Locating Mirai Shokudo (Future Restaurant) in Tokyo’s Jimbocho district was proving challenging. On a tip from renowned director Cary Fukunaga — a trusted ally since my time as second assistant director on Beasts of No Nation — I’d set out to discover the eatery in downtown Tokyo where a hungry diner could work in exchange for a meal. The article Cary forwarded had suggested the deal was fairly straightforward: 50 minutes of service allocates one hearty meal to the worker.
The reality was far more involved and dynamic. It was also more gratifying.
Upon inspection of the exterior cluster of signs at the approximate address, I found Japanese characters that suggested I’d find my destination within, located one floor below street level near the Jimbocho stop on the Mita and Shinjuku Lines. Inside, Sekai Kobayashi — the diminutive but commanding proprietor of the restaurant — greeted me. The dining area swirled around her post in the central preparation station.
Sekai quickly directed me to Sasanna Yee, an English speaking Chinese-American. Sasanna had completed her shift and was compiling “house rules” for English speakers. Soon after, I was served my meal – everyone eats the same daily menu – before Sasanna walked me through the ground rules for foreigners, as she understood them (it was her first shift).
Over 500 people have opted to work for their meals at Mirai Shokudo, but Sasanna and I were two of the first English speakers. The current rules are as follows:
- First one must be a customer. A meal costs ¥900 (about $8.25). Sasanna had eaten the day previous and started her shift.
- After expressing interest in working, one can sign up for a shift. Shifts for foreigners last about 1.5 hours. There’s a calendar on the website – in Japanese.
- Shifts consist of doing the dishes and cleaning meticulously. The process of dishwashing was diligently scrolled in the English manual Sasanna had created.