Forschungswerkstatt „Japanische Küche in Berlin“


Herzlich Willkommen im Blog der Forschungswerkstatt „Japanische Küche in Berlin“!
Der Trailer stellt das Konzept des Projekts vor, das im Sommersemester 2016 erstmals an der Japanologie der FU-Berlin durchgeführt wurde.

Participant observation at a Japanese restaurant

by Cornelia Reiher

While group visits to restaurants were difficult last summer due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this year we were able to do our annual field trip to a Japanese restaurant again to practice participant observation. After an introduction to participant observation in the classroom, we traveled from campus to one of the many Japanese restaurants in Berlin to have lunch together. I asked students to observe interactions between staff and customers, work processes and division of labor in the restaurant and the interaction of the employees with each other, how Japaneseness is staged in the restaurant and what hygiene measures against Corona are still in place and how they are implemented by employees and guests.

When we entered the restaurant, we saw hand sanitizers and a perspex partition wall at the counter and waitresses wearing masks. However, since wearing masks is not mandatory in restaurants anymore, most of the guests did not wear masks when they entered the restaurant. In addition, self-services like hot water refills and soy sauce on restaurant tables were finally back. During the pandemic, the restaurant started a bustling take-out business and when we visited the restaurant, many people came in to pick up food. In addition, the restaurant recently began working with one of the many food delivery services in town, so delivery service employees would come in and out of the restaurant to pick up deliveries.

After a delicious lunch, students began to observe, wander around the restaurant and take notes and photographs. They also documented observations relevant to their individual research projects. The food labeling group took pictures of the menu and paid attention to the labeling of vegan and vegetarian dishes. The group working on Japanese sweets in Berlin ordered mochi and discovered a separate mochi menu. And the group working on Japanese alcohol and izakaya in Berlin checked the menu for alcoholic beverages offered at the restaurant.

The field trip was a great experience because students did not only practice observing and taking field notes but also had the chance to socialize with each other. Many courses at FUB had just moved back to onsite teaching this semester and some of the students did not have the chance to get to know their peers on campus and to meet outside of the university. I hope that this course will not only help students master qualitative research methods and put them into practice, but also create social and enjoyable experiences for them.

Interview with Seikei University Students

by Galina Khoikhina and Ivan Kaira

The special thing about the course „Methods and Research Techniques in Japanese Studies“ is that not only do we learn the theoretical basis of what types of research there are, but we also have the opportunity to try out the freshly gained knowledge in practice. One of the assignments we had recently was conducting an online interview with students from Seikei University. The theme was „Food Habits of Japanese People“.

During the week that we were preparing for the interview, we were constantly discussing the upcoming study with our groupmates. Even those who already had previous interview experience were a little bit nervous, but we were nevertheless excited about it. To prepare for the interview we have read a lot and learned what types of interviews exist. However, applying all of this knowledge immediately into practice was not so simple. Unexpected answers led to unexpected changes in the questions and of course, we had to improvise a bit. We would like to express our gratitude to the students from Seikei University: they were very patient, and friendly and explained all of their answers in great detail.

What’s interesting is that when we later exchanged impressions about our experiences within our study group we identified several similar experiences. First, even though we all prepared the questions separately, we asked pretty similar questions. For example, questions dealt with the Covid-19 pandemic, modern food trends among Japanese students or intergenerational tendencies. In addition, many students noted that some interesting topics were suggested by the interviewees themselves. And last but not least, we were all surprised that in terms of the Japanese language, everything seemed to go surprisingly smoothly (at least it seemed that way to us).

Among the other lessons, we have learned from our online interviews was the necessity to print out the prepared questions despite the temptation to have them solely on the screen. This may also help taking notes and to change questions on the spot. As for the note-taking itself, we have discovered that it did require some practice and, due to the absence of such for most of our group, it was quite challenging to simultaneously concentrate on both writing and actively listening to the interviewees. It was also tremendously helpful to learn that we always have to use several backup plans in case our communication or recording devices wouldn’t work or simply due to our internet connection being unstable. Fortunately – thanks to Professor Reiher – we talked about this prior to conducting our interviews, which prevents inconvenient situations.

