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.

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