francisco was stale for a long time. Now it’s becoming more of a first-class city. It was a first-class city for many years, as far as I’m concerned, but it was still lagging behind other cities. Now I call it ‘San Hattan’. Some people don’t like it, but I see it as a positive thing.”
Akashi was born at Merced County Hospital to Japanese immigrants. He and his family were detained in an internment camp from the time he was seven until he turned eleven. His father protested the conditions, and was sent to a different camp by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, only to ultimately be deported to Japan with the rest of the family.
In the midst of attending school in Japan, Akashi was drafted by the U.S. military to serve in the Korean War at the age of 19, since he remained an American citizen. He served with the 82 Airborne Division at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. It was a period of racial segregation under Jim Crow laws. Akashi was forced to sit in the back of the bus when traveling to the nearby City of Fayetteville on weekends. In town, public amenities, such as bathrooms and drinking fountains, were labeled “white” and “colored”. On one occasion, Akashi visited a movie theater but was unable to watch the show because a European-American attendant at the front entrance directed him to the “colored” entry at the rear, where he was referred back to the main entrance by an African-American.
Following military service Akashi made his home in San Francisco. He currently lives near Golden Gate Park. He recalled a life marked by persistent hard work to support his wife and grow his restaurant. He described his approach in his early years as different from other Japanese restauranteurs, who weren’t always welcoming to customers who were unfamiliar with eating sushi. Akashi is friendly to all patrons.
“The key is treating everyone equally; my whole philosophy is based on respecting everyone,” he said. “All ages and colors are welcome. Some places only want a certain kind of customer, but my philosophy has been essential to success.”
Akashi and his dedicated staff have had to overcome numerous challenges over the years. In the 1980s, high crime rates in Dogpatch prompted him to hire security guards to escort employees to their vehicles after evening work hours. Business was disrupted by the 1989 earthquake, as well as construction of Muni’s Third Street T Line in the first decade of the 21st century.
Akashi was devastated in 2000 when his wife, Kazuko Akashi, died, followed by the loss of another family member a couple years later. He considered abandoning the business, but a close friend encouraged him to stay committed to his customers and staff. To help him through the difficulties she introduced him to a Japanese tea ceremony, chanoyu, which has a spiritual aspect derived from Zen Buddhism. Akashi attributes the practice to refocusing his energies on the restaurant and the close-knit community that’s defined it.
Akashi still spends long hours at Moshi Moshi, working closely with his managers to keep the menu relevant to changing times. He attributed the restaurant’s success to the support dedicated patrons and longtime staff have provided over the years.
“Business is very good, but it’s difficult to have a restaurant in San Francisco,” he explained. “Employees have a hard time finding a place to live, and there’s no parking for them. It’s a hard time, but it will get better, people just have to be patient.”
For now, Akashi plans to continue working indefinitely.