Carmine Cozzolino
Carmine Cozzoline
Photo by Maki Nibayashi

Restaurant Owner/Chef
Time in Japan:
20 years

Where are you from?
Italy, of course!

What brought you to Japan?
When I was 18 (in 1972) there was a martial arts boom led by Bruce Lee and Hong Kong movies. I wanted to be just like Bruce so I started doing martial arts, focusing on aikido. It became my dream to visit Japan. I had already set myself up as a chef when I was 15 so I came to practice aikido and maybe one day become a teacher or master. Then I stayed.

How did all your restaurants come about?
When I first arrived, there weren' too many Italian restaurants. The ones that called themselves Italian came from America where they used ketchup and called it tomato sauce. Cooking was the only thing I could do, so I worked as a chef to make a living because I wanted to do aikido. Eight years later, I had to decide what to do to stay in Japan. If I stayed, I wanted my own business. So I opened up my own restaurant in 1987, called Carmine, in Kagurazaka. I can say that I was the first to spread the Italian food boom in Tokyo. Before I had my own restaurant, I worked for an Italian restaurant that cost a lot of money, about \15,000 a head. When I opened one, I didn't charge so much which itself became a trend and since then I've opened six restaurants with my seventh to open soon. The menus in my restaurants are always changing so you can experience a different taste each time you visit.

Tell us about your new venture.
Well, after I opened my first restaurant, I wanted to expand. My plan is to have many good restaurants, with good service, good food and an overall good feeling about the place. I have five restaurants at present and my newest restaurant will open in Nishi Azabu this year. Each restaurant has a different style. The new one will be a place for adults, where there is an international atmosphere with the main language being English. We'll stay open till late, have good music, have our bar open till late and prepare dishes that go well with wine and other drinks. I want it to have a very romantic feel.

What is your favorite thing about Japan?
I like everything about Japan. I've been here twenty years, and stayed of my own free will, so the answer is "everything."

What was your strangest experience here?
Of course when I first arrived, I was a bit culture-shocked but everything that happens to me is through natural causes so I don't feel that anything is really strange.

What's your recipe for a happy life in Japan?
Enjoy life. As a restaurant owner, I recommend eating good things, sitting down, having a nice meal. Too many people in Tokyo are busy. Eating good food is very important. You can be very poor, living in a four tatami mat room, but just by going to a nice restaurant, drinking good wine and eating good food, you feel rich inside and can make your everyday life bearable.

Carmine Cozzolino spoke to Maki Nibayashi.

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