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I want to study Japanese Cooking, In Japan


Gabriel Lewis
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So I want to study Japanese cooking in Japan. This is going to be a pretty long post, as I feel the need to explain myself adequately. But for those interested in helping, what I am looking for are people to bounce my ideas off of, or who can give me some advice or direct me to further information or resources. What do you think of the idea? Is there anything that is setting off warning bells for you? Read the rest of the post for this to actually make sense.

Actually, I want to study all sorts of cooking in a lot of places, but Japan seems like a great place to start. Why? Because I really like Japanese things. I like Japanese, the way it sounds so alive how many Japanese people seemto beso expressive with it. I like Japanese cuisine, with its careful attention to detail, and emphasis on quality and seasonal ingredients. Some of what I know about Japan I don't like, but the balance lies heavily with liking and identifying with Japanese people and culture.

Ideally, what I would like to experience is a culinary tour of the islands of Japan. I find a master of a particular style or type of Japanese cuisine, convince him or her to let me on as his apprentice, and stay on as an apprentice until I've felt I've learnt enough to satisfy my thirst for knowledge. Once I've satisfied my thirst at the first place, I go in seek of the second place, and hopefully with the referral of the last place I worked have an easier time of securing an apprenticeship. This continues on, moving from place to place until I am happy with what I've accomplished.

Sounds pretty ambitious right? Well yeah, it is pretty ambitious, and for me it's also pretty scary. That doesn't stop me from wanting to do it. I'm convinced that it can be done, and that I can do it; I just haven't figured out my approach to start yet, which is why I'm posting here. To start with, I'll discuss why I think I have a reasonable chance at succeeding in my dreams.

As I mentioned above, I am fascinated by and identify strongly with the culture and values of Japan. Now I've never been, so it's possible I won't like it when I get there, but all my experiences to date suggest otherwise. I am a good cook, and have experience in a professional setting. I am familiar with long hours and doing hard work in hot kitchens for little money. As long as I felt I was learning valuable skills and gaining knowledge, I'd be happy to work for room and board, even if it was very modest. I have a good understanding of the basics of Japanese cooking. I am familiar with the ingredients, the principles, and the values of Japnese cuisine. I have cooked many japanese dishes to great success, with results likely better than all but the best japanese restaurants in North America. Now I don't claim to be a master of Japanese cooking but I wouldn't be coming over with a completely blank slate, and I'm confident I don't have any serious bad habits. I can work efficiently and clean, and my knife skills are good. I am confident that with time, hard work, and practice that I could meet the demands of a high level Japanese professional kitchen.

So thats why I think I could succeed; there are still a lot problems to be resolved though.

One approach that I am considering right now is to start by teaching english in Japan. I have a bachelor's degree, and am confident I could get a year contract with a reputable school or through the Jet progamme. This would allow me to first spend a year acclimatising my self to Japanese culture, and to improve my japanese language skills from intermediate to fluent. During the year I could use my time off to research more about Japanese food and places I'd potentially like to work, or even approach those places during the year and try to convince them to let me apprentice once I'd finish my contract. With the right placement and careful frugality, I could also build up some savings for use once I acquired an apprenticeship, or to find an apprenticeship once I finished my contract. Right now, this approach is very attractive as the alternatives seem very daunting. At the same time, I am worried that I won't like english teaching and will feel like I'm wasting my time. Alternatively, I've considered looking for a shorter term teaching contract with the same reasoning and less commitment, but it seems like the good ones are all for one year. Additionally, this would allow a lot of time to try and find an employer that would sponsor me for a work visa, without forcing me drain saved resources while looking for a place to work.

Some other important points:

Firstly, my japanese language skills. They aren't terrible, I can ask for directions, order food, and follow basic conversations in standard japanese understanding about 90%. I know a couple hundred Kanji. I have a lot of enthusiasm though, and a about a years time or so before I'd be ready to leave. My japanese improved rapidly when I took to it seriously shortly after I started studying it, but has fallen by the wayside more recently in light of other interests. I'd say my language skills compare favorably to the many people from foreign countries working in kitchens in the U.S. and Canada; which is to say, basic but adequate. Between the time I have before I would leave and the oppurtunities I'll have for improving once I get there, I am confident that I could improve my language skills to a fluent level fairly quickly.

