Breakfast in Sag Harbor

Written By: Lynn MATSUOKA

I left him. I had to, it was time.

Sag Harbor.The village in the Hamptons where you can still feel the breath of the old whaling town it used to be. The wharf, home to seagulls in the cold winter, in summer features gleaming yachts and hundreds of small boats.
Some of Main Street’s old buildings refurbished but still with the original character, are now welcoming restaurants, patrons spilling onto the sidewalks.

One of them was started by a man from a different world, a distant culture: Sen, the trendsetting restaurant, exotic in it’s origin but melded into the sensibility of the Hamptons, a near 25-year old mainstay of the wonderful food scene. But for serendipitous happenings, it would not be there.

We had moved back here from Japan just before our first son was born, and had the house in Sag Harbor. I thought that when the family and the business started to grow, of necessity so would our ability to communicate. At least his willingness to try. We had had a “secret” romance in Tokyo for 2 years; the top division Sumo Rikishi (wrestler) Iwatora and ‘that Foreign Artist who did Sumo drawings’… when someone leaked it to the press and it became a scandal. Sitting in a busy restaurant in Hawaii with him one night ( where you go to get out of Tokyo in the summer), reading a Japanese newspaper, there it was: the whole story with pictures of us in little circle frames flanking the article, the way the Japanese format their nasty, invasive gossip stories. I remember screaming NO and the whole restaurant became silent…. On return to Tokyo we had to tell his stable master, apologize to him and other people. Bring presents and try to explain why it had been a secret, as if an explanation was necessary. And then we got married.

It was a celebrity wedding. My friend Oscar de la Renta, who loved Sumo and was so fond of Iwatora, made my wedding dress and attended the wedding, and so ended the gossip.

But now, back here in Sag Harbor I had warned him, told him if he didn’t start relating to me, allow us to feel like a real family, I was going to leave. He had achieved a position in the top division of Sumo by leading a strict life of stoicism and silence. That became part of the fiber of his being and he applied that to his work after retiring from Sumo, which enabled his success. But he also applied it to his family life. I gave him two years, and two years to the day I said that’s it, I’m leaving. I loved and respected him but I couldn’t live that life any longer. He said in disbelief, but I love you… and I said well, I waited 11 years to hear that but I’ve bought the tickets. I’m going. 

I bought him out of the Hamptons house, gathered up our two little boys who were born here, and went back to Japan. In the years living here with him, I had not made business contacts and knowing he would not help me, I went back to where I was connected and could make a good living to support my boys. Jumping back into being the famous artist, documenting the Japanese traditions of Kabuki Theater and Sumo, nobody there even realized I had been gone. It was perfect.

For a long time I harbored a deep sadness thinking of the one I left, because I knew it was difficult for him to be on his own here. But he soon got together with a business partner and they opened a restaurant in Sag Harbor .

Jesse was 2 and Tora just 6. I put them in the international school in Tokyo and got to work.
Years went by, we returned infrequently to Sag Harbor, and as they each turned 13 I sent them back to work during summer vacation with their father. The restaurant he had started provided the boys a summer job and the plan was also for them to get to know their father a little bit.
It was tough. Their father is very tough. Toranosuke called me in Tokyo the first day he was back in Sag Harbor, in extreme frustration after his first 17 hour day of work with his father, saying he wanted to leave, couldn’t stand being there, but his father took his passport away and he couldn’t leave. That was a trick the Sumo stable masters pulled when foreign boys joined sumo, attracted by the perceived glamor. They learned fast that glamor was only at the top, and a rare achievement. They all wanted to run away within days but could not with out their passport.

Toranosuke’s first 3 days were non-stop 17 hour work days in silence, sometimes sleeping at the restaurant because it was too late to go home and get back early in the morning. I asked him to tough it out a little longer, pull it together, see what happens. He said his father won’t talk to him! I said I know, he didn’t talk to me for 11 years. That’s who he is.

The fourth day Tora called me and said in a voice more calm and mature than the three days prior, ‘now I know why you left him….’ 

When the summers were over Tora and Jesse would return to TOKYO and to school. They studied Kabuki dance, learned Japanese and sat in the dressing rooms of the top Kabuki actors and Sumo wrestlers while I did my drawings there. When the International school was over I moved them to Hawaii to continue school. They became great Hula dancers, performing often with their hula family, and then as they each finished school, they were drawn back to live in Sag Harbor where they felt their heart was. This is where they began, and where they sojourned those many summers, living the Hamptons summer kid’s life, struggling with their father, but in the end, feeling at home. They worked at their father’s restaurant, Jesse becoming a great chef having learned from his father since he was 13, and then from the chefs at Sen over the summers. And then Tora bought their father’s share of the restaurant and made it into what it is today, nearly 25 years later.

And so it came full circle. Had I not gone to Japan and led that life of serendipity, choreographed by fate, I could not be sitting in this wonderful place with these two young men, having breakfast in Sag Harbor.