Nobuhiro Ito
Nobuhiro Ito


Nobuhiro Ito

Store Manager, Omnipollos Tokyo

The brewer is an anchor
And the beer is the basis for new ideas

Nobuhiro Ito arrived in Kabutocho by connecting the dots of his past. The experiences he gained from his life as a traveler led him to where he is today. What kind of future will he envision when the dots he has accumulated eventually become lines? Through Omnipollo, a craft beer brand originating from Stockholm, he wishes to expand the possibilities of craft beer from Kabutocho with a perspective reaching beyond just beer.

●Where are you from and what did you do as a student?
I am from Yokkaichi City in Mie Prefecture. I’ve been playing handball since junior high school. I even went to China for a friendly match, but unfortunately, I couldn’t reach the national level. Then I entered university in Gifu, focusing on handball and majoring in Health and Physical Education in the Faculty of Education.

●What kind of place is Yokkaichi City?
There were tea plantations and many tea farmers. There were also quiet places and rough places, the sea, and mountains, but in general, there’s nothing to do. If I wanted to go out and have fun, I would go to Nagoya, but I thought that growing up in the countryside was no match to the experience of growing up in Tokyo.

●What did you learn in college?
My major covered a lot, including theory about how the body is built. But since I like to move my body, I didn’t find it that interesting. I just went with the flow and got a job.

●What job did you get?
Initially, I wanted to teach physical education, which I loved, at a high school. However, I gave up on it because the number of positions open was so few; less than six openings per year in the prefecture. Instead, I took the elementary school teacher recruitment exam, which recruited about 200 to 300 people a year, and worked as a physical education teacher at an elementary school in Mie Prefecture for eight years until I turned 30.

●How did you feel about actually working as an elementary school teacher?
I somehow got a job after graduating from the Faculty of Education, but it wasn’t at all what I had imagined, and I didn’t intend to keep working. So, when I turned 30, I thought I would give it a rest and open my own restaurant, whatever it was. I was thinking about a ramen store, but my interest naturally turned to coffee, and so I started working as a barista at TRUNK COFFEE (*1).

Specialty Coffee Roastery in Takadake, Nagoya

●It’s interesting to see a school teacher turn into a barista. Wasn’t it hard at first?
I completely underestimated coffee (laughs). The senior staff were all stoic and very spartan. The owner was the head barista who brought FUGLEN (*2) to Japan, and I was forced to train until 5 in the morning. I felt the third-wave coffee movement (*3) firsthand and studied from the ground up to keep up with it.

A coffee shop from Oslo

※3 Third Wave Coffee
The third wave coffee movement occurred in the United States around 2000.

●In a way, it’s very gymnastic! But I guess some things came in handy from your experience playing sports?
It was the same when I was a teacher, but I think my mental strength has improved. I think it helps to have a strong mental attitude that doesn’t break down no matter what people say to you. Usually, I’d get upset and my heart would feel like it was broken! Also, since I was in the handball club, I think I had teamwork skills and physical strength. If you’ve ever played handball, you’ll know that it’s a much harder sport than you think.

They are not just a beer brand, they are a lifestyle brand.

●So you started your career as a barista in earnest?
Yes, but I met a Norwegian barista at an event in Tokyo. He came to Japan to work at TRUNK COFFEE and I thought it was cool, so I worked there for a year and a half and then went to Norway to study coffee. There were various coffee shops that looked interesting, but I didn’t have any connections outside of Japan, so I was unemployed for the first two months. I had no idea what I was doing, so I had to find a place to stay. I was staying in a 24-person room at a hostel, but the snoring was so loud that I couldn’t sleep at all. Since I was there around November, the sun came up at noon, but by 3pm it was getting darker and darker. During this time I felt like I was going to lose my mind!

●It seems that your first time in Norway was tough, but you didn’t immediately return to Japan?
I couldn’t leave without doing something, right? I met this Japanese guy at a noodle shop and he asked me, “What are you doing?”

