New start in Montevideo Uruguay

Montevideo There is a rather big gap between the last post in October and today. It all makes sense considering what we have done after long consideration: We have made a rather big step in our lives after planning it for years. End of January we have left Japan, but only after quite some hands on preparation and diligent study for our new life abroad. We want to make sure that we fulfill our dream abroad: Early February we have arrived in Montevideo, Uruguay. A lovely city in the heart of South America, where we plan to build up Japanese food service.
These days are filled with settling down, learning more Spanish and starting to get used to our environment and culture. For sure we are in a completely different environment compared to the places I have lived before. Of course the punctuality and cleanliness of Japan is gone, but for sure the Uruguayans are at least as nice and smiling as Californians, whose optimism I had enjoyed in Los Angeles. Furthermore connected to my upbringing in Switzerland, Montevideo is reminding me of an old era in Europe, when I had not been born yet. Overall it feels new and homey at the same time.
The first steps for our visa are behind us and in the meantime we are happy to say that our company got registered in Montevideo. Yes, so far we are content with the proceedings in our new adopted country. For sure we are working on fulfilling our dream. We expect soon to set up the website for our catering business for Japanese food, when we will set up at a later stage a Japanese take out shop in Montevideo.
While I cannot say anymore that I am reporting from within Japan about Japanese business culture and related topics, I am for sure still deeply connected with Japanese culture and food. Furthermore I am more than ever connected with udon due to all the training and work last year, plus with sushi through my husband, who is a fully trained and experienced sushi chef. Because our airfreight has arrived in the meantime, we are now ready to experiment and adjust Japanese cuisine with the local available ingredients. We will be for sure busy, but for sure we will announce when our website, facebook and twitter accounts are ready.

I hope you are excited as we are for our next big challenge in our new life in Montevideo.

Plaza Indepencia

Brought to you by a happy couple under the South American sun: Sibylle & Kazuo Ito

What are your thoughts when you start working?

Nihonbashi Since I have started my part-time job at a Japanese Udon chain, I am now exposed to a much more Japanese environment than ever before. So far I have worked at foreign owned companies in Japan or then at a very American style local employer. Even though I have worked for more than 11 years in Japan, these days I am learning a lot about different behavior and rules. Of course one can argue that now because I work in the food industry, which has very little in common with life science and chemical environment that I have been active so far, therefore my observations only seem to be new. I personally doubt, because my husband is doing the same observations.
For me the most impressive new rule is to recite the motto of the company every day in the morning including the guidelines of the company. This daily ritual forces everyone to remember what the goals of the employer are and the expectations for the employees. Due to privacy reasons I am not able to provide the lines that I say every morning, but I have been introduced to Gosei, which is used in some companies in the food industry. The origin of Gosei comes from the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy, but is presently used as well by the The Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF). The goal in the past was that every evening the cadets were expected to meditate over the questions below.

Hast thou not gone against sincerity
Hast thou not felt ashamed of thy words and deeds?
Hast thou not lacked vigor?
Hast thou exerted all possible efforts?
Hast thou not become slothful?

I can tell you for sure that my thoughts and intentions at work have changed and my customer focus has increased immensely. I thought I knew how to appreciate my customers, but I think I was pretty shallow compared to now. I am sincerely grateful to have the opportunity to experience my self selected apprenticeship and learn so much daily. My recommendation for you is just to try to recite these lines in the next few mornings. I am sure you will see a difference too.

Brought to you by a happy student,

Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

P.S. Let me point out even though I am a pacifist, Gosei showed my an option on how to give my best daily.

First day behind an udon counter

hanamaru udon apron logo Let me tell you, for sure I was excited and nervous this morning, because of my first day of my chosen apprenticeship. My goal is to get more hands on training for my favorite Japanese food: Udon. I am truly lucky that not only could I get a part-time job, but at the same time at my preferred store close to home. Actually I am now a new part-time worker at the major udon chain in Japan: Hanamaru-Udon. To make matters even better: I am trained by a true veteran, who has worked for years at 19 sites of Hanamaru-Udon.
Although my first day included only 3 hours of training it was much more challenging and tiring than I expected. Why? I did not expect that already on my first day I could stand in front of customers, but much more I expected to get my first training in the back. No, today I survived the first round of rush hour, when I am told that usually more than one hundred people are ordering their udon sets. To make matters even more intense, some of the customers have multiple orders. I wish I knew how many toppings, dashi or other additions I have supplemented to wonderful udon sold, but my brain went absolutely blank at the end. For sure today was a wonderful experience and I feel deeply indebted to my trainer for the patience and truly advanced skills in teaching. I cannot imagine how much I have learned today. For me it seems not a few hours have passed today, but days.
As a side note, I was happy to see the smiles of the local customers, who recognized me as a foreign newbie, plus I think I was easily forgiven for the slower than usual speed. On the good side, I could help several foreign customers, who did not speak Japanese. I never, ever had expected so many foreigners already coming to this udon shop. Hopefully with my presence we can increase the number of foreign udon fans.
Lets see what new challenges tomorrow will bring.

