By Yukako Fukushi / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer Three months after the launch of a new system for expanding the acceptance of foreign workers, foreign students in Japan have started to take the test for restaurant workers’ skills in hopes of becoming washoku Japanese cuisine chefs.
Cooking has been added to the list of designated skills for which foreign workers may qualify for a newly established residential status under the system.
Amid growing concern over the labor shortage in the restaurant industry, foreign nationals are expected to play a role in preserving traditional washoku.
Choi Daehwan, 25, a South Korean who majors in Japanese cooking at Tsuji Culinary Institute in Osaka, is seeking to fill such a role. Using a knife, he finely chops a carrot into a spiral shape in the “yori ninjin” style, one of washoku’s kazarikiri techniques for cutting ingredients into decorative shapes. His skills were apparent during a training session for preparing course meals.
In South Korea, Choi developed an affection for Japanese culinary culture, which emphasizes use of seasonal ingredients at their peak. He came to Japan in 2016 hoping to “learn in the epicenter for washoku.” After studying Japanese at a language school, he enrolled at Tsuji in April 2018. Choi also works part-time at a Japanese restaurant to gain practical experience.
Wu Yuanhang, 25, who came to Japan from China in 2015, also majors in Japanese cuisine at the school. “I want to learn not only cooking techniques, but also washoku culture and how to communicate it,” she said. During the course meal training session, she took questions about ingredients and cooking methods from a Japanese classmate acting as a customer, immediately answering in Japanese.
Choi and Wu took the ability test for restaurant workers in late June, and are waiting for the results to come out in late July. “Japanese cooking skills are not easily acquired. I want to get a visa and continue my training here,” Choi said.
According to a survey by Tsuji Culinary Institute and Tsuji Institute of Patisserie, only 34 percent of 234 foreign students who entered the two schools in April knew about the new visa system. Forty-seven percent said they wanted to obtain the new residential status and continue working in Japan after graduation, while 34 percent said they wanted to return to their home countries.
However, some graduates who passed the ability test for restaurant workers, which was conducted for the first time in April, had to return home as their residence status expired before they could find jobs.
“The new system has just begun. I want to properly explain the system to foreign students so they can start working after they graduate,” a school official said.
There is also a system through which foreigners can remain in Japan so they can receive training and help preserve washoku culture. Under a program launched by the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry in 2015 to develop personnel who can promote Japanese cuisine overseas, foreign students studying Japanese cuisine at culinary schools can remain in Japan to continue their studies at restaurants after graduating.
In cooperation with restaurants that accept graduates, cooking schools prepare a practical training plan for review by the ministry. If approved, graduates of those schools can work in Japan for up to five years. By last year, about 100 people had trained under the program.
Kuo Yueh Chiao, a 31-year-old from Taipei, studied at Tokyo College of Sushi and Washoku in Tokyo and graduated last year. Through the ministry program, he found work as a chef at La Bombance, a Japanese restaurant in Tokyo’s Nishiazabu area that earned a star in the Michelin Guide.
“There is much to learn,” he said of the restaurant’s cuisine, which has many original characteristics. In addition to cooking, Kuo has also been entrusted with explaining dishes to customers.