Student exchange and beyond

by Galina Khoikhina and Deniz Meral Ardic

The integration of online technology into the learning environment is an amazing opportunity for the exchange of information and to develop new and exciting ideas. As a part of our course “Research methods in Japan studies” we recently had the opportunity to meet with students from the University of Vienna via Zoom to discuss our projects.

During this informal meeting between students, everyone’s passion and creativity soon made us forget that we were in a digital meeting. This is why we often fell into a more natural rhythm of speaking without actively using features such as “raising hands” or other online tools. Therefore, we all were more dependent on verbal cues, which supported a positive atmosphere. Each of the four groups presented their project on Japanese food in Vienna and in Berlin. Detailed explanations and presentations enabled insights into how the students in Vienna are working on their interesting research topics. These include the marketing of Japanese products in Austria as well as the local representation of washoku in Vienna’s Japanese Foodscape. Other projects deal with anime and Japanese food and female management in Vienna and hierarchical structures in Japanese restaurants in Vienna. We, in turn, presented a project about Japanese sweets in Berlin and the effects Cool Japan might have had on their consumption.

After each presentation, we asked each other questions about the respective project. Some questions were concerned with research methods, sometimes we gave feedback or just talked about general ideas related to the projects. This was incredibly useful and introduced new angles from where to look at our research. Through this exchange, we were able to overcome our rather single-minded approach and perspectives that might have restricted our creative output and research. We also made great progress with our project because we had to summarize and visualize our general ideas as effectively as possible in order to present them during the meeting. When we prepared for the meeting we realized that some aspects of our project were too abstract and unclear for an audience unfamiliar with our topic, so we changed our research project quite a bit. Questions from the students from Vienna also made us think about certain aspects, especially practical issues and feasibility. Due to the valuable comments, all participants started to rethink certain aspects of their projects and look for ways to overcome the limitations and difficulties we identified during the discussion.

In summary, the feedback we received motivated us to move forward with our project. We were also very impressed by the Vienna students’ presentations and their unique topics and learned many new things. We would like to thank the students from the University of Vienna for their cooperation and the incredibly positive experience. We are looking forward to seeing the results of their work soon and to more collaborations!

Studying authentic vegan ramen in Berlin and Vienna

by Felix Fischer, Ivan Kaira and Fabian Reuter

Are you vegan and do you love Japanese ramen? Then you might wonder how you can get information about supreme ramen shops with regional ingredients in Berlin or Vienna. Japanese Studies students from Berlin and Vienna can help you out. On Thursday, June 23, 2022, four students from Vienna University and three students from Freie Universität Berlin met online for a student conference on regional and vegan Japanese food in Berlin and Vienna. And here are the results.

Maja Schachner and Vivien Überfellner presented their research on “authenticity and regionality in Viennese Ramen bars” (“Authentizität und Regionalität in Wiener Ramen-Bars“). They looked at interior design, staff, service, and menu in order to decipher ways to create authenticity in ramen bars.  They also considered management and customer expectations using participant observation, expert interviews, and secondary literature. They discovered certain strategies to introduce vegan options as “inauthentic” while importing products from Japan was read as authentic.

Referring to kaiseki, a Japanese cuisine often featured in Japanese restaurants, David Wurz talked about the „significance of regionality for Japanese food in Vienna” (“Bedeutung von Regionalität für japanisches Essen in Wien“ ). Since regionality and seasonality play an important role in this type of Japanese cuisine, he was interested in how restaurants in Vienna met these standards. Using qualitative interviews with chefs and staff from restaurants, David was able to discover the frequent use of mushrooms and asparagus as seasonal products in Vienna’s Japanese restaurants.

Another take on customer experience took the group “Vegan ramen options in Vienna” („Vegane Ramenangebote in Wien“). Bridging the gap between authentic Japanese cuisine and demands for vegan alternatives is important for restaurateurs. Patrizia Stromberger found some insightful answers to this problem in the Viennese gastro scene. She used interviews with a mix of Austrian, Japanese and Chinese restaurant owners in order to analyze the influence of cultural background on adopting authentic or vegan options. Patrizia found out that one restaurant owner referred to taste as the relevant marker of authenticity. However inclusive this might seem, only Japanese customers’ taste seems to be relevant to authentic taste, thereby impeding the adaption of Japanese food to vegan customers.

We presented a Berlin perspective on how food labeling plays a role in promoting Japanese food in Asia food markets and Japanese restaurants in Berlin. Especially important for our project are the ways labels are presented on Japanese food products from Japan, products of Japanese food from outside Japan and Japanese food products produced in Germany. Furthermore, we want to find out about labeling practices in Japanese restaurants via doing semi-structured interviews with managers and analyzing menus.

In summary, all four groups found different ways of employing social scientific methods in order to find out more about regional, vegan or seasonal food presentation in Japanese-coded shops and restaurants in Vienna and Berlin. So, stay tuned for the results of our projects which are due in September.

Project Exchange: Students from the University of Vienna and FU Berlin discuss Japanese Foodscapes in Austria and Germany

by Ioanna Moka, Olha Tkachuk, Leonie Uhl and Richard Weber

On June 21st and 23rd respectively, we had the chance to present our research project to a group of students currently studying at the University of Vienna. They in turn also talked about their own projects. We are conducting a research project on Berlin’s izakaya culture (“Verweilen und Trinken auf Japanisch”, English: “Staying and Drinking the Japanese Way”) which involves fieldwork including semi-structured interviews and participant observation. During our meeting, we learned that the students from the University of Vienna were using similar research methods. Therefore, we were able to engage in a lively Zoom discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of certain methods.

It was exciting to learn how each project (“Excuse Me, Where Can I Find the Umami Spice?”, “Ramen in Vienna” and “The Response of Japanese Restaurants in Vienna to the COVID-19 crisis”) was conceptualized and where each student’s motivation stemmed from. In the first group meeting, one student told us about her group’s experience with on-the-spot, spontaneous interviews. While they picked people to interview randomly in the beginning, it became clear early on that without the interviewee having prior knowledge about the topic, interviewing them would require an extensive explanation from the students, which would not benefit the project.

In the second meeting, there were two female students researching restaurants’ strategies during the Covid-19 lockdown in Vienna. Their primary methodical approach was to inquire about the experiences of restaurant managers and ideally conduct interviews with them. Moreover, the students planned to talk with the employees and customers about their perspectives on how the owners or managers coped with this extraordinary situation. After sending many e-mails and visiting restaurants in person, their interview requests were not answered and/or denied indirectly with the excuse that the manager or owner was not present and they should come back the next day. The following day, the students went to the restaurant and once again, the manager was not there. As a possible solution, they decided to analyze the Covid situation in Vienna in general. However, an additional obstacle was the language barrier. Every digital message was written in German only, thus, writing e-mails in different languages (German, English, Japanese) could be a solution to avoid future misunderstandings.

Overall, the discussion pointed out each project’s strengths and weaknesses, but also helped to connect with students who study a similar topic across a distance. We felt as though we had known each other for a while, even though we met for the first time. This exchange has not only connected us as students but also showed that we were all experiencing the same difficulties, which was extremely reassuring. This shared understanding made this exchange much more valuable, and we are hoping for the chance to repeat exchanges like these in the future.

Our Blog is on the Website of Seikei University!

In May, our students interviewed students from Seikei University about their food habits. This was not only a valuable exercise in conducting interviews but also a valuable intercultural experience and an opportunity to connect with students from Japan.

We would like to thank Professor Kawamura and her students from Seikei University.
Furthermore, we would like to thank Seikei University for promoting our Blog through their websites and Facebook pages.

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