On that note, we would like to thank first and foremost Professor Reiher from Freie Universität Berlin for bestowing us with such an opportunity and Professor Kawamura from Seikei University for connecting us with the students as well as the students themselves for helping us to gain experience in conducting the interviews in a very friendly atmosphere. We also cherished their reviews of our interviews: they motivated us to keep exploring interviews as a method full of opportunities. All in all, considering the growing popularity of online interviews, it was an extremely valuable experience that will surely be useful to us in the future.

This year’s course participants
Copyright © Cornelia Reiher 2022

Transforming a travel agency into a Japanese food store: Interview about H.I.S. Japan Premium Food & Travel

by Cornelia Reiher

On June 3, we conducted our first onsite interview. We invited Rainer Stobbe from H.I.S. Japan Premium Food & Travel to talk with him about his job and how the H.I.S. Berlin office changed from a travel agency to a shop selling Japanese food during the Covid-19 pandemic. Students had prepared questions in class the week before Rainer came to visit us on FU campus. They took turns asking questions and learned a great deal about handling time constraints, recording and taking notes during an interview. Everybody was particularly delighted because Rainer brought some senbei from the shop.

Interview questions covered the shop and its history, customers and products, collaborations with other Japanese food retailers, restaurants and producers, the experience during the Covid-19 pandemic and future plans with regard to food. We learned that the Berlin office is one of three H.I.S. offices in Germany that sell food now. Rainer was hired to build the Berlin branch of H.I.S. It opened in 2019, but when the pandemic hit and travel to Japan was (and still is mainly) restricted, the stores began to sell Japanese food. In Berlin, H.I.S. sells sweets, tea, sake, soy sauce, rice and seasonings. At times H.I.S. also sold Bento boxes produced by a Japanese restaurant from the area and they regularly offer handmade mochi a former restaurateur creates exclusively for the store. Because the shop offers many products other Asian food stores and supermarkets do not sell, many Japanese customers frequent the shop regularly.

The interview provided unique insights into the workings of food retail and labeling and was a great experience in terms of interview practice. It also provided important information students will use for their own research projects about Japanese food in Berlin. This interview was conducted in German, but the interviews to come will be conducted in Japanese. After meeting Rainer, students were inspired to visit H.I.S. Japan Premium Food & Travel and buy some of their favorite sweets and seasonings from Japan we all have missed so much during the travel ban. As long as the future of individual travel to Japan is uncertain, the shop provides a great alternative to those who do not want to do without delicacies from Japan. Thank you, Rainer for coming the long way to Dahlem and for sharing your experiences with us!

Interviews with Students from Seikei University: Impressions from Japan

by Kanna Takaoka

Thank you for making this online interview session possible. I was very happy to take part in the project. My interviewer was Leonie; she speaks Japanese so well that I did not have any trouble with communication. And she talks with such a pretty smile! In our online meeting, we first introduced ourselves for a few minutes, talking about our major, hobbies and so on. This initial conversation helped me to relax.

Then we started the interview session. We talked about Japanese food and diet. Leonie asked me some questions: what I eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, how often I cook or eat outside, how much I spend on food and so on. Two things in the interview left a strong impression on me. First is Leonie’s admiration of Japanese convenient stores. She said that there are no such stores in Germany. I cannot imagine the world without convenient stores; I live alone and must prepare my meals by myself, but I do not always have enough time for cooking. Second, her question: what do you think about Japanese food in foreign countries? I mentioned California rolls and pointed out that they are quite different from Japanese sushi. Leonie, however, told me that the most popular sushi in Germany is California-type sushi.

