May/June 2021

Earlier this year, I entered the 6th Annual Kyoto Writing Competition organized by Writers in Kyoto, an association of English-language writers living and/or working in Kyoto, and writers like me who have an old-established "connection" with Kyoto. Any genre of writing was welcome as long as it had a "Kyoto connection", and the length was limited to 300 words.

On May 15, WiK reported that they had received a large number of "submissions from writers of various nationalities, based in twenty-one countries throughout the world... While it was difficult for the judges to settle on their final decision, the winners of the Sixth Annual Kyoto Writing Competition are as follows:"

To my great surprise, I was awarded THIRD PRIZE for my brief non-fiction narrative, "Restaurant Boer."

These were the judges' comments:

"Restaurant Boer" by Hans Brinckmann
This was a lovely and generous narrative, full of interesting details about the first Dutch restaurant in Kyoto, and told with humor and warmth. The judges felt that the author was right there, telling us his personal story. While there were cultural factors in the enterprise which caused confusion, it was a delight to see that there was a happy ending after all. It is the imagery of the bridge at the end that makes this brief tale so engaging. A restaurant may have gone by the wayside only to make way for a lifelong partnership.

Here is the full text of the story:

Restaurant Boer
In the spring of 1958, I assisted a close friend, Shoko Fujii, in setting up a small Kyoto eatery in Kiyamachi, Shijo-sagaru, in a rented space owned by a gynecologist, right on the narrow Takasegawa. From the options I offered, she chose the name Restaurant Boer (meaning Farmer), the first Dutch restaurant in Kyoto, if not in Japan.  It featured smoked eels, hearty soups, and – as the house specialty – very tasty veal-and-bacon rolls known in Holland as 'blinde vinken', blind finches. The approximate translation, mekura-no-suzume, blind sparrows, sounded so intriguing that we were sure this would guarantee the success of this start-up.

Besides fresh vegetables, they were served with potatoes, jaga-imo in Japanese, introduced by 17th century Dutch traders from the Indonesian capital Jakarta, jagatara in old-Japanese, thus named jaga-imo, imo meaning tuber. Other meals were also served, such as cheese dishes and Jachtschotel, a hunter's stew.

But after a brief spell of bookings, customer numbers declined fast, perhaps in part because of the shock caused by the mekura-no-suzume, not the taste, but its appetite-destroying name. And the term Boer didn't help either: what was a "farmer restaurant" doing in Japan's sophisticated, ancient capital? The restaurant closed its doors within a year.

But at least there was a happy ending: it was in front of Boer that in October 1958 I was introduced in mi-ai style to my future wife, Toyoko Yoshida. Why "in front"? Because although we had planned to meet at Boer, a funeral procession had just crossed the bridge to Boer. "Bad omen!", she called out. "I avoid that bridge!" Instead, I crossed to her side, and from then on, everything went well. We clicked, found common interests, and married four months later. We had a happy marriage.

Location of Restaurant Boer (1958)

Hans in front of Boer's old location
(photo taken in 2010)

Blind finches – Mekura-no-suzume

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