When was the last time you saw a woman behind a sushi counter? Many people have never encountered such a sight in all their years of sushi eating. It may come as a surprise to those who are realizing this now, but there is a strongly held Japanese belief that sushi chefs must possess a macho “Edo-style” swagger.
The cultural norm in Japan dictates that the sushi made by men taste better and are of higher quality than sushi made by women. The son of famous master sushi chef Jiro once said women can’t be sushi chefs because their menstrual cycle interferes with their sense of taste. This stereotype that women’s warmer body temperatures contributes to their inferiority in making sushi has also played a key role in making the realm of sushi cuisine a predominantly male tradition in Japan.
According to the Dallas Morning News, 28-year-old Yuki Chidui is now fighting for the inclusion of women in the art of sushi preparation. The sushi chef and manager at the all-women Nadeshico sushi restaurant in Tokyo is challenging age-old tradition and gender stereotypes. She said of female sushi chefs’ strengths:
“I think women are better at communicating with customers, and they’re kind and gentle.
Chidui is soft-spoken and unlike other itamae, or sushi chefs, in dress and demeanor. Fliers portray her as a doe-eyed manga character to promote her store’s motto of “fresh and kawaii,” or “cute.”
She has intentionally strived to move away from the traditional look of sushi chefs who sport closely cropped hair as a statement to challenging tradition. Chidui can be found dressed in a white summer kimono decorated with pink blossoms.
Since opening Nadeshico in 2010, the pioneering restaurant owner says she has encountered rude remarks from male customers who question her capabilities and ask:
“Can you really do it?”
Although there are no official statistics on female sushi chefs in Japan, the All Japan Sushi Association, which groups 5,000 sushi restaurant owners nationwide, says they are rare.