At the end of the session, I asked Leonie what kind of German food she would recommend to me. She recommended pretzels, Kinder Bueno chocolate, and HARIBO. She also told me that Germans often drink black coffee. Again, I had such a great time talking with Leonie. I hope that my comments would be useful for her research. I am looking forward to the next chance to exchange our cultures. Thank you very much!

Students from Seikei University who participated in our online interview exercise
Copyright © Yoko Kawamura 2022

New Publication on vegan and vegetarian variations of Japanese food in Berlin

Another publication related to the “Berlin’s Japanese Foodscapes” project just came out in the journal Food, Culture and Society. Please check it out online:

Cornelia Reiher (2022): Negotiating authenticity: Berlin’s Japanese food producers and the vegan/vegetarian consumer, Food, Culture & Society (online first)


This paper introduces “feelings of authenticity” as an analytical category in the scholarship on culinary globalization and ethnic food producers to understand changes in cosmopolitan foodscapes by transcending economic conceptualizations of authenticity. It discusses how Japanese food entrepreneurs, chefs and food workers making and selling Japanese food in Berlin feel about and negotiate consumer demands for vegan and vegetarian variations of Japanese cuisine. Why are some Japanese food producers in Berlin more flexible in adjusting their menus to customer demands than others? This paper argues that different responses are related to food producers’ feelings of authenticity informed by different personal standards of what authentic Japanese food is and should be. These standards emerge from their personal biographies, professional backgrounds and values. Based on six years of fieldwork, this paper introduces three groups of Japanese food producers who perceive authentic Japanese food differently and shows how ethnic food producers’ perceptions and feelings of authenticity affect negotiations between food producers and consumers.

Method Course „Berlin’s Japanese Foodscapes“ 2022: Welcome to the Seventh Season

by Cornelia Reiher

The summer term just started in Berlin and the method course on Berlin’s Japanese foodscapes is back. This year we are meeting in person for the first time after two years of online teaching and online interviewing. Ten MA students will design and carry out their own research projects about Japanese food in Berlin experimenting with different methods and filming the research process. Students already formed three groups. One group will focus on Japanese sweets in Berlin. Another group investigates Japanese liquor and izakaya. The third group will study food labels. This includes the question of how Japanese food and drink are labeled in terms of “organic”, “vegan” or “halal”. As usual, we start our course with joint interview practice by inviting guests and a field trip to a Japanese restaurant before students do fieldwork for their own projects.

We also continue the cooperation with Seikei University we started last year. Yoko Kawamura’s students will meet online with our students for their very first interview experience. FU students will ask students from Japan about their eating habits, experiences with foreign food in Japan and with Japanese food abroad. For the first time, we will collaborate with the University of Vienna this season. Hanno Jentzsch is also teaching a method course in Vienna and his students – inspired by our project – investigate Japanese food in Vienna. Students will meet online and discuss their projects, give feedback to each other and exchange experiences with fieldwork in the Japanese foodscapes of both cities. This enables interesting comparisons, I believe, and I am very much looking forward to this new perspective.

NEW PUBLICATION: Berlin’s Japanese foodscapes during the COVID-19 crisis: Restaurateurs’ experiences and practices during the spring 2020 shutdown

Prof. Dr. Cornelia Reiher published a new paper in Berliner Blätter 86/2022 on the experience of Japanese restaurateurs in Berlin during the shutdown from March to May 2020 following the outbreak of COVID-19 in Berlin. It asks whether and how they continued selling food during the shutdown, compares their experiences and points out similarities and differences that are based on the type of eateries, the restaurateurs’ personal migration histories and the degree of their local embeddedness in Berlin


Moving a Japanese Restaurant

by Cornelia Reiher

Running a restaurant is a complex endeavor. Moving a restaurant from one place to another is even more challenging. One of the Japanese restaurants we have worked with in the past years just reopened in another part of the city and I had the chance to talk to the owner, chef and staff before and during the opening day. The main reason to move the restaurant to another location was the small size of the old restaurant. At times, they had to send people away, because the place was too crowded. In addition, the neighborhood had changed. Many shops and restaurants closed down and regular customers moved away. The owner wanted to relocate to a more vibrant location with more tourists and affluent customers. The new neighborhood is indeed vibrant and the restaurant is now located between galleries and hip eateries.