An immensely tired, but happy
Sibylle Ito


Shinjuku After thinking long and hard, my hubby and I have decided that by end of January 2015 we will be leaving Japan and creating our new home in South America: Montevideo Uruguay. For sure we don’t want to lose the connection with Japan and its culture, which we both deeply about. Our new dream for the next part of our life: We will bring Japanese cuisine to Uruguay and setting up our own business. We will first on catering and then establishing our own shop.
Until then most likely we will be rather busy with final preparation, but please let us know if you think you have any good advice, connections in Japan, Switzerland or Uruguay that will help us with our endeavor. We will keep you posted about the process and when our website is up and running.
While my hubby had been already busy for months polishing his skills in Japanese cuisine, I had left my employer on September 25th. As our final tour of Japan in the meantime we have made a trip starting and ending in Nagoya covering all our favorite sites like Ise Jingu, Nachi, Koyasan, Asuka, Nara.
From tomorrow on I will be starting my self chosen apprenticeship with one major udon chain in Japan.

I fully understand that this might be a surprise, but let me tell you it is a long thought through process that had started in 2011.

Wish me luck on my first part time job in my life starting tomorrow,

Sibylle Ito

How much do you know about udon?

DSC07069 One of my most favorite food in Japan is udon, no matter in which form (Sanuki udon, houto, kishimen, Goto udon, Yoshida udon…), cold, warm or hot, traditional or fusion style, I simply believe udon is the best soul food available in Japan. Did you know that most likely the oldest version of udon comes from the island Go near Nagasaki? Consequently it is called Goto udon. Can you imagine that the technique to make udon was imported from China most likely in the 8th century? At first udon was only food for the Japanese upper class, because it depended on having access to fine flour, which was made then with mortars. Only the upper class or monks – who drank as well macha – had a need for mortars. These essential mortars for flour making did not become easy available until many centuries later with the spread of wheat farming. If you are curious and love udon as much as I do, I highly recommend you to have a look at the video below. It is in English and shows a good overview why so many Japanese fell in love with udon.

Don’t you have to rush off to get your own bowl of udon now?

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

What are the popular health foods for 2014 in Japan?

Big Site Last week the Health Food exhibition was held again at Big Site exhibition spot in Tokyo. Once a year the major health food providers promote their new health food products. It is the place to gain insights for the expected upcoming trends in the Japanese health food market. Based on my impression unlike earlier years I saw this year a big shift away from the usually promoted vitamins, minerals or then the green vegetables juice powder to much more herbal only remedies. Furthermore unlike last year the yoghurt boom seemed to be over on the development front. This does not mean that you will not see new yoghurt types on the shelf this year, but I guess the consumer response was not as positive as expected and not much further R&D investment occurred. I wonder what this shift to more herbal only products means for the general public. Is the demand for drinks like vitamin water or ionic drinks already fading? Most likely consumers are expected to shift slowly but surely to products from Africa like rooibos tea as a healthy choice or then acai from South America with lots of polyphenols are just examples of products that gain more foothold in Japan recently.
This year during the expo the focus was on products and manufacturing sites in Kyushu and Okinawa. At first Ukon (turmeric) from Okinawa seems the most obvious and got quite some attention, but I have to say a wide variety of herbs from the region was promoted. Kyushu is actually an area with a lot of health food related business. Just have a look at the overview of the manufacturing and research sites in English from the METI site for all the biotech related companies. The amount of different breweries and health food companies is definitely impressive!
Along the same lines when Japanese business is fighting to keep their turnover, the health food industry in Japan was growing 0.6% for 2012 to a total volume of JPY million 2,088,000. Below shows an overview of the top 10 companies in Japan, when Tasly Japan impressed me most from moving within one year from spot 20 to 10. (After the company name their respective sales turnover in million Japanese Yen is listed, plus their growth in percent experienced over one year.)

1. Kyusai, JPY mio 28,985 (6.3%)
2. Eigao, JPY mio 26,233 (2.9%)
3. Media Prais, JPY mio 25,275 (-4.3%)
4. Yasuya, JPY mio 18,327 (n.a.)
5. Everlive, JPY mio 14,094 (n.a.)
6. Asahi, JPY mio 12,637 (-8.8%)
7. Kenkoukazoku, JPY mio 12,615 (-4.5%)
8. HRK, JPY mio 8,098 (43%)
9. Ing, JPY mio 5,499 (-3.7%)
10. Tasly Japan, JPY mio 2,768 (69%)

What is your favorite Japanese health food? I must confess it took me a couple of years until I got used to the taste of “Aojiru” (a vegetable power mixed either with cold or warm water), which I prefer to mix into soymilk, because then it truly tastes marvelous.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

March 11, 2011: Three years later

DSC07032 Although 3 years have passed, I still can easily recall how dramatic I had experienced the earthquake at Narita airport, the challenge to check on family and friends, plus then the man-made disaster in Fukushima. (Those interested can read about my experience on that day on this post). Although I was far away from the real tragedy, that day three years ago taught me a lot. Since then I believe I have completely changed my priorities in life. Most important: Learn to appreciate that I am alive, healthy and I make sure to spend my time worthwhile on this planet so that I can always look back on a fulfilled life.
Japan is a wonderful country and has taught me a lot, especially on March 11, 2011. I came across a marvelous video showing the beauty of Japan. Please enjoy.

I promise for the rest of my life, I will remember to keep my priorities simple: Creating a life worthwhile to be lived.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)