Places I'm interested in apprenticing at:

Anywhere where there is an extremely high level of preparing excellent Japanese food. I'm more interested in something traditional or traditionally based than anything too modern. I don't care about location, size, or prestige. It could be a huge, fancy, and expensive restaurant in Tokyo or a tiny noodle shop in a small town in rural Japan. Whats really important is that they love food, they love making great food, and they are very good at what they do. My experience with Japanese food suggests to me that there aren't really any sharply divisive lines, and so I am open to learning all sorts of cuisine. However, I don't really want to sign on for a five or ten year minimum. I have heard stories about apprentices boiling rice for ten years, and I'm not really interested in that. This is one aspect that worries me and I'm not so sure about. I'm confident in my skills and ability to learn, but I don't want to be stuck in a place that won't recognize if I have mastered a basic skill because they think I haven't been doing it long enough. But maybe I am thinking about this the wrong way? I would happily spend a year or maybe even two at once place if I thought they had the depth to merit that length of stay.

So that pretty much covers it. A lot to swallow, and you have my thanks if you read through it all. I've been thinking about this a lot without anyone to talk to who can comment meaningfully. I am hopeful that there are some residents of Japan on this board who can give me some perspective. Like maybe its extremely unlikely that any restaurant would let me work for room and board, and I'll have to change my approach completely. Or maybe you know of an exchange program for cooks that I could use to get started. Or if you'd like to help, but you don't know how: maybe you know a nearby excellent restaurant or chef. You could mention to them in passing one day the gist of my story and report back to me their thoughts on it. What would they think about employing some crazy Canadian white kid for room and board?

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.....get started. Or if you'd like to help, but you don't know how: maybe you know a nearby excellent restaurant or chef. You could mention to them in passing one day the gist of my story and report back to me their thoughts on it. What would they think about employing some crazy Canadian white kid for room and board?

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There is also a U.S. chef who's become a bit famous in Tokyo for his small but very excellent ramen shop.  Sorry, I can't recall his name.

I think that's probably Ivan Orkin, of Ivan Ramen in Setagaya.

True rye and true bourbon wake delight like any great wine...dignify man as possessing a palate that responds to them and ennoble his soul as shimmering with the response.

DeVoto, The Hour

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_John, who posts often on this forum, seems to have a pretty professional background, skills/outlook. Perhaps you could write to him? Rona [Prasantrin] might be another source of information/advice.

Have you spoken to any expatriate Japanese restaurant owners/food businesses in Canada?

I seem to recall culinary schools in Japan that are geared towards turning out chefs trained in the classical Japanese styles. They seem to be very thorough, modern, professional and scientific--- none of the 10 year medieval torture chambers. Perhaps some of the Japanese friends on this forum would have more information on these excellent academies. As you know, whatever the Japanese undertake, they do not do slipshod, be it training schools for French cuisine or their own [ESPECIALLY!!!]. The only issue might be the fee scale here. Even then, you might seek a scholarship. That being an unusual request from a foreigner, I am sure they will try very hard to come to some sort of an arrangement. Good luck.

http://culinary-academy.jp/eng/admissions/index.html

http://culinary-academy.jp/eng/link/index.html

http://jobs.yakaz.co.uk/japanese-chef

this might give you brainstorming ideas, e.g. Canadian embassy, consulate kitchen jobs??? US Army base private contractor food service?

Are there Culinary Arts Degree Programs in Canada where they have a foreign year abroad? That would be a great way to avoid high costs of living in Japan, while finding a scholarship in Canada. Then you will have made contacts and gotten your toe in the water, found out if you really want to pursue this line in Japan. Plus added a marketable degree to your resume, shoud you wish. Will help later if you want to pursue international restaurant management career.

Edited by v. gautam (log)
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  • 1 year later...

That's great that you can speak the language.

BUT:

Do you have any professional cooking experience in your home country. Any knowledge on how to use the big 3 hocho: Yanagi-ba, Deba, Usuba. Can you do basic katsura muki? Japanese cooking may look easy on the plate, but that belies a lot of technical skill.

It would be a lot to expect to get a job working in a restaurant in your home country with little experience or training, I don't know why you would expect to do it in Japan?

If you really want to go through with it I would thing culinary school would be a good route. Here's one that even has an english web page. http://www.tec-tsuji.com/english/

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If you really want to go through with it I would thing culinary school would be a good route. Here's one that even has an english web page. http://www.tec-tsuji.com/english/

No one in the industry respects Tsuji or graduates of Tsuji. Culinary schools in Japan are not like culinary schools elsewhere. caveat emptor.

Interesting.. why is that? What is culinary school like in japan?

