Long before Mikuni Japanese Restaurant and Sushi Bar existed, co-owner Taro Arai was an 11-year-old paperboy with big dreams.
He saved $6,000 over five years to move his family from Japan to the United States.
Arai wrote and published his first book, “Abundance: Finding the American Dream in a Japanese Kitchen,” in hopes that he will inspire other Japanese youths.
The book is set to be released Wednesday and combines his family’s history with recipes for some of Mikuni's customers’ favorite dishes.
“It’s not just a recipe book,” Arai said. “It has my life story in it.”
The book’s 12 chapters tell different stages of Arai’s life and include recipes named to coincide with their themes.
For example, when Arai was 11 years old, he saw little future in Japan and dreamed of moving to America. He got a paper route and, over five years, managed to save $6,000 so he and his family could emigrate to America. The story is paired with a recipe for his “American Dream Roll,” a sushi dish including Copper River salmon and bluefin tuna.
After leaving the small southern Japanese island of Amakusa and arriving in the United States, Arai struggled with the English language and American culture as a 16-year-old high school student.
At times funny and at times heartbreaking, Arai’s anecdotes give readers insight into the life of an immigrant family struggling to succeed: relying on each other, hard work and their faith in God.
Working in his aunt’s restaurant in California, Arai said it was a chance encounter that made Mikuni, which means “kingdom of God,” possible.
While his mother cooked, his father – who was also a pastor – waited tables and happened to meet another Japanese man in the restaurant one day. The two came from the same town, and a few days later, the man had deposited $300,000 in Arai’s father’s bank account.
“He said to just pay him back when we could,” Arai told The Sacramento Press. “I don’t know what he was doing giving us that kind of money, but I’m glad he did.”
It was then up to the family to make the restaurant work, with his mother – who never had any formal training – doing the cooking while the whole family worked. Arai recalls working seven days a week without a day off for the first five years.
Arai’s purpose in writing the book is to share his story and provide hope to Japanese youths in response to the 30,000 Japanese who commit suicide each year.
“Most of them are young people,” he said. “They have everything: house, education…but they don’t have hope. I want to show them that they can have hope. If I save even one soul, then it will all be worth it.”
Initially published in English, Arai said his goal is to publish it in Japanese next year and distribute the books to school libraries in Japan.
Arai decided to publish the book himself, edited and helped by his marketing team, and donate 10 percent of the $27.50 price to charity.
“We’ve donated almost $1 million to a breast cancer foundation, and I’m going to use this book to donate even more,” Arai said. “It’s all about giving back, because I came here with nothing, so it’s time to give back.”
Arai said readers can find recipes to some of Mikuni’s customers’ favorite sauces that have previously not been published, but he isn’t giving away all the secrets.
The foreword was penned by New York Times Bestselling author Nicholas Sparks, who used to sit in the restaurant, where Arai would tell him that he would never make any money writing.
“I’ll never tell anyone that again,” Arai said with a laugh.
For Arai, however, the book is not about making vast sums of money.
“I just want to share my story,” he said.
The book will be available Wednesday at Arai’s eight restaurants and on Amazon.com for $27.50. The restaurant chain’s Koki Club members get a discount.
“I don’t want people to stop dreaming,” Arai said. “I keep dreaming of opening 20 restaurants and writing more books. Dreaming is free.”
Brandon Darnell is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press.