Sexism is hardly a foreign concept in the United States. Plenty of Americans believe there are certain jobs a woman could never do: computer programmer, president, Ghostbuster. But “sushi chef” is not one that frequently comes to mind. Hop over to Japan, and it’s a very different story. Read on and check out the video below for a look inside the country’s only sushi restaurant run by women.
Tradition is a big deal in Japan. Unfortunately, not all of these traditions are rational. Women can’t be sushi chefs, according to traditional logic, because their hands are too warm. Also, their makeup and perfume will block their sense of smell. Also, it’s hard work, and women aren’t cut out for hard work. Also, the area behind the counter is sacred, and, to quote one chef, “women are silly.”
Then there’s the idea that having a period renders a person insensible. “To be a professional means to have a steady taste in your food,” chef Yoshikazu Ono told The Wall Street Journal, “but because of the menstrual cycle women have an imbalance in their taste, and that’s why women can’t be sushi chefs.” (Fun fact: everybody’s hormones are fluctuating all the time. Even men’s.)
Even with these irrational barriers, lots of women want to become sushi chefs. Unfortunately, that almost always means training under male chefs, who tend to treat them as ornaments rather than apprentices. Getting a real education can be next to impossible, but without experience and qualifications, a woman chef will have an even harder time finding a job.
Enter Nadeshico Sushi, Japan’s first women-run sushi restaurant. The Tokyo business opened up in 2010, when manager Yuki Chizui took on a small staff of young women and trained them herself. The restaurant was facing an uphill battle from the start; the fish market, like the sushi business, is also run by men, none of whom wanted to sell fish to a woman. Through a friend of a friend, Chizui managed to hook up with an all-women fishing outfit, which agreed to supply the restaurant.
Unsurprisingly, the all-women restaurant was not exactly welcomed by other sushi chefs. But the Nadeshico team persisted, and are running a thriving business to this day.
The restaurant has taken a big step forward in bucking sexist tradition, but that doesn’t exactly make it a beacon of equality. The name Nadeshico is taken from the term yamato nadeshiko, or “idealized woman,” an old-fashioned concept that prioritizes beauty, obedience, and domestic skills.
Nadeshico Sushi was the brainchild of a middle-aged man, Kazuya Nishikiori, who says the restaurant’s motto is “fresh and kawaii”—cute. The women he hires are enthusiastic chefs, but they’re also pretty and young. "If someone wanted to work here and was 30,” he told The Wall Street Journal, “I'd put her in the back."
It’s a start, we guess.
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