Food, the number one topic that can get any conversation going, no matter where you are in the world! Every culture has its own unique taste when it comes to preparing its favourite dishes, but what about the hands that prepare them?
With the culinary industry being male dominated for decades, women in Japan were expected to tend to their homes and cook meals. Women were never allowed to partake in culinary arts, as it was believed they couldn’t handle the demanding training or their warmer body temperatures would affect the flavour of fish when making sushi.
However, we have seen this gender separation evolve over time as the industry took a huge curveball, with some amazing Japanese female cooks and chefs continuing to enter the scene to this day.
As the month of March seeks to highlight the contributions of women in history, let’s take a look at the women who are MAKING history as we speak in the culinary industry of Japan!
When it comes to sushi, we can clearly see that this was a male dominated career in the centuries past. However, if you head two stations north of Tokyo station, to the bustling district of Akihabara, nestled on the 2nd floor of the Chichibu Denki Building, you will find the Nadeshiko Sushi Restaurant, a place fully run by women!
Chef Yuki Chidui took the culinary world by storm when she challenged the norm by becoming the first female sushi chef in Japan! Coming from an art school and having learned various techniques, it still felt like the perfect job for her was yet to be found. To show off her artistic side and do something she loved, she took that brave step to chase a dream no one else thought possible, and trained to become a sushi chef.
When faced with the idea that a woman’s warmer hands produce inferior sushi, her simple response was “If the hands can’t do a good job, it’s not because of the hands, it’s because you don’t have enough training.” (Mind Blown!). With that being said, her journey ahead wasn’t easy, but she stayed true to her passion and showed off her sushi as a work of art! (Bravo!)
Coming from a background with both her father and uncle being recognized sushi chefs, Chef Yumi Chiba surprisingly wanted to avoid following in her father’s footsteps. In spite of that, over 20 years later, she found herself back in Shizuoka prefecture, now being the head chef of Anago no Uotake Sushi.
After some life changing experiences, Chef Chiba decided that she wanted to live life with no regrets and later began learning her father’s techniques, being mentored to become a sushi chef. The challenges she faced were all well within her expectations, and despite the obstacles, she made her name very clear in the sushi restaurant business.
One of her prized dishes and an item she says she is still trying to perfect would be the atsuyaki tamago, a dish known as tamago sushi which is traditionally served at the end of the meal as it functions as a dessert. Why is she so focused on perfecting this one dish? Her response is quite simple – to preserve the tradition in the best way possible!
With no official training in her background, she sought to change the opinions of a woman holding the power over your dishes, working her way to become a self-taught chef. As she shifted her focus towards her own restaurant in Tokyo, she eventually became firmly accepted into the culinary world, becoming quite successful to this day.
This chef who took a huge stance when it came to breaking boundaries is known as Chef Nao Motohashi, who has made a name for herself on the Tokyo food scene with her restaurant seating only 10 people, Julia located in Shibuya. Why 10 seats you ask? Her main reason – to provide a greater personal experience with her guests.
Her menu changes seasonally, but it is done in omakase style (a meal left in the hands of the chef) and this is paired with unique wines thanks to her sommelier husband, Kenichiro Motohashi. Despite the seasonal changes, you can always look forward to her signature pulled pork sliders that are utterly superb!
“Behind every successful person is a tribe of other successful people who have their back.” – Anonymous.
Not everyone may have the confidence or finances to make their dreams come true, but this quote comes into play as we look to the head chef of Tsurutokame restaurant, Chef Yubako Kamohara.
A seasoned restaurateur couple referred to as the Mikunis decided that women should be given the chance to earn a spot in this elite culinary scene. Thus, they created a 100% women only kitchen known as Tsurutokame founded in Ginza. Furthermore, these females were trained in kaiseki, the most prestigious and artistic cuisine known in Japan.
Chef Kamohara was sought out continually by the Mikunis, and despite having no prior knowledge of cooking, they still believed in her due to her energetic, positive and aggressive nature. Through meticulous training, Kamohara has made quite the name for herself as she leads her team with steadfast leadership qualities with hopes that this place can give other women a chance to achieve greater success in their culinary careers.
Not every amazing female cook can be found in a fine dining restaurant, dressed in their white uniform, serving up a professional display of dishes. In fact, they are famously known in the Japanese B-gourmet industry as well.
B級グルメ (Bee-kyuu-gurume), translated as B-grade gourmet, or simply B-gourmet, refers to foods that were made with “A-class” taste, but were sold at “B-class” prices, making it affordable for the public to still enjoy.
A shop over 60 years old- a classic stands strong at Onigiri Bongo
Onigiri is known to be the classic rice ball made from white rice that can take on the shape of a triangle or cylinder. With currently 56 flavours on the menu, 70 year old Yumiko Ukon has continued her husband’s shop 60 years later.
The name of the shop – Onigiri Bongo. Quite a unique name, but the meaning is super intriguing and may touch your heart. Her husband wanted to sell onigiri, but also played the drums, so decided to use the word Bongo. By doing so, he hoped that as the sounds of the drums echoed in the distance, so would the name of the shop and lots of people would come to have their onigiri.
Well it definitely did as Yumiko-san is making quite the buzz where people stand in line for almost five hours just to purchase her onigiri (guilty as charged; we are one of those…haha) – making over 1000 rice balls daily. She is such an amazing woman and we highly recommend you stop by her store in Tokyo to enjoy!
Did you enjoy reading about these empowering women? I definitely did because it made me realise that not everyone has the same story. It may be an easier road for some, while others had to burn hours of the midnight oil to get to their position today, or where they are still heading!
Nevertheless, learning from these amazing women has definitely left a great impression on my soul, being someone who enjoys cooking as well. It makes me crave the flaming confidence they portrayed throughout their careers and channel that energy into my own future!
Join us on a virtual culinary adventure on our TOP 5 Japanese foods online experience!
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