Katsuya Fukushima
Katsuya Fukushima
All photos Kyle Schmitz

D.C. ramen darling Daikayahas been granted a rare international opportunity. From now through September, it’s popping up in Hakodate—a city on Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido. It’s the first non-Japan-based ramen restaurant to be invited to cook at the venue, which typically hosts high-profile ramen chefs from across Japan.

Daikaya Group partners Daisuke Utagawa, Katsuya Fukushima, and Yama Jewayni were invited to participate in the residency program at the behest of Sapporo-based noodle master Takashi​ Nishiyama of Nishiyama Seimen Co. LTD. All three of the group’s ramen restaurants in the District (Daikaya, Haikan, and Bantam King) use Nishiyama ramen noodles.

Utagawa, who was born in Japan, says he’s feeling the pressure of being the first U.S.-based ramen eatery to set up shop at the restaurant located in the Pole Star Shopping Center. “We pride ourselves on serving authentic ramen, and this is the ultimate test,” he says. “We have many Japanese customers in our D.C. stores who support us because we remind them of Japan, but that’s in the D.C. context—doing ramen in Japan and being accepted is a whole different thing.”

When he first got the call, he and his partners were a little nervous. “We are bringing our ramen to the people who started it, and it’s part of the fabric of daily life,” he says. “People in Hokkaido are particularly well-versed in ramen.” So far, Utagawa says, the shio ramen (featuring a delicate, salt-based broth) has been well received by Japanese diners.

Because the pop-up is three months long, the Daikaya group will feature each one of its restaurants. July’s menu will be inspired by the ramen at Daikaya, with Haikan following in August and Bantam King in September. Fukushima will be the opening chef, and then sous chefs from the other restaurants will rotate in. Nishiyama’s son will also help cook.

Diners can also expect some American takes on ramen, like French onion soup ramen and New England clam chowder ramen. As they settle in, Fukushima will also work to incorporate the ingredients that draw culinary-driven tourists north to Hakodate, including sea urchin, squid, scallops, salmon roe, and king crab.

While the group is in Japan, they hope to spread the word about the D.C. dining scene. And they’ll bring home some lessons, too.

“For our staff, the experience of working in Japan serving Japanese food to Japanese customers is invaluable,” Utagawa says. “We learn from local ingredients and exposure to local cuisines, including other ramen shops to customer service.”

To add a little Americana, the team decorated the space with posters of The Notorious B.I.G, the Beastie Boys, and Michael Jordan. The pop-up is open to the public and operates daily from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. until Sept. 25.

ポールスターショッピングセンター (Pole Star Shopping Center) Japan, 〒041-0821 Hokkaidō, Hakodate-shi, Minatochō, 1 Chome−2−1+81 138-62-7300