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Gabriel,

It's my third year on the Jet Programme and I can only recommend it strongly. I am also from Montreal so I know a bit about the way they conduct interview.

There is very little chance you will get the placement you asked for. Don't ask for Tokyo or Kyoto, you won't get it. The Jet Programme is a big lottery, I ended up in the middle of the mountains in Hiroshima and a friend of mine ended up right between Kobe and Osaka.

The Jet Programme is a great opportunity to live and work in Japan. I've been slowly learning how to cook washoku. I took lessons about udon making in Takamatsu, I've helped to prepare soba at the community center.

I have no professional cooking aspirations so far, so cooking along side my Japanese mother-in-law as proven an amazing cooking experience. It's home cooking, but it's the real thing.

The skills to work in a noodle shop and a kaiseki restaurant are very different. What exactly do you want to learn?

As for the language, there is not a lot of talking in the kitchen from what I understand. My Japanese is far from perfect and I been just observing and trying to replicate a set of skills.

Good luck in getting into the Jet Programme

My blog about food in Japan

Foodie Topography

www.foodietopography.com

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I suspect the more traditional and the more high-level, the more difficult a barrier it will be to crack. However, I did meet a Canadian guy who runs a French restaurant in the rural outskirts of Osaka once who said that if I ever wanted to stage in Japan he could introduce me to the family that was financing his restaurant, as they also owned some more conventional Kyoto-area Japanese restaurants. This was on little more than a connection from an acquaintance of mine, a couple of email exchanges ahead of time, and after speaking to the chef and his wife after dining at his restaurant. It wasn't a promise of anything happening, but it was an open door.

If you have reasonable social skills, and passable kitchen skills, some doors will probably open for you if you find your way to Japan by other means.

My wife worked in various izakaya serving drinks and waitressing during high school and college, and learned a lot from the chefs she worked around, including techniques for slicing fish. If you aren't set on the very high end, this may be a good start; it's not unusual for some of the chefs at an izakaya to have fairly impressive resumes, even though it's a much more casual style of cuisine than kaiseki and the like. One of my American friends spent a few weeks working in an izakaya after he became a regular there, so it's not even impossible as a foreigner, as long as your expectations are modest.

I haven't worked in Japan, but have done some business there on a very small scale, and some work there on business trips when I worked for a large software company. If you set your expectations carefully, and keep an open mind, there are plenty of possibilities.

My own challenges in moving come from attachment to a particular salary range expectation based on what I can attain as a software developer in the US (the pay tends to be lower in Japan for similar levels of work, and my Japanese skills are unremarkable and my technical skills inadequately esoteric, so I'd probably go down a couple of notches on that ladder by moving). A bit more flexibility and far more options would be available to me.

Keep in mind that JET is quite competitive these days, and getting in is far from a sure thing.

Edited by JasonTrue (log)

Jason Truesdell

Blog: Pursuing My Passions

Take me to your ryokan, please

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On cooking school in Japan especially Tsuji:

Networking is all important in Japanese kitchens. Even if you went to Tsuji and studied really hard, even if you worked at Semba Kitcho, unless you are introduced by someone who everyone involved knows and trusts it doesn't mean much in my experience. When you enter a new kitchen you start at the bottom. Learning on the job is much more valued in Japan than in America. You learn how to cook that restaurant's food. And while you are busting your ass every day you earn everyone's respect. If no one sees that then it is very hard. Tsuji is full of housewives and rich kids. A quote from an job interview with a Tsuji graduate "So, you probably know how to hold a knife?"

a Canadian guy who runs a French restaurant in the rural outskirts of Osaka once who said that if I ever wanted to stage in Japan he could introduce me to the family that was financing his restaurant

Is this restaurant in Nose? if so it is a nice place. The family financing his place must have some major bucks.

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Yep, that's the one. Del Cook Cuisine de Nose. (It may also be their house, if I'm not mistaken). There's an old-school Japanese restaurant right next door, also in a house, and the obaachan who runs it has been known to dive for abalone for the night's dinner, or to go hunting for matsutake in the woods (which she traded for beer the time I was there).

When I went there, it was also quite interesting to see a difference in perspective on what's important when building out a restaurant. Del Cook's kitchen is really, really small... I think my home kitchen may be roughly the same size, though I have a little less counter space for prep work. His wife's family said not to put too much money into the kitchen; spend that on the rest of the place. In the US, it seems like chef-operated restaurants tend to have fairly large, extravagant kitchens.

Jason Truesdell

Blog: Pursuing My Passions

Take me to your ryokan, please

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