Edited by Kristen Schmidt, Photographs by Tessa Berg
We are Russian, Japanese, Burmese, Mexican, Thai, Argentine, Polish, German, Ecuadoran, Peruvian, Iranian, Nepali, Canadian, Turkish, Palestinian, Vietnamese, Somali, Ethiopian, French, Pakistani, Chinese, Eritrean. In all, more than 104,000 of us were born somewhere other than in the U.S. We color and flavor the city with our languages, our culture, our art, our culinary traditions and our clothing. We grow communities of fellowship and faith with our fellow countrymen. We are American.
We are Columbus.
Ryuji “Mike” Kimura, chef and owner, Kihachi
Ryuji “Mike” Kimura
Occupation: Owner and chef, Kihachi
No [it was not hard to leave Japan]. I grew up in a small island, like a fisherman’s village. My father is a fisherman, my older brother is a fisherman. [My father] was working all over the world, the whole ocean. He would leave home for two or three months, sometimes not coming home longer than that. It was a different place. Living far away, that was something [you did].
Before I come to United States [in 1973], I have been in Thailand three and a half years after graduate culinary school in Osaka city. Then I went back to Tokyo. I feel like I want to go someplace else. I ask my friends, they said New York City. It’s a good place. I found a job at a restaurant, one of the top [Japanese] restaurants. I stay a little more than 10 years.
My first time in Columbus, [I thought] Ohio? Where is that? First time I visit here, it was a Japanese steakhouse opening night. I came here to help. I know the manager. That time I was working in Connecticut on a new project. My project collapse; then the couple called me. They opened a restaurant on Morse Road called Zao.
My daughter, my son, we decided to bring them here [to grow up]. After Zao, I switched a couple of places. I collaborate, I don’t like it. I have offer in Hawaii, I don’t like it. I decided that was not the place. Columbus is my place. It’s easy living for me. My son is in the kitchen. My daughter is waitress. Our whole family is here.
I’m a little stubborn. [I opened Kihachi] so I could find a better place. Japanese food, it’s Americanized. I wanted to do it my way. I picked here because of the traffic from 270 and 33 to Marysville. It’s been a big family here because of Honda Automotive Co. When I open up, I don’t do any advertising, just opened quietly. I want to start very slowly. If I was doing OK, people will find us.
When I was [working] in Tokyo, one of my friends he brings in an Australian guy. His name is Mike. He eat a lot, drink a lot, like me. So goes my friend—my name is Kimura—Kimura, you just like Mike, eating a lot, drinking a lot. Now many people call me Mike, even when I call Japan.
—As told to Beth Stallings