An Interview with Counselor Hisashi Ishida
(the Deputy Director-General for Policy Evaluation from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan)
Q: Why did you choose San Francisco for this event?
A: Although San Francisco is not as large as Los Angeles or New York, San Francisco is the most progressive town in the US in terms of its ability to be open to new cultures, and also to create and transmit new contents to the rest of the world. Recently, there are many conventions and events held in this city introducing foreign contents, and they are successful promotional opportunities. We chose the Embarcadero Center as a venue since this is one of the busiest spots in San Francisco with local and international visitors. San Francisco is also located only one hour away from Napa, the world-renown wine country and gourmet city. So, all of these factors lead us to choose the Bay Area as the best place to have our bento event.
Q: Why did you choose “bento” and “sake?”
A: I heard that bento is now available at Japanese groceries, restaurants and food trucks, and it’s becoming more and more popular in the Bay Area. For health conscious San Franciscans, we thought, the healthy bento would be the perfect theme. As for sake, we were eager to introduce it to San Francisco, a gourmet town and neighbor to Napa. Japanese sake is getting more attention
around the world these days. For example, in London, there is an annual sake competition called “London Sake Challenge” and it has succeeded in promoting Japanese fine sake in pairing with non-oriental foods. “Sake” has already been established as a new liquor genre in the world. With bento and sake, our two hot topics, we would like the Bay Area folks to further take interest in Japanese food culture.
Q: What do you want people to learn through this event?
A: For Japanese people, the bento is part of everyday life. When I was a kid, like everyone else, the bento was always with me when I went to school. Mothers make it everyday thinking of well-balanced nutrition, coming up with recipes to have their kids eat what they don’t like, make chara-ben (special decorated bento with popular cartoon characters), and more! The bento represents affection and care of mom. In a way, the bento represents Japanese food culture itself – in a box. I want people to also know that nostalgic value of bento.
Q: In 2020, the Olympics will be held in Tokyo, and recently, Japanese food washoku was designated by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage. While Japan and Japanese food get attention from the rest of the world, “sushi and tempura” still seems to be the most famous Japanese food overseas. What do you think about this?
A: Our research says there are about 55,000 Japanese restaurants around the world. Yesterday, I had a chance to walk around the city and found many sushi restaurants. At the Japanese restaurant I went to yesterday, I saw tori-ten (Japanese fried chicken), gyoza (pot stickers) and ramen in their menu, and those are pretty popular, the owner said. The starting point would be sushi or tempura, and those who enjoyed sushi will be interested in other Japanese foods. That’s what I hope. Eventually, I want them to visit Japan to taste more Japanese food.
Q: Do you have any food related projects/events planned ahead after this?
A: Through this event, we had the opportunity to work with local Japanese restaurants and learned about the food business and trends in San Francisco. Also, we asked the customers to answer a questionnaire about bento and Japanese foods and collected their opinions. Based on these facts, we would think of another food event that will make Japanese food more popular in the world.
Q: Any messages to the people in Bay Area?
A: I appreciate those who have been engaged in the Japanese food scene in San Francisco to establish Japanese food culture to this extent. By introducing further Japanese food culture from Japan onto the base that already exists, we can bring in more Japanese foods to the Bay Area, I believe. Since San Franciscans are very conscience of the health and food topic, I felt that they could use more Japanese food!
I would like people to know and remember the completeness of Japanese foods, which is convenient, beautiful, and nutritious.
Also, Japan has more variety of food in different categories, like care food, a new important food genre in Japan where the population of elders progresses. Thus, I want people to get to know all different genres of Japanese food as well.
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