By 3:30 a.m., Eiji Mutoh is at the Tsukiji Market to inspect the fresh catch – from seaweed to caviar – available for auction two hours later. He repeats the process six days a week, acquiring the freshest and most select for the family's century-old Hotetora retail shop.
Because of his responsibilities, Eiji has never watched his only son, Hideki, compete in the IZOD IndyCar Series in person. This weekend will be a first. The Indy Japan 300 at Twin Ring Motegi – about three hours north of the family's home in Tokyo – will be held on a national holiday weekend translated "Respect for the Aged Day," which was established in 1966 as a day to respect the elderly and celebrate long life. The Hotetora shop will be closed Saturday, Sunday and Monday in observance of the holiday.
"I'm very happy to see him and because the race was on Saturday previous years, he never had the chance to come,” said Hideki, who will drive the No. 06 Formula Dream/Panasonic car for Newman/Haas Racing.
Mutoh adopted his father's appreciation of automobiles, paging through magazines at home while he should have been finishing homework. He began racing karts at age 12 and quickly climbed the ladder to cars in various formula series in Europe and Japan.
Mutoh, a graduate of the Honda Formula Dream Project, moved to North America in 2007 to compete in Firestone Indy Lights. He finished second in the championship and was named Rookie of the Year. Mutoh also made his IZOD IndyCar Series debut in the late-season race at Chicagoland Speedway. More awards were bestowed in '08 – his first full season in the IZOD IndyCar Series with then-Andretti Green Racing – after seven top-10 finishes.
Back in Tokyo, his father opened and closed the doors to the Hotetora shop six days a week. Someday it will be Hideki's responsibility, but for the past 15 years he's received his father's blessing to chase his dream.
“Someday I have to run the fish market because this is generational and cultural,” Hideki said. “I think my dad understands because racing was what I really wanted to do. He could have easily said, 'No, you have to sell fish.' But he released me from that kind of culture, and I'm sure he had a very hard time because Grandpa was pushing him, 'Oh, what's your son doing?'
“I really appreciate my dad. He gave me everything. We are not rich people, so at the beginning we struggled to find money to race. I have no words for my dad. He's an old style of Japanese man, but he let me go racing. He doesn't watch the races when people are around him, but he just watches the races on DVD quietly when he's at home with no one around. He never talks much about racing, but at the same point he never stopped me. It's understood, his support. He doesn't have to say much.”
Mutoh, who has two sisters, says he'll know when it will be time to stop racing competitively and take his place in the family business. It won't be because of pressure from his father.
“I'm the only one to replace my dad, so maybe in 20 years I have to,” said Mutoh, who turns 28 on Oct. 6. “Racing, I cannot do forever. But I can run a fish market until I'm 70. I think my dad understands that.”