Please introduce yourself.
My name is Yuki Tsutsui, and I am the manager of a sushi restaurant called Nadeshico Sushi, the world’s first all- female staff restaurant, and the vice president of our company.
Please tell us what you mainly do now, and how this came to be.
I first started off working in a department store. When I was a student, I worked part-time in a sushi restaurant that was in the department store, and because of this, it was natural for me to find the department store a place of comfort and somewhere I could naturally be. It was only a matter of time before I considered it a place for my full-time job. I had attended college at an art school. It sat well with me that I worked at a department store where they sold a variety of products. I liked the fact that I could somewhat control what was being sold as well. As I neared graduation from my college and came to realize that it was difficult to secure a job in the art world, I was easily able to remember working at the department store. All my past experiences have really had an effect on me.
Please tell us what a typical day looks like for you.
On the days when I have work, I am in from the morning preparing the food for the day, but even on days where I am not expected to work in the restaurant, I am at the restaurant at 8-9 a.m. to leave the supply I procured. Once I finish, I take the train to meet my schedule of the day. While I’m on the train, I surf through various social network platforms, and I drink tea and relax when I’m in cafes. I use times like these to think about and jot down memos about the future of my restaurant and my own career. After that, I usually go to a yoga studio, and then head home.
Please tell us what you have done in the past that you felt was extremely worthwhile, and other experiences where you felt was difficult.
My career as a female sushi chef. It is absolutely normal in Japan for people to regard sushi chefs as something only men do, but I am working on breaking this stereotype. As a female sushi chef, there is little space for me in the world. However, I find it worthwhile to start from zero and try to establish a place in the world for female sushi chefs like me. I can’t help but know that I am doing something very big, and this helps me to push on. Because there is nothing determined on what a female sushi chef should look like, I find it easy to try out different things and make changes if it doesn’t work. This is probably something that not many people get to do with their jobs, so I love that I can do so being in my position now.
At the same time, I purely like the art of making sushi. It is definitely worth while to be doing so daily. My history in art and creativity allows me to have flexibility in my mind on what sushi should look like. I feel excited when I create new sushi menus. I also find it extremely fun to play around with the presentation of the sushi. One other thing I find very rewarding is the fact that with sushi, I receive direct feedback from my customers straight away. Wanting quality in the fish, the creativity of the dish, trying to figure out the reasoning behind their visit to my restaurant… I try to guess why they are here at the restaurant and try to provide the best sushi for them. This process is tremendously satisfying for me. As Nadeshico Sushi is something unheard of in the past, customers have various ideas of what they would find when they come. Even with the uniform itself, some customers imagine us to be wearing the white traditional clothes that all sushi-chefs wear, and others, because of our Akihabara location, imagine something more infatuating. At the moment, instead of catering to what society perceives they want, we have a brand image that we are standing firm upon. Once our brand worth has improved in everyone’s eyes, I would like to for instance cater to the hungry customer’s needs by making the sushi rice larger and accommodate various customer’s wishes. Even with just the conversation we exchange with our customers, I try to not put emphasis on the fact that we are a female-staffed restaurant in Akihabara. Instead of womanly exchanges with our customers, I try to fulfill the customer’s needs with sushi and what I can do with it. I find all the creative thinking I do in the process extremely worthwhile too.
Having gone through an all-girls environment and having graduated art school, the unique sensitivity that I possess has at times been beneficial in this job. But I’ve also felt it was difficult at times when I realized that my normal was different from others’, and when I was perceived as “different.” I don’t look very sharp either, so some have looked at me with doubts as if they were unsure if my being a leader was okay. I needed to do much, much more than other people before the way I was perceived changed. When I was working at the department store, I tried to use my unique art side to be a creative buyer, but I soon realized there were more hardships than met the eye to have any kind of career in that field. However, the struggles I had helped me to search for an industry in which I can flourish. I am very grateful of the path I have taken.
At what times do you feel most relaxed, or feel like you are the most alive?
I spend a lot of time with customers or instructing fellow workers being in the service trade, so I really enjoy being by myself for my down time. I’m an only child too, which could have a lot to do with my preferences. I really like to go to cafés to drink tea and spend solitary time doing whatever I want. I am always on a search for the perfect café in Tokyo that will fulfill my needs. Since I cannot work on my laptop at the restaurant, I look for cafes that have the tables with perfect heights and the perfect sofas. I start to have stomachaches if I drink strong bitter coffee, so I tend to drink black tea or herb tea to relax and enjoy my time. I think the delicious taste of black tea that gradually spreads around my mouth is just the thing I need when I want to organize my thoughts. I feel that the tea helps any complicated thoughts become simpler.
Do you have a motto, or maybe a policy that you adhere to while you are working?
I make an effort to voice any concerns I have to make changes. The all girls high school I attended put much emphasis in helping women succeed in the working society. It provided the students an abundant number of opportunities to express ourselves and take initiative. For example, we had English classes where we couldn’t move on unless we responded to the teacher who was a native English speaker. The school also had speech competitions. We were required to start up committees of our own and actively participate in them too. The environment the school provided required that we become heavily involved with everything, and I feel this has had a great effect on the way I am today.
Simultaneously, I feel there are a lot of people in society now who cannot voice what they are truly thinking. Expressing your thoughts on social networks don’t really help either, as there is a great possibility of being slandered in the process. As we are living in such a world, I try to be thinking all the time and have opinions of as many topics as possible. Instead of voicing thoughts that have had very little forethought, it is truly important in this day and time to express with intention. Women succeeding has been in the spotlight more and more every day. I want to be prepared when I am asked questions. I try to have a stock of opinions just in case.
What do you think Japanese women need to possess to be successful?
As we are all different people and what is right for me may not be right for someone else, I think it is necessary for everyone to find what works for you. Understanding what others perceive of you and knowing the best way for you to find resolutions is important. Analyzing yourself becomes incredibly important. People usually know their character flaws. Searching for your character qualities and intentionally creating a positive path for yourself I think is very important.
What do you envision yourself to be like in a few years?
It goes without question that I have a passion for my job that I want to continue to nurture, but I plan to have children in a few years, and I want to make sure I create an environment for myself where I will not need to give up being a sushi chef then. Having access to good daycare is important. As such, I would like to push proactively towards creating a society where it is easier for women to succeed in the working community.
I actually have a plan to create a daycare for workers of Nadeshico Sushi. Because there will be a higher need for evening hours in the service industry, what usually happens is the women leave their jobs when they have children. I think food and daycare, food and nursing are very heavily interrelated. As there is an increasing number of companies that provide their own daycare, I think it also essential that the food industry start providing the same.
Please tell us how you felt when you drank JANAT tea. Please also provide a message for women.
I think the black tea has a taste that helps to soothe tenseness. Even though I don’t realize it, my shoulders become really tense throughout the day. Drinking the tea I feel helps to loosen up the tense muscles. It is truly delicious.
I want to suggest women to trust their instincts. When and if you ever feel like you want to become a different woman, instead of just dreaming about it, I think it’s important to try and figure what needs to happen for this dream to materialize. Emphasizing your positive qualities and incorporating them to improve the status quo is truly key to becoming an improved you.