I attended a very special dinner tonight - one that I feel obliged in sharing with the world. No, it wasn't cooked by a celebrity chef at Michelin-starred restaurant, nor were we drinking some bottles of ultra-rare wines. Rather, tonight's dinner was about doing good to help a community.
I've known about Senpai's involvement, initially through the community services group of his former employer, with helping to revitalize Kamaishi (釜石市) - a coastal city in Iwate Prefecture (岩手県) and part of the Tohoku (東北) region affected by the earthquake and tsunami of 2011. Over the last three years I've seen postings of countless pictures about his visits to the region, including those taken while helping out at the annual Yo!sa Kamaishi Festival (釜石よいさ). I've received postcards from the region, and even tasted some sweets from the region hand-carried to Hong Kong by Senpai. He's devoted a chunk of his time over the last three years on this particular cause.
Last year he began helping one particular local business expand its reach, and started exporting some seafood from the region to Hong Kong. One of our mutual friends has ownership interest in Ozawa (小澤), and readily agreed to serve "swimming scallops (泳ぐホタテ)" from Kamaishi.
A few months ago, I received word from Senpai that the swimming scallops were now being offered at Heichinrou (聘珍楼). The second-generation family member in charge of the Japanese restaurant chain's business in Hong Kong is actually Senpai's and my kohai from our high school in Tokyo, and he had agreed to help out with this worthy cause. Unfortunately I never found the right opportunity to go and taste them, despite the fact that one of the restaurant chain's outlets is right across from my office.
When Senpai asked me to join this dinner a few days ago, I knew what this meant and immediately agreed. Four years ago, just a month after the disaster, I wrote about two dinners that I had with friends with the specific goal of supporting Japanese restaurants in Hong Kong and Japanese produce. The best way to help the people of the Tohoku region was to support their economy by buying their products and making them self-sufficient again. Dining on these swimming scallops is one small way towards accomplishing that goal.
Dinner was at the Central branch of Heichinrou. The guest of honor was Takeichi Kimigahora (君ヶ洞剛一) of Yamakiichi Shouten (ヤマキイチ商店). (Kimigahora-san also happens to be the chair of the Yo!sa Kamaishi Festival). Yamakiichi Shouten is the supplier of these giant scallops, which are air-flown to Hong Kong via Yamato Transport (ヤマト運輸) and kept in tanks at the restaurants. Besides Kimigahora-san, Senpai, the restaurant owner, and myself, the other guests were all members of the local Japanese community - including representatives from the Japan National Tourism Organization and the publisher of Hongkong Walker. I was basically the only non-Japanese, and the only one not fluent in the language...
I would also encourage everyone in Hong Kong to go down to any of the 4 Heichinrou outlets and check out these giant swimming scallops for themselves. Not only will you find the scallops delicious and enjoyable, you will also be doing your small part to help in the recovery of a region hit hard by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.