Kikugawa, the restaurant of the flowing river

The oldest Japanese restaurant in Indonesia, Kikugawa, is located in Cikini, Central Jakarta. The owner, Teritake Kikuchi, celebrated the 36th anniversary of this homey establishment on April 21.

According to Kikuchi's story, also published in Sarasa gourmet magazine, he came up with the idea of setting up a restaurant in 1960 and began to realize his dream in 1963.

At the time, Japanese companies had begun to mushroom in Indonesia and most of the Japanese working with these companies were in dire need of a place to hang out with their friends.

"There were plenty of restaurants that provided Chinese or European food, but none provided Japanese food," Kikuchi said.

He officially opened his restaurant on April 21, 1969.

Born in 1918 in Saga district, Kikuchi's first visit to Indonesia was in March 1942 -- as a military officer.

During his posting here, he met an American born in Manado, North Sulawesi. They fell in love and decided to raise a family. "April 21 is a memorable date for me. It was when I opened the restaurant. It is my wife's birthday, and also Kartini's birthday," Kikuchi said, referring to Indonesian national heroine RA Kartini.

Inspired by a restaurant with the Indonesian name Bengawan Solo, which had just opened in Tokyo, Kikuchi inserted the word gawa into the name of his restaurant. Bengawan Solo, for a long time the most popular Indonesian song in Japan, is about a river of the same name in Java. Gawa also means river in Japanese, and kiku, he said, is a chrysanthemum.

"So Kikugawa means a river of chrysanthemums -- I hoped I could run this restaurant like a flowing river," he said.

The restaurant is now very popular among the Japanese here, a reward for its difficult early years. When it first opened, "we couldn't find bread for our customers," he recalled. A favorite customer was Dewi Soekarnoputri, he said -- the Japanese wife of Indonesian founding father Soekarno.

Kikuchi's family and that of Soekarno developed a close relationship. During the political turbulence around the time of the 1965 aborted coup attempt, Kikuchi and his wife helped Dewi when she was about to give birth to her child. Kikuchi's family, and also Dewi, temporarily returned to Japan at that time.

Kikuchi's relationship with the Soekarno family has continued through Megawati Soekarnoputri, a daughter of the former president. A friend of Megawati said she had enjoyed Kikugawa's culinary delights a number of times at the restaurant during the years of her political ascent.

Today, Kikugawa's popularity goes way beyond the Japanese community. Visitors to the restaurant enjoy the same interior as that which greeted visitors back in the 1960s, and the same traditional welcoming music.

* Published by The Jakarta Post on May 12, 2005