Memories of a special friend

1 year ago today, Kyoto Brewing lost a dear friend.

Beer Cafe Primordial in Urawa was a regular customer of us from their opening. After dropping by on a trip up to Keyaki for the beer festival, we were instantly impressed by the carefully selected and excellently prepared food menu, the calculated relaxed ambiance of the small bar-cafe, and the high standard of the beer and its pouring. What stood out even more, however, was the friendliness of the local regulars who stopped by there. Owner Fujii-san was a polite and reserved character there who had fostered a community in a residential part of Minami-Urawa away from the station area with its shops and bars and you could instantly tell how important it was to the locals there.

In our first conversation, it was decided that Primordial would become a permanent tap customer or, rather, they already pretty much had us connected all of the time and it was about making it official. Fujii-san also said in that meeting that he wanted to join us up in Keyaki and make the food at our booth, if we were open to it. Knowing that the food at Primordial was at a suitably excellent standard, Primordial joined us for the following year’s Autumn Keyaki.

We would be lying if we said the first attempt was a huge success! Limited promotion and a high element of practice meant that food sales were not high. We weren’t sure how Fujii-san would react, or whether the lack of return on his huge effort might discourage him for attempting it again. Right at the end of the event, however, he said that he knew exactly what was needed to make the next Keyaki a greater success and was determined to go for it again.

Absolutely true to his word, Fujii-san jazzed up his part of the booth, refined his menu, and the next Keyaki saw an increase in performance. He continued in this and the next Autumn Keyaki after that, a year after his first try, was an even bigger success. At the rate he was going, we wondered if the following Spring, Keyaki 2020, was going to see food sales overtake our beer sales!

Unfortunately, this big success would be his last. A few months before the Autumn Keyaki, Fujii-san had been diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus, and it was fairly well advanced. At the end of the festival, Fujii-san shared with us how advanced it was, but insisted he was confident that he would be ready, hopefully by the following Spring. The Spring Keyaki 2020 was cancelled because of corona and our focus shifted to Autumn, which would too be cancelled.

On August 13th of that year, Fujii-san finally succumbed to his illness. Before this, however, his ability to stand and work at Primordial was largely limited. As someone who ran it alone, that would normally mean closure. It is a testament to Fujii-san and the community he created, however, that the regulars decided to spend their free time ensuring that Primordial stayed open and ran it while Fujii-san was unable to work.

It is often said that one can be judged by those he is surrounded by. His caring, passionate, and loving regular customers and friends are a reflection of the person that Fujii-san was. One of his regular customers, in fact, took over the place that Primordial stood and turned it into AQUWA Brew Works, keeping something of what Fujii-san created going. Fujii-san’s life was celebrated in style at a long-overdue KBC tap takeover at Primordial on its last day, something that Fujii-san and KBC had been long planning and looking forward to. We like to think that he must have had a smile on his face as he looked at just how many showed up to celebrate as the event was packed out, filling the street out in front.

Fujii-san is no longer with us but the impact he had on those around him and his memory lives on. He was a man who had a clear vision as to what he wanted to do, and this allowed his small beer cafe to be a real success, not only commercially but in terms of becoming the community hub and contribute to the city of Urawa, which he loved. We miss him dearly but hope that many, while in the safety of homes during this time, raise a glass to celebrate one of the most determined and kind people we have ever known.