Communicating the German way of life, face to face
I am involved in a range of work, centered on the culinary arts. This work includes introducing new recipes and teaching cooking, as well as participating in magazine interviews. Recently my husband and I have built a house in my husband's hometown in Kagoshima Prefecture, and I have become increasingly involved in planning events aimed at regional revitalization there. For example, in the autumn of 2017 I opened a one-day pop-up restaurant in Kagoshima, utilizing the bountiful produce of the region About 80 people came from Kyushu and Tokyo to experience the natural beauty and lifestyle of the region.
Apart from culinary arts, I also have opportunities for lifestyle-related work. When the "declutter" boom swept through Japan, I received requests for interviews and lectures. When the national government established an advisory committee for improving "quality of life," I was asked to take part by the Minister in Charge of Promoting Women's Active Participation at the time, Haruko Arimura, who is also a graduate of ICU.
I am involved in a wide range of work, but whatever I do, the foundation of what I do is to communicate or introduce Western lifestyles and values - in particular those of Germany, my mother's home country. It is for this reason that I hold cooking classes at my own home. I want to introduce people to cooking as one aspect of everyday life. In the beginning I used to introduce Cordon Bleu style recipes, but recently I have shifted mostly to teaching home-style recipes.
Many of my students seem to be interested in the culture of other countries. Some have lived overseas as an expat, others sent their children to study abroad, and some have married internationally. By having students visit my home, I hope they can experience an atmosphere that is different from their everyday.
Not limited to just Germany and Japan, I am also interested in the topic "How can woman realize a more fruitful life?" That is why I am involved in a project in Kagoshima where the local shopping street is hoping to revitalize the area with women's insight and we opened a shop called "Sarugga".
My own style, nurtured through many different encounters
I did not originally aim to become a culinary specialist. Rather, the experiences that I gained led me to this work. While studying at ICU I worked part-time at the Japanese offices of a German bank, which I entered as a full-time employee after graduation. I hoped to be a liaison between Japan and Germany. This was just after the fall of the Berlin Wall, however, and work was hectic. Sadly I left the bank before long. After that I entered an American securities brokerage, and was responsible for European equity sales which covered over 10 countries.
I worked at the American brokerage firm for about four years but eventually left to marry my Japanese husband, who was working in Hong Kong at the time. I moved to Hong Kong, where I started work at the local offices of a Swiss bank, where I was responsible for Asian equity sales. After some time, my husband decided to study in London for one year to advance his career, so I moved to London to live with him. I had worked in London before, during my time at the American securities brokerage, and I was hoping to find another job here to support us while my husband studied. However, no companies wanted to hire somebody just for one year. I did not want to waste my time in London, and I had always been interested in cooking, so I decided to enroll in the internationally renowned cuisine and patisserie training institute, Le Cordon Bleu.
It was after this that cooking became my work. After studying at Le Cordon Bleu for one year I was awarded the Grand Diplôme*, and returned to Japan with my husband. Just as I began looking for work with a securities brokerage again, I was asked by a Japanese friend I met in London to teach her cooking. This was the start of a new stage in my life.
At the beginning I felt quite uncertain. I had only studied for one year. What is more, at Le Cordon Bleu I had used only the best ingredients to produce sophisticated dishes, but now I had to teach using only a limited range of equipment and ingredients. It was a continual process of trial and error. But I stuck with it, and before long I received more and more requests for cooking classes from friends, which gradually built up my confidence. Shortly, I found my own style, that's how I got to where I am today.
The combination of two things motivated me to shift my focus from teaching Cordon Bleu style cooking to teaching more home-style recipes. The first was appearing on NHK's German language program, when I thought about the time I spent living with my German grandparents in Germany, and I felt a renewed appreciation for the appeal of home cooking as an element of culture. The second was spending more time at my husband's family home in Kagoshima. Through daily interaction with my mother-in-law in a place far from the city, I was made aware of the simple fact that cooking starts with ingredients and not the recipe. For me, these two realizations signaled a turning point in my work.
