Alternative foodways of Japanese food entrepreneurs in Berlin

by Cornelia Reiher

After the 3.11 triple disaster of tsunami, earthquake and Fukushima nuclear disaster, many Japanese from northern Japan, as well as the greater Kanto area, relocated to other, often rural, areas in western Japan. Some even left the country and moved abroad. In recent years, I have met a number of Japanese women who are involved in Berlin’s Japanese foodscape and cite the Fukushima nuclear disaster as the main reason for their migration from Japan. They are particularly health conscious and interested in food safety and organic food.

Japanese food with local ingredients in reusable containers
Copyright © Cornelia Reiher 2021

I would like to introduce a Japanese woman who came to Berlin in 2012 because she was disappointed by the lack of opportunities for political participation in Japan after having participated in many anti-nuclear demonstrations. Although she had no previous connection to Germany, she came to Berlin because she was attracted by then-Chancellor Merkel’s decision to shut down all nuclear power plants in Germany. She started a catering service and cooked for events in the city’s hip and young start-up scene and the art world. During the pandemic, she had to turn her business into a delivery service because no events could take place. As sustainability is important to her, she tries to avoid plastic waste and does not use plastic containers for her delivery and catering service, but reusable containers. Since coming to Berlin, she has been interested in vegetarian and vegan foodways and recently became a vegan herself. She shares her thoughts and experiences with vegan food in Berlin and actively engages with Japanese vegan activists on the internet, contributing to online vegan magazines in Japan to spread her vision of veganism and sustainable food.

Enjoying farm life with chickens …
Copyright © Cornelia Reiher 2022

During our conversations, she told me about her dream of moving to the countryside and farming there for a while. And that’s what she’s done, recently joining an organic farming community in the countryside near Berlin. She describes her new life as very simple and quiet and seems to enjoy living in the middle of nature. To earn a living, she processes farm produce from this same farm and delivers it by mail to Berlin. All vegetables are fresh, organic, seasonal and unpackaged. She makes pickled vegetables, syrups, jams and pastes with Japanese ingredients. She also continues her catering business and cooks at events on the farm, in the surrounding area or in Berlin. By living and working on the farm, she discovers new tastes, recipes and edible plants and shares her discoveries with others through her cooking and social media.

… and horses in the countryside near Berlin.
Copyright © Cornelia Reiher 2022

By living on the farm, which she describes as an anarchist and feminist collective with nearly 20 members, she continues her food activism. She was already politically active in Japan when she joined the anti-nuclear movement after the Fukushima nuclear disaster and continued to participate in anti-nuclear rallies in Berlin. Sustainable food and biodiversity are important to her for personal reasons, as she learned firsthand how a particular variety of corn she liked in her childhood became extinct in Japan. At the farm, she learns more about sustainable and organic agriculture, debates and activism related to land rights and commons, and participates in collective actions and food events. Moving to the countryside allowed her to connect with like-minded people, explore new issues, and participate in activities that support her ideas about good and sustainable food and foodways.