Copyright © Cornelia Reiher 2022

The new place used to be an Italian restaurant that had to be refurbished and electricity had to be completely renewed. Most of the renovation work was done by the owner and his team. When we visited the place two months before the opening, the restaurant’s owner was gluing strips of wood to the wall. He told me that a Japanese friend took care of the interior design and that they had already ordered lamps, decoration objects and Japanese calligraphy for the walls. In addition, the restaurant’s chef brought back some decorative items from her trip to Japan. Both, the owner and chef, were particularly enthusiastic about their new tatami room where they envisioned sake tastings and tea events to take place in the future.

Copyright © Cornelia Reiher 2022

The restaurant’s chef told me that months before the reopening of the restaurant she was already busy with preparing a new menu, adjusting the kitchen to her and her staff’s needs and hiring people. Since the restaurant is much larger than the old place, they needed more staff. This proved to be quite challenging during the pandemic because she prefers to work with people who speak Japanese. Fortunately, they found two Japanese women who flew in from Japan and London, the latter entered Germany with a working holiday visa. With six people in the kitchen, the chef had to reorganize work routines and schedules and train the new employees. She also changed the menu. Putting new dishes on the menu also meant calculating costs for ingredients and setting new prizes. The chef remembered this as a rather stressful time.

Copyright © Cornelia Reiher 2022

The week before the opening, the chef was really nervous and then the electricity stopped working. However, it could be fixed before the opening day and despite difficulties like this, the restaurant opened as planned. The restaurants’ team had invited friends, business partners, regular customers and a photographer. When we arrived, the restaurant was decorated with balloons. Many friends and customers brought flowers and other presents. I was amazed at how much the place had changed since I last visited. Some Japanese friends helped out as waitresses and wore kimono or happi. The restaurant was crowded and guests appreciated the new menu very much. Takoyaki and matcha fondue were particularly popular. I hope that this great opening makes up for all the hard work the team put into renovating and preparing the restaurant for its reopening and that customers will frequent the place as much as the old restaurant.

Berlin’s changing Japanese foodscapes

by Cornelia Reiher

Over the past six years, the number of Japanese eateries in Berlin has not only increased, but they have also diversified in terms of menus, ownership, prices and customers. While only a few restaurants closed during the pandemic, some moved to other parts of the city where owners expect more affluent customers and turnover while others have changed their opening hours. According to some of our research participants, food entrepreneurs and chefs realized that they prefer to work less in order to improve their work-life balance and that this is also feasible from an economic perspective. Therefore, some Japanese-style eateries are only open on weekends now and many have reduced their menus for economic reasons. In addition, take-out services established during the pandemic are still in place and this service has changed eating practices from eating out to eating at home more often for many people.

Window displays of Japanese restaurants in Berlin
Copyright © Cornelia Reiher 2022

Japanese restaurants in Berlin are still mostly family-owned neighborhood restaurants run by Japanese entrepreneurs or part of restaurant chains owned by people with diverse nationalities ranging from German to Vietnamese. Most sell food they call Japanese for an average price. The menu often features home-style food (katei ryōri), noodle soups or sushi. There also exists a small group of high-end gourmet restaurants, but currently, the Michelin guide only features two Japanese restaurants in Berlin. Catering services operated by self-employed Japanese who also sell their food at markets, online or in pop-up stores is another field of activity for Japanese food entrepreneurs who contribute to the city’s culinary diversity.