●You love ramen! What kind of restaurant was it?
The restaurant is called Sapporo Ramen bar. Mr. Inage really saved my life. From there, I gradually got my life in order. Eventually, the store across the street became vacant, and I was asked if I would like to run a coffee shop there, and I was given the opportunity to be the manager.

●Sounds like it was a good opportunity?
Since I was there on a working holiday visa I was only allowed to work at one store for a maximum of six months, so I had to find another store. But there was actually a coffee shop I’d always wanted to work at, Supreme Roastworks (*4). I went for three months, but they still didn’t hire me. Eventually, a staff member who was leaving the store said, “Why don’t you try taking my job when I leave?“ and that’s how I finally got the job.

※4 Supreme Roastworks
A coffee roaster from Norway that started as a roastery in 2008 and started a store in Oslo in 2013.

●I know that Scandinavia is expensive, but did life become easier for you?
I used to go on trips to European countries every month. Baristas over there get paid quite well. That’s how I could afford to go to Hungary, Germany, Holland, and England every month. As for the atmosphere of the cities, I liked Italy the best. After that, I wanted to switch to a working visa, but it didn’t work out, so I came back to Japan.

●After returning to Japan, did you go back to Nagoya?
Yes, this time I was quickly hired as a barista at a craft beer brewery in Nagano called AJB (*5) as a live-in, and that’s when I started learning about beer. Because they opened their second store, they had purchased an espresso machine and coffee beans from TRUNK COFFEE. TRUNK COFFEE also sold craft beer, and I had been doing home brewing in Norway, so I had always liked beer.

※5 AJB
Anglo Japanese Brewing Company is a microbrewery established in 2014 in Nozawa Onsen Village, Nagano Prefecture.

●So that eventually lead you to Omnipollos Tokyo?
A friend who worked with me at TRUNK COFFEE contacted me looking for someone who knew about beer, and so I rushed to move to Tokyo.

●I’m always amazed by your quick footwork, but did you know about Omnipollo before you started?
Of course! It’s famous in Europe. The first beer I drank was an IPA called Nebuchadnezzar (*6) that was also sold at TRUNK COFFEE, and it was so delicious that it’s still my favorite beer. But they are not just a beer brand, they are a lifestyle brand.

※6 IPA
A beer style called Indian Pale Ale. It is higher in alcohol content than regular beer, amber in color, and has a strong bitter taste.

It's not like buying a jacket, but I think it's an interesting entry point to craft beer because you can experience a sense of surprise or discomfort.

●Originally, Karl Grandin’s (*7) skinny denim line, Cheap Monday, was very popular in Japan. At the time, Franz Ferdinand (*8) was popular and various apparel brands were releasing skinny denim, and then there were events at Pigalle (*9), COMMUNE (*10), and Kabi (*11) always had a sense of fun and gimmickry that was interesting. I had the impression that they attracted not only beer fans but also the younger generation.
The concept of craft beer is changing, isn’t it? Some beers taste like wine, and there are even beers with frozen soft-serve ice cream made in a soft-serve ice cream machine. All of them are delicious of course, but more than that, they have art and a catchy presentation. It’s not like buying a jacket, but I think it’s an interesting entry point to craft beer because you can experience a sense of surprise or discomfort. For those who like it, it’s a core beer, and for those who don’t like it, it’s like juice.

※7 Karl Grandin
An artist and founder of the Swedish brand Cheap Monday, which he started in 2004, and has been designing prints and graphics since 2011 when he launched OMNIPOLLO with his partner Henok.

※8 Franz Ferdinand
A rock band from Glasgow, Scotland. They became popular in Japan in 2005 with the single “Do you want to”.

※9 Pigalle
Craft beer specialty store in Sangenjaya

Community space in Omotesando with Midori-so Omotesando and Freedom University.

※11 Kabi
A restaurant in Meguro, Tokyo, mixing a variety of cultures including Japanese, French, and Danish.

●Who is in charge of the background music in Omnipollo?
We have a playlist made by Karl and Henok, and we also have T-shirts and other goods that are really cute, so I hope you’ll check them out.

