Yumi’s kitchen is always open.
The bubbly and energetic mother-of-two hosts cooking classes for visitors in the rustic neighborhood of Asakusa in central Tokyo — an area characterized by the towering Tokyo Skytree, the ancient Sensoji shrine, traditional rickshaw rides, and old-fashioned restaurants lining the twisting back streets.
“I love Asakusa, and I’m planning to live here until I’m an old lady. I love cooking, but more than that, I think life is all about the people you meet and the connections you make. My ultimate goal is to create a safe place that my guests feel that they can return to at any time.”
When Yumi was a college student, she loved to travel. Backpacking through Asia awakened her deep passion for cross-cultural communication and connection. Back before anyone had a digital device for translating, map directions, or travel information, Yumi relied on the helpfulness and kindness of strangers to make her way around the countries she visited.
“I used to drop into local bars and restaurants and just talk with the owners, and after coming back to my favorite places repeatedly, I felt like I really got to know some of the people there.”
That feeling of friendship and familiarity has become the driving force behind her Japanese cooking classes today.
“When I went back and visited Taipei three years ago, I was shocked to see how much the city had changed. A lot of the places I wanted to go simply didn’t exist anymore.”
Although she was disheartened, Yumi was both determined and inspired to be that welcoming presence that she once sought after in her own travels, for future travelers to Japan.
“I’ll be in Asakusa as long as I live,” she promises.
Wanting to introduce recipes that guests can easily recreate in their home countries, Yumi’s kitchen classes cook everything from rice balls and miso soup, to izakaya (pub food) such as yakisoba (a stir-fry noodle dish) and karaage (Japanese-style fried chicken), and all-time favorites such as okonomiyaki (a Japanese savory pancake), and takoyaki (deep fried octopus).
“Some of my guests will ask me where they can buy a takoyaki hot-plate, and I’ll direct them to the popular Japanese variety shop, Don Quijote,” she laughs.
“Then, a few weeks later, I’ll often hear about how they’ve gone and held a takoyaki cooking party in their own home!”
Yumi places an emphasis on teaching home-cooked meals, and not the typical Japanese dishes that you can find in Japanese restaurants.
“You won’t find onigiri on many Japanese restaurant menus, for example, even though it is a snack so common that you can find it at any convenience store. When you know how to make it properly, it is a very simple, yet versatile item!”
At the moment, Yumi teaches her classes with one assistant who can help translate and speak English, but also has occasional help from her own teenaged daughter.
“Guests really love when my daughter shows them photos of her bento boxed lunches.”
Part of what makes Yumi’s classes so popular with her guests, is her understanding of the curiosity that travelers bring with them when they enter the kitchen. For many, this is their first real encounter with Japanese people, and Japanese culture.
“I think that, aside from the cooking class itself, a lot of people are very happy to converse with a local and learn about the type of life we have here.”
With guests visiting from all around the world, Yumi tries to learn from her guests, almost as much as she tries to teach them.
“I have travelled and I have seen many places, but I learn new things about certain countries and cultures every time I talk to my guests. I love when they show me pictures of where they’re from, what they wear, and what they do in their daily lives…”
It has been a year since she has started doing her cooking classes, and she beams proudly as she tells us that every day is just as fun and rewarding as it was in the beginning.
“So many of my guests bring 100% of their energy to the table, so I always try to meet them with 100% of my energy in return.”
She says as many guests have been repeat visitors, sometimes dropping in at the end of their trip to say goodbye before heading to the airport.
“Actually, I have a returning visitor from Canada who is coming back to Japan to work next week, and they asked if they could stop by. They like to call me their Japanese Mama,” she laughs and then pauses and thinks for a moment.
“I’d like everyone to think of me as their Japanese Mama.”
Yumi’s cooking class in the old-fashioned neighborhood of Asakusa will teach you some of Japan’s most traditional “home-made” comfort food; onigiri (rice balls), miso soup, and Japanesestyle thick omelette. 4,500 yen covers the cooking ingredients, and unlimited green tea to drink during your class. Sake and beer are also available at an extra cost. Have any other questions about life in Japan? Yumi is happy to give you advice as well. Come for the food, leave with memorable experiences and connections to last a lifetime.