Of course, the knowledge and experience I gained from training at culinary school is indispensable. However, when I teach cooking "at home," I am careful not to forget that this is itself the most important ingredient.
*The Grand Diplôme combines training in cuisine and patisserie.
My time at ICU gave me the confidence to live in Japan
Another turning point in my life was marked by my days at ICU. Although I was born in Japan, I only studied at Japanese school for four to five years between kindergarten and high school. Just as I was confused about of my identity, I discovered ICU. My mother already knew of ICU, and I was looking forward to studying at this small-scale university with its liberal atmosphere. It fully lived up to my expectations. What is more, for the first time I was able to meet many other students who also experienced a mobile lifestyle, living in different countries with diverse cultures and languages. At ICU I felt that I had finally found where I belong.
I felt supported not only by the other students I met, but also by the curriculum itself. ICU admits new students two times every year: in April and September. Japanese students returning from overseas generally entered in September, and the Japanese Language Programs (JLP) commenced at this time. Here students like me were free to ask questions about Japanese language and culture including very basic things that, as university students, we would have been too shy to ask otherwise. I managed to improve on my patchy understanding of Japanese culture and social etiquette, and I feel that this gave me the confidence to live in Japanese society. Just as Le Cordon Bleu taught me the basics of cuisine, I believe that ICU taught me the basics of life in Japan.
I was fortunate to meet many teachers at ICU. Mitsuko Saito (Professor of Communication) in particular left a deep impression on me. I especially remember her classes on communication. In the middle of class she would suddenly produce a ball and throw it to a student. The student would throw it back and she would throw it to another student. Everyone was surprised by this sudden game of catch-ball, but it showed us in a very accessible way the most important aspect of communication: to catch the words that the other person has spoken, and respond with words that the other person can catch. It was a very simple action, but left an indelible impression on me.
I particularly appreciate the importance of Professor Saito's insight in the context of inter-cultural communication. "Common sense" is no more than the perceptions that we have acquired through our own particular culture, so it is natural that different cultures have different versions of it. How should one throw the ball so that it is easy for the other person to catch? A grasp of the preconditions for communication is vital for mutual understanding. What I learned from Professor Saito has been invaluable in my role as a cultural intermediary between German and Japan.
My aim is to be at peace
In my work, I place emphasis on not trying too hard. I also value small-group communication where each person is directly connected with everyone else in the group. This makes it possible to ask things you want to ask, and convey what you really want to relate.
I also think that it's important to have an open attitude to those around you. Sometimes it is difficult to accept individual differences in Japan because of the high value placed on collective activity, but it's actually quite natural for us all to be different. By realizing this it becomes easier to accept diversity, bringing fresh opportunities to encounter new people and things.
Ultimately life centers on the question of "what do you want to do?" Many people seem surprised that I would choose to build a house in Kagoshima, but for me Tokyo, Kagoshima, or indeed Germany and France do not make much difference. Everywhere is different, or to put it another way, everywhere is the same. Each place has its own unique lifestyle and its unique kind of happiness. Even if everyone around questions "how could you be happy there?" all that matters in the end is how you feel yourself.
For me, feeling at peace is my ultimate goal. Even now in Kagoshima I am thinking of starting new projects, but I would like to create something in my own way, without struggling for the unattainable.
College of Liberal Arts, (Former) Division of Languages, Class of 1989 (Major in Intercultural Communication)
Tania has family roots in Japan and Germany. After graduating from the (former) Department of Language Studies in the College of Liberal Arts, she worked at banks and a securities brokerage. Later she accompanied her husband to study in the UK, where she trained at Le Cordon Bleu and was awarded the Grand Diplôme. After returning to Japan she began to teach cooking. Apart from her work as a culinary specialist, Tania continues to be active in teaching people about the merits of the simple German lifestyle.