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Furusato: Where everybody knows your name

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Posted on Dec 02 2020
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Furusato Japanese Restaurant owner Hideaki Sawada with manager Nancy Florentino and staff Flordeliza Moscoso and Analiza Evangelista make customers right at home at the Paseo De Marianas establishment. (MARK RABAGO)

Like in the American sitcom Cheers, Furusato Japanese Restaurant has an affable owner who seems to know everyone who comes through the doors of the Paseo de Marianas establishment.

Hideaki Sawada first established Furusato 21 years ago in 1989 and has been a familiar fixture at the restaurant where he greets everyone—whether first-time or loyal customers—like he has known them for a long time.

Shuttered since March, Furusato finally reopened in mid-November, with Sawada and company now solely catering to the local market.

“We decided to open because everyone—all our customers—wanted us to reopen now. Like most businesses in Garapan, especially at Paseo de Marianas, our main target were tourists, but since we don’t expect tourists back in the near future, we will focus exclusively on our local customers,” said Sawada.

To celebrate its reopening, Furusato is offering a lunch special and a luxury lunch special from 11:30am to 2pm everyday except Sunday.

The $11 special lunch comes in two choices—Special Lunch Set A consists of Japanese-style curry rice and half shoyu ramen or half shio ramen. Special Lunch Set B is made up of zaru soba or zaru udon (cold soba or cold udon), mini ebi fry don (mini fried shrimp with egg on the rice), and miso soup.

The luxury special lunch has four variants. Set 1 is zaru soba or udon with tempura (udon tempura), two pieces of onigiri, miso soup, and pickles ($16). Set 2 is ankake ramen (soy sauce ramen with vegetable and flour), half fried rice, and three pieces of dumplings ($17). Set 3 is saikoro steak (dice steak with rice and pickles) and half shoyu ramen or half shio ramen ($18). Set 4 is kalbi don (short ribs on rice with Japanese sauce), half shoyu ramen or half shio ramen, and pickles ($18).

Not feeling the special lunch or the luxury special lunch offerings? Furusato has got you covered; its original menu is still available. Just ask from their equally friendly waitstaff Flordeliza Moscoso and Analiza Evangelista.

“We’re really targeting local customers by introducing a lot of sushi dishes in our new menu like California roll, spicy tuna roll, salmon roll, yellow fin tuna roll, etc. …For the tuna we always go to local fishermen. Others we still import them. We source our salmon from Alaska and yellowfin from abroad,” said Sawada.

Like the bursting of the Japanese economic bubble in the late 1990s and the exit of Japanese Airlines in the mid-2000s, Sawada looks at the troubles brought by the COVID-19 pandemic as fleeting.

“Before, we had many Japanese tourists. They’ll come in the morning and go to Managaha the whole day and at nighttime they come to Furasato because it reminds them of their ‘hometown,’ which is fitting because Furasato is Japanese for hometown,” he said.

But the heyday of Japanese tourists arriving by the jetloads are now a distant memory and Sawada knows that. He quickly adjusted by pivoting to Korean and Chinese tourists and business gradually returned to his quaint little Japanese restaurant at the heart of Garapan. Which is why he and longtime manager Nancy Florentino are optimistic that, like other businesses on island, Furasato will bounce back.

Twenty-one years and counting, the word “hometown” has taken on a new meaning for Sawada. Saipan has truly become his second home, which is why he treats everyone who dines in his restaurant as family. And just like that, Furasato has truly become a place “where everybody knows your name.”

Furusato is located at the Paseo de Marianas beside the I Love Saipan Sweets & Snacks Store. It is open for lunch from 11:30am to 2pm and dinner from 5:30pm to 8pm. For more information or reservations, call 233-3333.

Mark Rabago | Associate Editor
Mark Rabago is the Associate Editor of Saipan Tribune. Contact him at Mark_Rabago@saipantribune.com
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