Restaurant signs and decoration of Japanese restaurants in Berlin
Copyright © Cornelia Reiher 2022

Different ownerships of Japanese restaurants also brought about changes in the way restaurants welcome and seat their customers. Some food entrepreneurs who ran Japanese eateries in the US before coming to Berlin introduced counters and queues to Berlin, a practice that is rather uncommon in Germany. Instead of taking a free seat right away, customers have to approach the person behind the counter who tells them to wait for a certain time and then stand in line waiting. This style has become more common in the hip and popular districts of the city and makes these places look more desirable because of the long waiting lines.

Communication with customers: restaurant windows show awards for best eatery issued by several gourmet and city magazines in Berlin and some restaurants display political messages
Copyright © Cornelia Reiher 2022

All Japanese restaurateurs in Berlin we talked to emphasized that they wanted to serve delicious food to their customers. They have high standards with regard to the quality of the food they create. All embrace local and fresh ingredients, but adjust it to their needs as Japanese food entrepreneurs, workers and chefs abroad and acknowledge that Japanese food served in Berlin is always fusion to a certain extent. Thus, the substitution of ingredients is a common and creative experience and practice among Japanese food producers in Berlin.

While the number of Covid-19 infections is still high in Berlin, restaurants operate based on the 2G+ rule I have introduced in my previous post. However, unlike in the two lockdowns in 2020 and 2021, customers can enjoy Japanese food in restaurants and many do so. I am looking forward to follow-up on future changes and challenges for food entrepreneurs and workers in Berlin’s Japanese foodscapes together with my students in the upcoming summer term.

The Covid-19 pandemic continues: Berlin’s Japanese restaurants under the 2G+ rules

by Cornelia Reiher

The new year 2022 began with an unprecedented increase of Covid-19 infections in Germany. Berlin was especially hit hard. With the numbers of fully vaccinated people stagnating around 70% and with the numbers of those people who have received their third vaccination still below 50%, Berlin’s government introduced new rules for restaurants that came into effect on January 15. The new 2G+ rules allow entry to restaurants only to those guests who have been vaccinated three times or who have been at least vaccinated twice and have a negative test result from the same day. The former can enter restaurants without a negative test result.

Copyright © Cornelia Reiher 2022

When this blog turned into a Covid-19 blog in 2020, I could not imagine that I would still write about Covid-19 two years later. But fortunately, this time, restaurants stayed open after the second lockdown ended in June 2021. As a countermeasure against the spread of the new omicron variant, from November 2021, only vaccinated or recovered people were allowed to enter restaurants in Berlin under the 2G rule. The new 2G+ rules tighten restrictions and further exclude unvaccinated people from restaurant visits.

How do restaurants respond to this new situation? In order to find that out, equipped with my mask and my vaccination certificate on my cell phone, I visited some Japanese restaurants in Charlottenburg. The first thing that caught my attention were similar 2G+ signs issued by Dehoga, the German Hotel and Restaurant Business Association, that were pinned to each restaurant’s door.

Copyright © Cornelia Reiher 2022

According to one restaurant owner, compliance with the new rules was strictly checked after their introduction by members of Berlin’s office of public order. Restaurants’ service staff had to send away several customers who could not provide the necessary certificates and some said that business was rather slow compared to before the new rules came into place. Seating takes more time now, because everybody’s vaccination certificate has to be checked before seating or serving food and service staff have to carefully check whether a customer has been vaccinated two or three times and ask for a negative test result in addition if necessary. In some cases, people cued in front of restaurants waiting for the check of their vaccination certificates. In addition to indoor dining, most restaurants continue to offer takeout and/or delivery services.

Copyright © Cornelia Reiher 2022

On the bright side, none of the restaurants we have worked with during the past years closed down despite all the hardship they had to endure during the pandemic, including two restaurant shutdowns. Although many restaurateurs stated in Summer 2020 that their restaurants would not survive a second shutdown, luckily, they did survive. Nevertheless, I really hope that the Covid-19 pandemic ends soon. Until that day I have to continue my research with a mask to enjoy the culinary treats Berlin’s Japanese restaurants have to offer to those waiting for a reopening of Japan’s borders.