The Story Of Naoe
"NAOE is my Japanese family name. In order to truly provide the exact meaning of my characters' art and logo, I must explain a little about my family's roots, my family relations, my inspiration and motivations. Because every day I look at it, I am humbled, and driven to someday prove myself worthy:
My family is from Oono, Kanazawa. Kanazawa is a verrry culturally rich area of Japan. Oono is a tiny dot along the Sea of Japan & Kanazawa's port/inlet. (There is an Ono/Oono city in another area of Japan. My Oono is the one most people never heard of.) Oono is an historical semi-hidden dot shoyu town. Kanazawa has about 500,000 people. But Oono is only about the size of Eastern Shores in North Miami Beach.
My family's history and location make sense for the kanji's skeleton, explained in the files (one in photo above, one after the jump). In Japan's countryside, you'll find many families have lived in the same tiny neighborhood for hundreds of years, doing a specialty trade thats dependent upon their geography and local culture. But the exact meaning for my characters' art goes a bit deeper into my life...
In 2005, I tried to obtain a location to open a restaurant. I originally liked the idea to use my "Japanese family name" for a "small Japanese restaurant". But ever since I was old enough to answer the phone, whenever someone called for my Mom, people would always mispronounce her name with absolutely no confidence. So I dismissed the idea.
I searched for an easy to pronounce name/word foreigners could recognize as being Japanese, even though it may not be as appealing to Japanese. Restaurants are very risky and this is America, not Japan. I came up with "Kitano". It is elegant, easy to pronounce, and there was an ukiyoe artist named Kitano from where my Mom's from too; provides a story to link my heritage as Japanese. But I found "Kitano" was trademarked by the Kitano Hotel in NYC. I asked if they'd mind. They said, OK (for just a tiny restaurant far far away). But when I asked for their signature, they changed their mind.
The next name for my restaurant was "Kamakura", although perhaps again generic to Japanese people [like being in Japan and seeing a restaurant named Aventura or Grammercy(they have)], its strong sounding, easy to pronounce, foreigners can recognize it as Japanese and it provides a story for my Japanese heritage.
About March/April 2006, I was about to sign a lease for "Kamakura" in Jade Brickell Bay. But then my mom had a stroke. So I stopped the deal to help my mom. At that time, I coincidently saw a sake catalog with my relative's sake brewery. Being fortunate to have time with my Mom, I asked her about the sake brewery, but she didnt have information; she is the youngest of 11 siblings, and shortly after WWII her Father, Naoe Genhichiro, passed away. The economy was awful and the siblings had to scatter....She then said, her Father had a shoyu brewery. I was surprised after 10 years of making sushi why she never told me. She said, "I told you. But you never listen to me." LOL
A couple of months after my mom's fortunately strong recovery, I went to Kanazawa to find my roots and to meet my shoyu and sake relatives. I was extremely excited. I assumed that they were just one of a thousand breweries. I didnt care. All I wanted to do was say hello. Little did I know...
Of course I researched the top dining experiences of Kanazawa and spent hours discussing the area with concierges. While there, I entered a local sake shop at Kanazawa's main marketplace, Omicho. One of my relative's sakes was displayed for 26,000 Yen. I spoke a little broken Japanese with the shop owner, never mentioning any relations. She poured me a couple glasses of other local sakes to taste. She asked how I liked them and either she got the impression I had an appreciation for good sake or was incredibly kind, because she reached into the refrigerator and pulled out that expensive bottle of my relative's sake and poured me a glass...I tasted it...I did backflips!! It was the softest, smoothest and nicest aroma sake I ever had. I felt like I tasted sake for the very first time!
I went to a few of the top ryoteis & ryokans in Kanazawa. Knowing of Kanazawa's rich culinary culture, I definitely wanted to experience "Kaga Ryori" [Cuisine of Kaga --the area's old name]. When they asked if I would like beer or sake, I always chose sake and asked them to choose the one that matched best. The first two places I went matched Kaga Ryori with my relative's sake -- and for the sashimi course, they used my relative's shoyu!! Each time, I about had a heart attack! And the shoyu was so soft and smooth, you could drink it.
Before I left to Kanazawa, I found a ryokan website, Asadaya, with an elegant country style since 1867. For an aspiring high-end natural Japanese chef, the cuisine's picture shown then was like a dream. I definitely planned to visit. My Uncle, Yasushi took a 7-hour train ride to meet me in Kanazawa to take me to the shoyu brewery the next day. I didnt want him to just eat and sleep. He was 71 then and still looked very strong. So after a quick dinner, I asked him if he'd like to take a walk.
