Bakery Producer Tsunetaka Kawakami

Tsunetaka Kawakami was born in Osaka, Japan, in March 1962. He was from a well-to-do family; his parents ran a retail business selling men's clothing and work gear. At the age of 12, measuring just 128cm tall, he was still waiting for his growth spurt, and decided to try and speed things up by joining his junior high school volleyball club. His grades were poor, and his class tutor recommended he set his sights on a private high school known for having low academic standards. Chef Kawakami baulked at this suggestion, instead throwing himself into his studies. As a result, he surprised those around him by managing to get a place at a renowned private high school—which he had previously been told he had “absolutely no chance” of getting into.

 

On starting high school, however, it became clear just how high the academic standards were; Chef Kawakami found himself languishing at around 950th place among 1000 students. This spurred him on to study hard, spending night after night at his books, in order to rise up the rankings. By the time he was in his third year of high school, he finally managed to secure the top spot, but his achievement was overshadowed by the fact that his father's business was going under. Not only did this mean there was no money to pay for his university tuition fees, there wasn't even enough to pay the cost of sitting the entrance exams. So Chef Kawakami decided to raise his own funds by getting a part-time job at the bread factory where his uncle worked.

 

As it turned out, Chef Kawakami never made it to university. Instead, he started looking for a live-in job, and an advert for “bread maker” was quick to catch his eye. If he was making food, he would surely never go hungry; and that alone was enough for him to plunge head-first into the world of baking.

 

His new job was working for a company running a chain of in-store bakeries, of which there were around 30 branches in supermarkets and other retail locations. This role, which he had chosen from necessity rather than passion, enabled him to meet the “God” of baking, also known as “the Chief”. The Chief was the man in charge of the 100 bakers working at the business, and the bread that he baked—despite using the same ingredients in the same quantities—was so much more delicious than any of the other bakers'. The Chief had seen potential in Chef Kawakami, and when he left to set up his own bakery he invited Chef Kawakami to work for him; together, they made the first bakery a resounding success. Chef Kawakami was then asked to manage the second and third branches, together with the first, which he did for a time, before deciding, with the encouragement of the Chief, to open his own bakery business.

 

His savings at the time were just one million yen (equivalent to $11,500), but the Chief lent him a further four million yen (equivalent to $46,000) as operational capital, and also guaranteed his loan of 10 million yen (equivalent to $115,000) for rental and equipment. So, with debts of 14 million yen (equivalent to $161,000), at 22 years of age Chef Kawakami became the boss of his own bakery.

 

 

Bakery Producer Tsunetaka Kawakami

Bakery Producer Tsunetaka Kawakami

The bakery was a success, allowing Chef Kawakami to pay back the Chief in within a year of opening. Chef Kawakami then decided to move from Osaka to Okayama, in the southwest of Japan, together with his family. The first Okayama bakery was launched in August 1990 and was followed by a number of store moves and expansions. It was in Okayama, too, that Chef Kawakami first started to bake additive-free bread.

Over the years, Chef Kawakami has always kept in mind the words of advice received from his mentor: “Kawakami, don't bake delicious bread. Bread is a staple food, not a treat. If you make your bread too fancy, people will get sick of it”.

Bread is different to cake. If it is to be on people's daily shopping lists, it needs to taste good but not too distinctive—it needs to be seen as an essential rather than something special. Today, the long-sellers at Chef Kawakami's bakeries are the everyday favourites: an-pan (buns filled with sweet red bean paste), melon-pan (buns covered in a crisp cookie layer), cream buns, and white bread. The recipes have never been changed, and this consistency is also something that customers look for.

Today, Chef Kawakami does not oversee the everyday operation of his three Okayama bakeries directly, but rather is engaged in managing his businesses, which include his bakeries, the Liaison Project, which provides assistance in the launch of mini bakeries, as well as his production and consulting business for bakeries overseas.



Bakery Producer Tsunetaka Kawakami