Japanese kitchen in a foreign eye

Men's World

Japanese kitchen is called "i-ta-ma-e", it has traditionally been a place for men. Working in a real kitchen is so much different from cooking at home. For my first job in Japan, I chose to work in a traditional Japanese kitchen in Hakone since I wanted to learn Japanese cooking. I remember how the guys were all shocked when I entered the kitchen, they were so curious about this foreign female staff! They didn’t even have a female size uniform so I had to wear a male one before having my tailor-made uniform.

The Chef gave me a professional kitchen knife. It is said that in their culture, they only reward their favourite apprentice with this knife.

Call me a man!

My Japanese was not fluent at that time, you can imagine how the names of kitchen tools and ingredients were killing me! Every time I came across a new vocabulary, I had to jot notes immediately and revise for many times. It was a painful learning process indeed. On physical level, the team was kind to me so I never had to handle heavy or hot stuff. But there were times when the kitchen was extremely busy, I couldn't stand sitting there and not helping, so I just made myself a man and helped in all sort of things, hot stuff, freezing stuff or heavy stuff. I also wanted to show everyone that a foreign lady can do what they do!

After breakfast time, the staff would prepare lunch for the whole team; we sat together and ate lunch like a family.

A kitchen is a family

I had a fun time working in the kitchen and the stories were all unforgettable. There was a trainee working closely with me, sometimes we made troubles like spilling something, or ruining a beautiful dish. We would help each other to cover before being discovered by the seniors! The team treated me like a family member, when they cooked something nice, they would prepared an extra portion for me, better than what a customer would get! You couldn't believe how much weight I gained in Hakone! At first I had totally no idea with all their “men's talks”, but few months later my Japanese was improved and I was able to join their conversations and laughed with them.

My last day of work. Thanks to their patience, now I can cook myself nice meals every day.

My last meal in the kitchen. The chef was so kind to make my favourite dish "tempura-soba noodle"!

How time flies! On the day I left the kitchen, I cried all the way from Hakone to Yokohama and it was a 1.5 hour ride… Passengers around me must have wondered: what happened to this girl?

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Emily Ha

Graduated from the City University of Hong Kong, Emily's curiosity for overseas lives rooted from her experience of being an exchange student in San Jose State University in America. She joined the television industry after graduation and went to working holiday in Japan in 2014; currently stationing in Tokyo, she got an offer from a Japanese TV program production company, with chances to travel around Asia for overseas TV program shooting.