Japanese restaurant in Campbell River, B.C., closing after 39 years

Campbell River's Koto Japanese Restaurant is shutting its doors after nearly 40 years in business.

As one of the first Japanese restaurants in the city, Koto gave many residents their first taste of sushi.

Kenji Maeda, son of owners Takeo and Kazue Maeda, remembers his father telling him about the struggle to get people to try raw fish.

Courtesy of Kenji Maeda

"Everyone eats raw fish now, but back then, [my father] created a 'Campbell River Roll,' which had raw salmon in it," Kenji told On the Island guest host Megan Thomas. "It was an introduction for many people to have raw fish in their diet."

The restaurant has been open since 1980 but as Kenji's parents got older, it became more challenging to run it. His father Takeo passed away three years ago and with his mother now in her late 60s, the family decided it was time to close.

It is bittersweet for Kenji, who spent almost every waking moment in the restaurant — growing up and working there — but he appreciates the values he learned along the way.

Courtesy of Kenji Maeda

"I have a professional career and I really believe that everything I learned was from working at the restaurant; building a community with customers, knowing about quality, and just doing things ethically as I learned from my parents."

Now, as the restaurant is set to close at the end of the month, he is overwhelmed by the number of customers sharing their favourite memories.

"Every day ... people have been coming into the restaurant and sharing their stories about coming to the restaurant when they were kids and now they are bringing their own children," said Kenji. "To hear those stories is very important to us and that's definitely something we're going to miss."

Listen to the full story here:

With files from On the Island.