I can do my best because it makes sense 〈NOBUYUKI SHIROI〉

Nobuyuki Shirai trains for Ironman races while working at the AKITO COFFEE coffee stand.

  • Photograph:TAKESHI ABE

Travel the world in breakdancing and wake up to coffee

Shirai's teenage years were spent breakdancing, which he discovered at the young age of 12 and, thanks in part to his natural physical ability, led him to compete in a series of world tournaments. This helped him broaden his horizons as a teenager. It was also through his travels that he discovered coffee, which would become his life's work.

I went to a convention in Norway. That's when I had my first encounter with coffee. Since I was in high school, I used to drink espresso from a certain chain coffee shop to make me sleepy, thinking it was bitter (laughs)! (laughs). In that vein, I drank coffee when I went to Norway. It was extremely sour coffee, and I was very shocked by it. From that moment on, I thought that if I had to work for a living, coffee would be the way to do it.

The coffee he tasted at that time was such a shock to him that he made the sudden switch from dance, which he had been devoted to, to coffee. That is why Mr. Shirai took action as soon as he returned to Japan.

In Norway, a local friend took me to Fuglen. A Japanese staff member happened to be there and told me that there was a store in Japan. So I immediately looked for it and contacted the owner via messenger, and he gave me a chance to meet him. I contacted the owner via messenger and was given a chance to meet him. I thought it was a bit sudden, but I said I'd love to help (laughs).

Fuglen Coffee Roasters Tokyo, a pioneer of third wave coffee in Japan, is a coffee roastery established in 1963 in Oslo, the capital of Norway. The company places importance on traceability and sustainability in roasting and distribution, making the most of the coffee's terroir, or the flavor of the region where it is grown. In Japan, a cafe was launched in 2012 as the world's second coffee roastery, and in 2014, a roastery opened in Shibuya. Mr. Shirai has spent less than five years here as a barista.

I had never worked in coffee before, and I had no experience in the hospitality industry itself, so there was a lot I didn't understand. I didn't even get as far as serving coffee in my first year. I was frustrated that things didn't turn out the way I wanted them to, but from there I did a lot of research and repeated the process of testing things out on my own, and before I knew it, a little less than five years had passed."

Moving to Yamanashi A New Way of Working

He was blessed with the opportunity to actually visit coffee growing regions, and spent many intense days there.

I guess I was looking for a change," he says. I wanted to get to know more places and broaden my values by experiencing different cultures. I had a chance to talk with Akito Tanzawa, the owner of AKITO COFFEE, and I never thought I would move to Yamanashi, but it was also good timing.

Akito Tanzawa started Akito Tanzawa Coffee as a one-man coffee stand, and in 2019 he opened TANE, a roasting shop in a renovated miso warehouse. He brought the culture of specialty coffee to Yamanashi, and while it has taken root locally, it has also become a place where people from all over the country come to visit to enjoy the coffee.

I was surprised at how often I received vegetables and gifts from farmers when I was working in Tokyo," he said! I was surprised. There is a wide range of customers, even little kids come here.

True to his word, even during the daytime on a weekday, customers are constantly coming in between filming sessions. The customers are of all ages, genders, and occupations, and the friendly conversation between them and the staff shows that this coffee stand has become a part of their daily lives. It was a scene that clearly showed Mr. Shirai's satisfaction with his work here.

It's not painful at all.

If it's a lifestyle, it's great. The mountains are close by, and I can put a load on my body every day that I can't do in Tokyo. For some reason, training all day long here is better than when I was in Tokyo because I can push myself to the limit of fatigue. He has done things that ordinary people cannot imagine, such as running 200 km from Takao to Kofu via Kawaguchiko Lake, or cycling from Tokyo to Kumamoto in four days. But as I mentioned at the beginning of this article, he does it because he enjoys it.

I've loved running since I was in elementary school," he said. Strangely enough, running is fun, and fun is all I have in me. I wasn't very good at swimming at first, but when I was in high school, I started going to the pool because I thought it would depend on how I felt! I thought.

In Japan, running and other endurance sports are often forced upon young people as punishment for club activities, and it is not uncommon for them to dislike them. Mr. Shirai's case is a rare example of someone who got into endurance sports out of intrinsic enjoyment, quite apart from such things. He eventually came into contact with bicycles through an encounter with a track bike, and this laid the foundation for him to try triathlons, a triple event.

There is an amazing event called the Ironman Race, and the people who compete in it are of all ages, and many people with disabilities have taken on the challenge and completed the race. That is what made me want to do triathlon. I realized that people can do anything if they put their minds to it. There is something to be learned from that."

The Ironman race consists of a 3.8 km swim, 180 km bike, and 42.195 km run, for a total distance of 226 km. While it is a grueling race, it is also a warm race full of diversity, with some finishers in their 80s.

I haven't been able to participate in an Ironman race yet, because of the cancellations due to the Corona disaster, but I would like to take on the challenge. I think it's the same for everything. I have goals not only for triathlon, but also for my work, and I think I can train mentally. There is so much to learn through training."

I asked Shirai if he has ever had any hardships.

He replied, "There are many things that are painful in training, but they are meaningful, so I can do my best. It's not painful at all."

As I write this (October 8, 2011), he is still training for the Yatsugatake (Mt. Yatsugatake) traverse. I am looking forward to Shirai's Ironman race, where he will have the opportunity to work in an environment supported by warm customers and the magnificent fields of Yamanashi.