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EATING AROUND THE WORLD IN KATHMANDU - THE FIRST JAPANESE CONNECTION

I have often wondered how Kathmandu became a veritable paradise for eating in many languages. Even as far back as my primary school days Hungarian Goulash and Chicken a la Kiev were staples in the menus of most self-respecting hotels led by Hotel Royal. Then the explosion of the hippie movement of the mid-sixties onward brought a remarkable change in menu planning in Kathmandu's eateries. The East met West in an unabashed fusion of hashish toast and ganja coffee in Kathmandu's Freak Street. Thamel, the tourist hubbub of Kathmandu, was created when Freak Street lost the seekers of Nirvana who had, by the early seventies, morphed into the first adventure travelers exploring the high Himalayas. Thamel offered them high protein diet of sizzlers and steaks euphemistically called "fillet" so as not to offend Hindu sensibilities. Today we "Patanites" need not even cross the bridge to eat out: a potpourri of eateries abound in our own neighbourhood of "Jhamel", a name cleverly derived by crossing Jhamsikhel with the legendary Thamel.





Minoru and Kami



In this series dedicated to the early restaurants of Kathmandu I shall endeavour to offer my readers first hand information from the protagonists and their collaborators who made it all happen. I begin with the first Japanese restaurant that opened up in Kathmandu in the words of Kami Kanetsuka an English lady who arrived in Kathmandu as Cynthia, worked in the British Council in 1967-68 and wed Japanese Minoru Kanetsuka the founder of the restaurant in September 1968.




Cynthia weds Minoru Nepali Style in Bagh Durbar under careful supervision of Brigadier General Sushil Shumsher Rana,
brother of the former Queen Mother of Nepal 

Fujikin Japanese Restaurant
by Kami Kanetsuka


Kami Kanetsuka, June 2010
In 1964 a group of students from Japan set off to visit Africa and through some misadventure in Calcutta they lost their travel funds. Prince Basundhara met two of them, Minoru Kanetsuka and Teruji Fujita, in Calcutta and came up with the idea that he would back them if they would come to Kathmandu and set up a Japanese restaurant in the Soaltee Hotel. 

Fujita returned to Japan to gather utensils and necessities for the restaurant and Kanetsuka stayed in Kathmandu to work with Prince Basundhara and hire staff. A Japanese traveler designed the restaurant, which had some features of a Japanese Zen garden with pebbles and hand hewn tables. The restaurant opened in the mid-sixties, the specialities being sukiyaki, tempura and a Mongolian grill with waiters cooking on the table in special woks in front of the diner’s eyes. 

The restaurant was a great hit from the beginning, being the most beautiful and exotic restaurant in Kathmandu at the time. Many of the waiters were Tibetan as they looked more Japanese. Its clientele included members of the Nepalese royal family, foreign dignitaries, celebrities, hotel guests, the well heeled and tourists. (At the restaurant I once heard a film director talking about directing Barbra Streisand, who did not want to do a semi nude scene because it would offend her parents.)

Fujikin continued into the 1970s. Kanetsuka and Fujita also started the Chinese restaurant Ming Ming in Kathmandu in 1971. At the same time Kanetsuka was made to leave the country, possibly over the fact that he was too successful as a foreigner.


Minoru and Kami Kanetsuka at a Hindu
Temple following their wedding




Kami finds the temple again in 2013

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