Feb 22

Update:  See submitted stories further below in this post!  Additional ones will be added as received.  So keep checking back.

I learned recently from our friends at the free Japanese weekly Shukan NY Seikatsu that “food” is the leading driver of tourism to Japan from the U.S. these days.  With that in mind, I thought it might be helpful (not to mention oishii and natsukashii) if the JET and JET alum community were to share personal anecdotes about cooking while living in Japan.

  • E-mail responses to Steven at jetwit [at] jetwit.com.  
  • Please make sure to include your prefecture, city/town and years on JET in the following format:  Steven Horowitz (Aichi-ken, Kariya-shi, 1992-94)
  • Responses can be as short as once sentence and as long as 5 paragraphs(*If you want to write something longer, that’s great too.  I just suggest checking with me first to get on the same page before spending a lot of time and effort writing.)
  • Responses will be aggregated into one easy-to-read post.
  • Yes, this is one more project intended to help boost the “return on JET-vestment” for local governments as well as for Japan on the whole.



Stories of Cooking in Japan

6:30am after an all-nighter in Shibuya, decided to take the subway to Tsukiji. Waited 50 minutes in line and paid $40 for 8 pieces of sushi. Worth every second and every penny. Still a meal my friend and I talk about 3 years later.

-Rick Ambrosio (Ibaraki-ken, 2006-08)


Nakatsu, the city where I was placed on JET, had a wealth of restaurant options, from a cheap and delicious tonkotsu Hakata ramen shop across the street from my house, to an authentic Indian restaurant, to the usual 100 yen kaiten sushi. In addition, I had kyuushoku at my chuugakkou, so I never had to worry about lunch during the weeks.  Nakatsu is famous for being the ancestral home of Fukuzawa Yukichi (the guy on the 10,000 yen notes), and on the culinary front known for hamo (a kind of boney eel – in my opinion a bit overhyped) and kara-age (marinated and batter-fried chicken – absolutely sublime.  In the town lore, Nakatsu’s kara-age stands apparently put KFC out of business because the locals preferred their homegrown friend chicken.

Despite all the eating-out options, I still had plenty of opportunities to cook for myself, and for my friends, as my house was the site of many a dinner party during my time on JET. Unlike more rural JETs, I was lucky when it came to finding a variety of ingredients.  There were a handful of big grocery stores in town, a specialty/import food store across the street from my house (right next to the ramen shop), as well as a farmer’s market near one of my schools. I loved how the produce at the former’s market was labeled with the names of the people who raised it.  Such a direct and personal connection to food.  You can’t get any more locally-grown then that, especially in a town where the small dense city center quickly turned into vegetable patches and rice paddies.

Some things took some getting used to though.  Like only having two burners on my gas stove, or not having an oven.  But I quickly learned to be resourceful and to find workarounds and “kitchen hacks”, such as how to make a molten chocolate cake in a rice cooker.  With such easy access to a variety of Japanese foods, I have to admit I rarely cooked Japanese food at home, but instead explored my own personal fusion cooking, or made foods that I couldn’t find in restaurants in the area.  I have fond memories of hosting my Japanese friends and fellow JETs for “theme” dinners at my place.  Among the many dinner parties I hosted, I remember we had a Middle Eastern tapas night, a Thai food night, a Taiwanese dinner, and a gumbo fundraiser for Hurricane Katrina relief.

-Lee-Sean Huang (Oita-ken, Nakatsu-shi, 2003-06)  http://leesean.net

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