Once upon a time, on the small island of Kikajima in Japan, there lived a boy named Toyo.

When Toyo was 6 years old, his mother died and his family fell apart. His father started drinking heavily and getting violent, he beat up Toyo every day. 

Life was tough for the young boy. There was no money for school lunch, so Toyo had to scrounge for weeds, which he stir-fried. He made do with what little he had…he ate whatever he could to survive.

Toyo had long been nurturing a dream to open up an izakaya (street food shop), buy his own house, get married, and have children.

So, at age 15, he left home and headed for the big city—Osaka. People from his island told him that it’s a scary place, but Toyo believed it was a place where dreams come true.

Toyo needed 11 million yen (roughly US$10,000) to open up an izakaya of his own. Over the next 10 years he worked very hard until, finally, he had saved up the exact amount for his business venture.

But suddenly, Toyo’s father died. The dutiful son that was, he paid for the funeral and grave, costing him 7,000,000 yen (around US$6,000). Toyo’s dream was crushed in an instant…but was his spirit crumbled, as well?  

No, definitely not! Toyo knew well that he couldn’t expect good things in life if he gave up on his dream.

And so, with the remaining 4 million yen (approximately US$3,700) and only himself to rely on, Toyo set up shop. He mounted a stainless-steel table on a truck bed and, on the 20th November 1992, Toyo’s dream began to take flight.

At first, many people looked down on him because he had no running water and no proper cooking facilities to speak of. But, aspiring to be a “chicken’s head” instead of a “bull’s tail,” he worked as hard as he could and did “magic” with the food he served, as his customers put it.

Today, whilst many street food stalls have fallen by the wayside, Izakaya Toyo flourishes. Even now, Toyo admits that there are times when it gets too tough that he sometimes wishes the devil would simply take him from this earth.

But seeing how his customers are loving the food he prepares, being greeted every day by their smiles, Toyo is filled with joy and the tough times are forgotten.

Ask any one of his regular customers and they’ll tell you that “dining” at Toyo’s “shop” is an experience in great food, laughter, and love. A self-professed “conman,” Toyo would pass as a comedian, too! He cooks with his heart and prays that his food may always be delicious.

As he puts it, “When you create your own current, life can be unpredictable.” Life is short, and making people happy is more important than making money, according to this man who embodies resilience and empowerment.

And so, as you move forward with your own vision for 2020, know that there will be tough times. In the midst of these challenging times for the entire world, find a reason to keep going—smile and the world will smile back.

Let’s all strive to be the “chicken’s head” like Toyo, whose inspiration has touched many; whose tenacity has become legendary. And if you happen to be in Osaka, Japan, look him up!

Here’s to creating your own current!

Caroline Crosbie

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