Japan’s Sushi Schools Cater To Global Demand For More Chefs

Japan’s sushi schools cater to global demand for more chefsThe worldwide sushi boom has led to a growing trend for aspiring sushi chefs from Japan and overseas to enroll in culinary schools instead of serving apprenticeships.

The traditional route to becoming a sushi chef is to train as an apprentice under a master. However, sushi chef schools are growing in popularity with their short training courses for people who want to become sushi chefs overseas, or to take a new career path within the restaurant industry.

Sachiko Goto, principal of the Shinjuku flagship branch of Tokyo Sushi Academy (TSA), expects that the institution’s new Osaka school, opening in May, will nurture students who will go on to work abroad as sushi chefs.

“The current reality is a shortage of chefs due to the sushi boom,” she said. “We want to send out fresh fish as well as sushi chefs from Kansai International Airport (in Osaka Prefecture) to Asia with knowledge of the culture behind sushi.”

A briefing session on TSA’s new Osaka branch took place in a building near Osaka Municipal Central Wholesale Market here on March 5.

Fourteen people aged from their 20s to 50s attended the session where they asked a range of questions such as, “Which foreign country should I aim for to find employment?” About half of the attendees said they hoped to work overseas.

TSA opened in Tokyo in 2002. Around 3,000 people have graduated from the school, from middle-aged men who quit company jobs to set up their own businesses, to housewives, former Italian chefs and bartenders. Of those, around half found jobs at sushi and Japanese restaurants in 50 or so countries in the United States, Europe and Asia, a TSA official said.

The Osaka branch is the TSA’s fourth school, following openings in Tsukiji, Singapore and the Shinjuku flagship branch.

A subsidiary of a wholesale company based in Osaka Municipal Central Wholesale Market will lead the management of the school, and veteran sushi chefs will provide training for students. The two-month course has a quota of 10 students.

For five days a week, students are expected to learn the basics of preparing fish, such as how to clean it, and studying Japanese food culture. The other class under consideration for the course includes teaching students how to make “oshizushi” (pressed sushi), which is believed to have originated in Osaka Prefecture.

A woman in her 20s who participated in the March 5 session said her dream is to open her own restaurant and become a chef who can explain sushi culture to foreigners.

“Although I am working as an apprentice at a sushi restaurant, the only thing I can do to become a full-fledged chef is to steal techniques from the masters,” she said.

“I want to ask teachers at the school whatever questions that come to mind.”

The classroom for the “sushi meister” course of Inshokujin College’s is also located near Osaka Municipal Central Wholesale Market. The three-month intensive program was set up in 2014. The school year is divided into four terms and the quota of 50 or so students are each almost filled to capacity.

The college’s Tokyo branch was set up in 2015, and a Nagoya branch is set to open in April. The school is also expected to open in South Korea in the near future. The sushi meister course puts much weight in “practical lessons,” such as watching auctions at the market and preparing fish bought there in large quantities.

Tokyo College of Sushi & Washoku, which will open in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward in April, is the first licensed vocational school specializing in sushi and Japanese cuisine in Japan. The school is chiefly operated by an incorporated educational institution, which fosters shoemakers and other artisans.

The school accepts foreigners on student visas, and one-third of the 50-student quota is filled by foreign students mainly from Asia, an official with Tokyo College of Sushi & Washoku said. The students will obtain a cooking license, a national qualification, when they graduate from the school.

“We want to make use of the artisanal know-how developed through craftwork for the nurturing of sushi chefs,” said the official.

“The sushi boom will spread further ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, so we want to play a part in providing human resources for it.”