Kazutomo ‘Tora San’ Matsuoka
Kazutomo ‘Tora san’ Matsuoka of Sag Harbor died on December 5. He was 75.
He was a giant among men, his family said, noting that those who knew him knew his stoic and peaceful nature — traits becoming of a man larger than life.
“Tora san’s forearms are as thick as most people’s calves.” Susan Heller Andrson and David Bird wrote in an article in the The New York Times, “From Sumo to Sushi,” published on August 20, 1986, depicting Matsuoka’s life as a sumo wrestler turned sushi chef.
A young man barely into his teens, hailing from Kumamoto, Japan, he was recruited into the elite and secret world of sumo wrestling in 1962. Guided by his determination to escape the trials of a difficult childhood, marked by the disappearance of both parents, he quickly rose to the top ranks. A feat only reached through grit, that in part, was fueled by the hope that his fame would help find his mother; the two eventually reunited.
Standing at 5 feet 9 inches tall, and weighing more than 300 pounds, he was a fearsome thing to behold, his family said. His skill and technique were regarded among spectators, his strength and power respected in the ring. In 1979, he retired from sumo wrestling after 17 years and three championships. His reputation lives on, his family said.
A man of few words but many talents, he went from the top of the sumo world in Japan to the height of the lucrative art of sushi and hospitality in New York City and the Hamptons. In 1981, he launched a sushi catering company in the city with his then wife and forever friend, Lynn Matsuoka, that garnered press and praise from notable critics and enthusiastic fans.
With many accomplishments in between, one of his greatest achievements was the birth of his two sons, Toranosuke ‘Tora’ and Ryunosuke ‘Jesse’ Matsuoka, with Lynn, that has furthered his family tree through the addition of two grandchildren, Kenzo and Katana Matsuoka.
In 1994, with then partner Jeff Resnick, he took on Sen Restaurant in Sag Harbor — a local staple and nationally recognized venue — that will celebrate 30 years this coming June.
A unique and recognizable figure dedicated to his craft, he was the reason many patrons became loyal to Sen. His ability to provide an authentic and memorable experience that brought Japanese cuisine to every diner set the tone for best in class. He continued to work behind the sushi bar at Sen until recently, he volunteered at the Sag Harbor Food Pantry and remained a dedicated yoga practitioner and loving grandfather. His sons continue to carry on his legacy and will forever cherish his memory.
The family will host a celebration of his life at a memorial held at the Sag Harbor Cinema on Friday, December 8, from 3 to 6 p.m.
One fine body…