For the Japanese, the cherry blossom represents the transience of life, a concept tied deeply with the fundamental teachings of Buddhism.

For the rest of Detroit, ‘cherry blossom’ has a more down-to-earth connotation: Shigeru Yamada’s trio of classic Japanese restaurants, now the largest group of their type in the state.  With locations in Ann Arbor, Troy, along with the original in Novi, complete with tatami rooms and a full array of Japanese specialties.  A hallmark at all three locations is the extensive menu, far more inclusive than what is typical at Japanese restaurants.

Yamada hails from Kyoto, Japan’s former capital, once the emperor’s residence and a city filled with historically priceless structures.  Some of the elegance with which he was raised is translated into the décor in his restaurants, including Ann Arbor’s pair of delicate waterfalls which flow seamlessly behind the sushi bar.

Though he left Kyoto in the sixties, the name ‘Kyoto’ has followed Yamada closely.  Having completed a stint at the Kyoto Grand Hotel, he trained at various international and well known restaurants as a manager, a career which led him to Boston in 1980 to train at the headquarters of Kyoto Japanese Steak House.  Later, he established his Detroit roots by opening the Renaissance Center’s Kyoto Japanese restaurant, a chain for which he ultimately became regional manager.

By the late eighties, determined to make his own mark in the restaurant world, he opened Japanese Restaurant Akasaka in Livonia, soon improving on that concept with the first Cherry Blossom, which opened in 1991.  That establishment was the proud recipient of the Detroit Free Press highest restaurant designation: four stars.  It was, Yamada points out, “The first time that an oriental restaurant had been so named.”

Yamada displays the Japanese work ethic in every aspect of his life, from the two days each he spends overseeing his successful restaurants, to his love of energetic pastimes, including tennis and swimming.  Through it, he remains a devoted family man to his wife and three children.

Though as a Buddhist, Yamada subscribes to the cherry blossom concept of ‘the transience of life’, with all the marvelous things he has going for him, he must hope that the transience holds off for a while.