●What is your impression of Kabutocho?
I’ve only been in Tokyo for a short time, so I’m wondering what kind of place it is. I’m relieved to be in a city with a relaxed atmosphere, not a crowded place like Shibuya. I almost feel like a tourist.

●I guess it might be helpful to have a different point of view.
I’m always in the mood for sightseeing; if I can see the city from the same point of view as people coming from outside, it may lead to new ways of communicating and events that have never been done before. I believe that there is a connection between the two in terms of creating new elements within history. My friends back home didn’t have their own brewery until now, but they bought various beers by the barrel and created their own taste in a kind of curatorial way. I’d like to transmit new elements through craft beer in the historical background of this restaurant, which was originally an eel/unagi restaurant. I’d like to increase the number of fans by going out and holding more events, and as a result, I’d like people to visit this city.

I have been riding on the rails of the Faculty of Education, but it’s good to know the outside world as well, and I would like to pass on such experiences.

●Have there been times in your life when you unexpectedly connected the dots from your past experiences?
As was the case with the connection between coffee and beer, I believe that education can come into play in unexpected ways. When I was working as an elementary school teacher, I felt that teachers live in the world that they have built, and they are involved in education while only looking inward. But children are going to live their lives looking outward, aren’t they? As a teacher, I think I need to have a perspective that allows me to look outward and grow with the children toward their future.

●From the perspective of education, if we can provide children with options that include not only the experience of teachers who have been on the rails of conventional education but also the views of people who have come off the rails and seen many different worlds, it will broaden their future horizons.
I have been riding on the rails of the Faculty of Education, but it’s good to know the outside world as well, and I would like to pass on such experiences. I have been teaching for 8 years, so I have about 300 clients!

●But with so much energy, you must have made a lot of mistakes, right?
I knew I had to get a place I can come back to before going abroad! At any rate, I said yes and took action, so there were some failures. But I gained some experience from it, I don’t consider it a failure in the end.

I think it's the same with wine and art, but the presence of a good beer facilitates communication.
It's so natural that we don't even notice it.

●What are some of the things that are important to you in serving beer?
As with both beer and coffee, I see the role of the brewer as an anchor to hand over the brewer’s thoughts and story to the customer. Coffee farmers, roasters, hop farmers, brewers, they all carry the baton with them, and that’s why we can’t let our guard down. If we drop the baton there, everything will be ruined. It’s obvious that the beer has to be delicious, but I want it to create a different mood; like a beer that can just make a person’s day.

●It’s hard to express in words, but I feel that there is a role for a medium that controls a place or brings a space together. It’s like a cup of coffee that makes a good meeting or a connection with another person.
I think it’s the same with wine and art, but the presence of a good beer facilitates communication. It’s so natural that we don’t even notice it. I believe that this is one of the main reasons why people start conversations and come up with new ideas.

●This may be a little off-topic, but I see a lot of people dancing in clubs with a drink in their hand, but don’t you think they are actually holding on to the glass? I feel like it has a role as a kind of tranquilizer.
Maybe that’s the kind of power that things originally had. It’s like holding a ticket to belong to a certain space. But if you can add a story or a taste of the past to it in a natural way, I’m sure it will become something special. I would be happy if people could experience that kind of feeling through craft beer here in Kabutocho.

Nobuhiro Ito

Nobuhiro Ito

Born in 1987 in Mie Prefecture, Japan. He majored in education at a university in Gifu and worked as an elementary school teacher for eight years before moving to Norway to become a barista. After returning to Japan, he joined the Kabutocho project and became the store manager of Omnipollos Tokyo, where he serves beer and is also involved in event planning.

Text : Jun Kuramoto

Photo : Naoto Date

Interview : Jun Kuramoto

Nobuhiro Ito

Store Manager, Omnipollos Tokyo

Proprietress at Laurie

Interesting people in Kabutocho

Proprietress at Laurie
I always greet the lady of the mahjong parlor directly across the street from us, and she is a very nice person. I would like to go there to play sometime, and I am curious about her because she seems to know Kabutocho very well.