Female Sushi Chefs in Tokyo: Pioneering or Just Pretty?
Over the weekend I went to a new local sushi restaurant. I was thrilled at the classy yet fun décor. The sushi itself was magnificent. I interacted with several kind waitresses and a woman I presumed to be the owner. Behind the counter were two men preparing the sushi, but I didn’t think about their gender until I read that a restaurant in Tokyo is raising eyebrows because of its women sushi chefs.
I reflected upon whether I’ve ever seen a woman constructing sushi here in the United States. Sure enough, every sushi restaurant I’ve visited has men behind the counter, and women everywhere else. When I took some courses at a cooking school, most series included both male and female instructors; however, I now recall that only men taught the sushi course. The helpers were women, though, and the majority of my classmates were female.
Sure, I’ve seen some women making supermarket sushi, but frequently there is a man back there, too. Plus, most people would agree that supermarket sushi isn’t restaurant-quality.
Japan’s first restaurant with exclusively female sushi chefs is owned by a man, and there are men behind the scenes to do the “dirty” work of gutting and slicing the fish. According to the Wall Street Journal, the restaurant’s name “Nadeshico” translates to “ideal woman.” The male owner will only hire young women between the ages of 18-25 to prepare the sushi because they must be “cute” to cater to the 90% male clientele. The sushi itself is “cute,” as the most popular items are apparently rolls fashioned into cartoon-style panda and frog heads.
The aim of Nadeshico apparently isn’t good sushi. The owner himself says it is best to come in with low expectations. While he insists he wants to promote a new model for working women and ease discrimination, his restaurant doesn’t appear to be a breakthrough for women if they are just there to be easy on the eyes.
Initially I was surprised that a restaurant with all-female sushi chefs was truly novel, but now my relief that this “first” has been accomplished has morphed into concern that this Japanese version of Hooters might actually set women back.
I’m now much more curious and eager to see if one of these times I set foot in a new sushi restaurant if perhaps I’ll see a woman behind the counter. But most importantly, I’d want to admire the excellence of the sushi, not the shape of the chef’s body.