How many times has a woman made sushi for you at a sushi bar in Japan? If you answered "never," you’re certainly not alone as the world of sushi is one that’s traditionally been dominated by men. While a number of female sushi chefs are working hard to change societal norms and stereotypes, there’s one special restaurant in Akihabara that’s taking things even further, with a sushi bar staffed entirely by women. From purchasing ingredients to preparing fish and making sushi, these ladies are looking to challenge the male-dominated profession, and they’re doing it all while dressed in traditional Japanese clothing.
Nadeshico Sushi might look like a traditional sushi bar, but there’s one thing that makes it very different: All its employees are women.
That may sound like no big deal to many of us, but in Japan, the majority of sushi restaurants are run by male staff, and there’s a widespread view that sushi made by women is inferior to sushi made by men. The reasons given for this ranges from the belief that women’s hands are warmer, which interferes with the temperature of the ingredients, to the fact that women wear makeup, which supposedly interferes with their sense of smell. Some even blame menstruation, which is the reason cited by Kazuyoshi Ono, son of Jiro Ono, owner of world-renowned sushi restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro. Kazuyoshi has been quoted as saying that women can’t be sushi chefs because their taste becomes imbalanced due to their menstrual cycle.
Thankfully, there are a number of female sushi chefs working to change the male-dominated profession and challenge the myths surrounding women in the world of sushi. At Nadeshico Sushi, the ladies behind the counter might not have the years of training required to be considered professional sushi chefs, but they’ve all completed courses at Tokyo Sushi Academy, where they trained in knife maintenance, rice preparation, and the making of sushi from a wide variety of seafood.
By employing an all-female staff, Nadeshico Sushi aims to support the promotion of women in a profession traditionally dominated by men. And they’re doing it all in cute, traditional Japanese outfits and kimonos, true to the concept of Yamato Nadeshiko, a term used to describe the idealised Japanese woman, from which the restaurant takes its name. They might dress like shy, polite women from the days of yore but the message of equality the girls are promoting is one that’s currently at the forefront of the Abe administration, as the Japanese prime minister continues to work towards “a society in which all women shine”.
Another surprise from the traditionally-dressed group of girls working to challenge societal gender norms is their special “deko” menu, which features “deko maki“, decorated "makizushi," or rolled sushi, with cute patterns and adorable shapes, and “deko chirashi” decorated "chirashizushi," which is a container of rice scattered with a variety of garnishes and raw seafood. While they serve all the regular sushi staples, this type of cute food and the restaurant’s female-oriented focus often has people mistaking them for a newfangled maid cafe. The team at Nadeshico Sushi don’t see themselves this way, instead billing themselves as a unique sushi restaurant.
If you’re looking to get a taste of Japan today, as it teeters on the edge of the future while being tugged at by the strings of the past, be sure to stop and pay Nadeshico Sushi a visit. The more people are exposed to seeing women behind the sushi counter, the more used to it they will hopefully become. And as one field influences others, who knows — we might well be on the track to the election of a (gasp!) female prime minister!
Restaurant Information Nadeshico Sushi Address: Tokyo-to, Chiyoda-ku, Soto kanda 3-12-15, Chichibu Denki Building 2F 東京都千代田区外神田3-12-15 チチブ電機ビル2F Phone number: 03-3254-6661 Opening Hours: Weekdays: 11:30 – 2 p.m., 5 p.m. – 10:30 p.m. Weekends: 12 p.m. – 10:30 p.m. Website
Sources: Nadeshico Sushi, The Wall Street Journal, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan
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