While researching a story on the scarcity of female sushi chefs in Japan and the US, I came across a startling, buried and forgotten quote from the heir apparent to one of the best-known and most prestigious sushi restaurants in the world.
In a 2011 interview with The Wall Street Journal’s Scene Asia blog, Yoshikazu Ono, son of Jiro Ono, the star of 2011’s “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” documentary, Yoshikazu was asked why there are no female chefs or apprentices at his father’s $US300 per person sushi restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro. His response:
“The reason is because women menstruate. To be a professional means to have a steady taste in your food, but because of the menstrual cycle, women have an imbalance in their taste, and that’s why women can’t be sushi chefs.”
Aside from the blatant and archaic sexism of the comment, the other surprising thing is that there’s no trace of the quote being picked up by any other news outlet, likely because the interview was published in February 2011 and “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” which grossed $US2.5 million in US theatres and is now streaming on Netflix, didn’t play to US audiences until March 2012.
As Ono’s oldest son and the sous chef of Sukiyabashi Jiro, Yoshikazu plays a large role in the daily operations of the restaurant, which holds three Michelin stars. “In Japan, the eldest son succeeds the father’s position,” Yoshikazu told cameramen while shooting the documentary.
Early in the film, Yoshikazu talks about what makes a great sushi chef, concluding,”There are some who are born with a natural gift. Some have a sensitive palate and sense of smell.”
By “some” it seems that he really meant, “some men.”
Unfortunately his belief that a woman’s palate is inferior to a man’s is not uncommon in Japan, where other prevailing myths warn that women’s hands are too small and warm to handle sushi, and that their makeup and perfume will ruin the taste of the fish.
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