We had the chance to talk with current Canadian International soccer player and former MLS soccer star Issey Nakajima-Farran. Issey has played in different leagues and teams around the world, including both the Montreal Impact F.C and Toronto F.C. He is also an incredible artist, and you can find (and buy) his work here. He’s a cool “dude” and wanted to share some of his experiences about “La Belle Ville” with us. This is what he had to say.
Were you excited to come to Montreal?
I remember just before the first time I came to Montreal, my mom was more excited for me because she loved the city. I had no idea what to expect. At that time, I was living in Copenhagen and I was enjoying the European lifestyle. I didn’t have a chance as a kid to see much of Canada, having only been to Vancouver and Calgary growing up. I was more excited for the Canadian national team games being played in Montreal at the time, but I was surprised to find beautiful architecture and a European culture.
I had known Patrice Bernier, current Montreal Impact F.C captain, since 2006 and many others who were part of the national team who came from Montreal. They all spoke highly of the city and its great vibe. The guys I spoke to knew that I was all for the European feel, its arts, and its architecture outside the game. I never thought I would actually get the chance to live in the city.
What was the first about Montreal that WOWED you?
When I came at the beginning of the summer, the city was hopping with the F1 events and all the other activities that followed, like the Jazz and comedy festivals. I was on the lookout for an apartment so I could have lived anywhere to enjoy life outside of football as every corner of the city was at its best.
What was your favourite restaurant in Montreal?
I couldn’t say what was my favourite because I only got to try a handful of spots as my stay was so short. I pretty much hit up all the places that were recommended to me by friends I made in Montreal. I have to say that the restaurant Grinder was visited a lot.
What was your favourite food to eat in Montreal: Greek, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, or Arabic?
Japanese food has always been my favourite. And that doesn’t mean just sushi. Sushi is considered a snack or the Japanese version of tapas. There’s so much more to Japanese food, like authentic okonomiyaki (tepan yaki), yaki niku (Japanese barbeque), nabe (broth-like table cooking dish), and many more. But in Montreal, I got to experience really good Italian food at Da Emma restaurant in the Old Port and some really good Lebanese food in Laval.
Being of Japanese descent, where was your favourite place to eat Japanese or any other Asian food?
My neighbour owned restaurant Biiru so I did go there quite often. I loved the Japanese inspired graffiti he had on his walls. Kazu was also good. Kyozon was my favourite interior design of a Japanese inspired industrial look, so I hung there a bit as well.
Did you get a chance to eat a REALLY good poutine?
Yeah I had poutine! Every time I was out with some of my teammates, they would order poutines, so I did enjoy different styles. It was a surprise as I haven’t seen this dish in any of the cities I have been to. I should totally invest in a franchise of some sort!
What was your favourite bar or your favourite part of Montreal nightlife?
I enjoyed Flyjin. Being a Japanese restaurant by day also made it one of my favourite places. The music is incredible and the vibe was great. The people working there were friendly and down to earth.
What is the funniest thing that happened to you in Montreal?
I think the funniest thing was going on the Bixi bikes in my early days in Montreal with one of my teammates and getting honked at by some fans. Travelling to games on the metro was also different: I got to talk to fans about the game. It’s not really the stereotypical way to get to the game, but I had some funny conversations as a result.
Another funny story would be the Halloween party at one of my teammate’s houses with his family and friends I never had the chance to go to a hard core costume party. I had no idea that in North America, people actually go all out and got dressed up. One of my teammates was some sort Egyptian king and everyone else was really creative with their costumes. It was hard having a conversation with someone that looked half dead or just ridiculously funny. My teammate and I were dressed as ninjas (Japanese stereotype). We went into the house all stealth mode like real ninjas, creeping through the windows. The ninja adrenaline was definitely running through me for a good 10 minutes.
You’re a soccer player, but an artist as well; if you could paint something about Montreal that has left a positive impression on you, what would it be?
I like to portray faces and expressions mostly, but if I could, it would be the city of Montreal: the city and the cool people I met. So it would be a huge canvas of the city with all the people I met incorporated somehow. I lived near Square Victoria, and that was a picturesque area.
Check out Issey’s art gallery here. If you’d like a custom painting done by Issey, just contact him through his site. Otherwise, his many prints are available for purchase.
Lucas Vee is a local Montrealer with a knack for making the funnies. Check out his hilarious Podcasts with colourful guests here.