He hadn't been to Kanazawa city in 40 years. He looked lost. (actually, coming back to the hotel by Kanazawa Castle we did get lost in the rain). But during our walk, he suddenly stopped in his tracks...he stared at a townhouse shop, then shook his hand pointing at it and said, "This is the first place I worked as a Chef when I was 19 years old." I was like, nooooo waayyyyy! What were the chances?! I looked at the sign, but I couldn't read it.. Then he said, "Asadaya".
The day after we went to the shoyu brewery, I went to an incredible vegetarian restaurant for monks (shojin ryori) that I had been dying to experience. After our meal, while waiting for my fiance to return, the owner's wife chatted with me. It turned out she is a business partner with my shoyu family owner's wife for something else. My Kanazawa family is in a small circle of Kanazawa's historical high-end culture. There were other HUGE coincidences I had in Kanazawa too -- but these are probably enough.
At the end of my trip of destiny, after reuniting with my Japanese family, meeting new family, and witnessing the role my Kanazawa relatives have in such a rich culture, there was absolutely no way I could use a generic name for my resturant. Since I've already proven myself with my own set of high standards as a Sushi Chef in Miami, then the opportunity for a new brand name is only deserving for my Japanese family's name. "NAOE" resurfaced way at the top of my list again.
I returned to Miami and tried to figure out how to overcome NAOE's pronunciation problem and create a logo. I printed out a draft business card and went with a friend to eat at a sushi bar and show him. The sushi chef was Peruvian. He also saw the card from afar and perfectly said, "NA-O-Eh". I suddenly realized that Japanese and Spanish are phonetically similar, and Miami is so Latin. That was it. NAOE was confirmed.
I spent months artistically analyzing and redrawing my Japanese family name's kanji many many many times, even with help from a champion calligrapher who redrew it 40 times. Even though she drew very elegantly, I was never satisfied with the expression to capture my situation. I could simply draw it with a thick brush and it would still be nice and unique to myself from the uniqueness of one's own hand writing. But I wanted more symbolism within to capture & inspire my mission.
I looked back again at the calligraphy inside my relative's shoyu brewery over a door that says "shoyu brewery" with a small "NAOE" name below, written in the old style direction of right-to-left. After months of intensely studying the characters for NAOE, when I relooked at those characters, I finally realized something very special within that adds onto their basic skeleton's meaning:
In the "E" character, look at the "3 dots on the left (water)";
It looks like a person holding something, perhaps a bottle. The three dots are the head, body, and hand.
Still in the "E" character, look at the "sideways H (carpenter's square/huge inlet/arm of the sea)";
It looks like two sides of a counter. The craftsman/shop owner standing behind his (Carpenter's square) counter with the other side open and awaiting.
For the "NAO" character;
It looks like a Kitamae ship which used to travel around Japan, bringing konbu from Hokkaido, shoyu from Kanazawa, etc.
This artistic intent finally became apparent or at least its partly how I see it. Then almost 200 years after the shoyu brewery started in 1825, a descendent was born and raised all the way in Miami, and modestly speaking, becomes the city's premier Japanese Chef for the characters to represent the same:
In the "E" character, look at the 3 dots on the left.
It looks like me (an itamaesan) in uniform, holding my knife.
Still in the "E" character, look at the "sideways H".
My cutting board is on the left.
My hinoki counter is on the right. [Btw, the Historical Nakamura Brewery is made of hinoki (and so is inside Kanazawa Castle). See it on my website]
For the "NAO" character.
It symbolizes a Haulover fishing boat I've been known to pull live fish from, as well as for my slogan, "Its Not Fresh... its Alive."
Its one of the main reasons why I don't open until after 7pm, because the boats return so late.
Showing the old way of writing (right to left), instead of vertical or left-to-right also seems important to me. I feel it shows respect to history, as well as introducing my family's history for the kanji itself. Combined with the English characters going left-to-right for NAOE below shows how the old & new flows nicely together which also inspires me to "learn from the old and create the new" (a strong Japanese belief).
The rest of the logo:
The straight fonts without serifs for NAOE are elegant, classic, and undistracting from the subtle brush strokes above.
The red rectangle box around NAOE symbolizes:
*the simple clean parallel lines within my restaurant's space,
*my hinoki countertop,
*matches the colors of Japan (Red, Black & White),
*symbolizes heat (a restaurant),
*and the empty space all around and in the overall background crucially balances everything together.
In essence, I've become determined that far far away in Miami, I will quietly prove myself with the hopes that someday my Japanese family can be proud -- yet I'll feel it is never possible and undeserving, which will drive me to keep building. That's the feeling I wanted for myself when I look at my logo; reflect on my life, become humbled by history, feel inspired for something unachievable, as well as provide a deep and clean aesthetic for a first time viewer."