Observations in Japanese Eateries in Berlin

by Zihang Yu

This semester we had the opportunity to learn techniques to systematically observe people, practices and environments and collect the data needed for our research. After class, we were able to put this into practice through hands-on exercises. I conducted observations in a Japanese restaurant and in the Japanese cafeteria at Freie Universität Berlin with two other students from the course. We decided to go to a Japanese restaurant on Kantstraße. The restaurant was decorated in Japanese style, with paintings and posters on the walls, showing ukiyo-e, samurai and Japanese beer. We also saw umbrellas made of bamboo in different colors, kabuki masks and red lanterns with the Japanese word sake on them. Soft and relaxing jazz music played in the background.

A Japanese set meal I enjoyed at one of the restaurants.
Copyright © Zihang Yu 2023

In the restaurant, all dishes were Japanese. I chose the dish saba shioyaki. The dish consisted of grilled mackerel, lemon and grated white radish. It was accompanied by white rice, miso soup, tsukemono and fruit. The overall taste was like in Japan. Unfortunately, I was seated in a small room inside the restaurant during this observation, so I could not observe the customers and staff seated outside.

Eating Japanese-style on zabuton in the Shokudō at FU Berlin
Copyright © Zihang Yu 2023

We also had the opportunity to observe the Shokudō Cafeteria at Freie Universität. This Japanese cafeteria also has many Japanese style decorations. There are bonsai, a painting of Mount Fuji on the wall and tatami mats in the cafeteria and try to give students a Japanese or Asian impression, the ingredients used, the way they are prepared, and the flavors are different from Japan.

The meal I had in the Japanese cafeteria
Copyright © Zihang Yu 2023

Overall, I really enjoyed this observation exercise. During my observation, I mainly focused on the interior style of the restaurant and the taste of the food. This gave me interesting insights into the variations of food and interior design. I am glad that we could put into practice the methodical knowledge we learned in class in a relaxed way with our classmates outside the classroom.

* Zihang Yu is studying in the Master’s program in Japanese Studies at Freie Universität Berlin.

Ethnographic scavenger hunt on Kantstraße

by Jonas John

On June 20, 2023, I went together with the other course participants and another friend to Kantstraße to look at three different Japanese restaurants and eat at one of them. I will now briefly introduce them. Our first stop was Udagawa, one of the oldest still existing Japanese restaurants in Berlin. I had been there the week before, so I already knew one of the dishes and wanted to eat there again. Although there were several small benches outside, we decided to sit in the back of the restaurant because it was really hot and there were fans. The decor reminded me of Japanese family restaurants. The whole room is wood style, and there are ukiyo-e pictures and beer signs on the walls that look like they came from the 1950s. There are also various Japanese flags, small miniature umbrellas, lanterns, and a door that leads directly to the kitchen in the back. But there is another small kitchen  in the front where small dishes are prepared by a cook and two waitresses. Light string jazz was playing in the background, creating a relaxed atmosphere.

When we arrived there at 18:30, there were only three guests present besides us. However, that changed at 7:30 p.m. – by then there were already 12 guests. That seemed like a lot of people for a Tuesday night, after all, the room was packed. The food tastes like in Japan and also surprisingly cheap compared to other Japanese restaurants in Berlin; only between 7 and 16 euros for a whole menu! There are mostly „typical“ Japanese dishes offered. The only exception are the spring rolls. When asked what the waitress would recommend and what most diners would go for, we were recommended katsukarē with slaw, but we opted for something else. There is also a large selection of vegetarian dishes, one would also find in Japan. The visit to Udagawa was a pleasant experience that we all enjoyed!

A set meal in a Japanese restaurant in Berlin
Copyright © Jonas John 2023

Then we went to Heno Heno. Heno Heno is a small store near Udagawa. When we got there around 7:45pm, we saw four people sitting outside on small chairs eating. In front of the restaurant is a large doll that looks like a mascot. There were also two people dining inside. Behind the counter in the dining area, we could look right over the shoulder of the male chefs while the female waitresses took orders. Among the dishes offered, gyūdon and karē are most popular at Heno Heno.

Taking notes during fieldwork in a Japanese restaurant
Copyright © Jonas John 2023

We last visited the Kushinoya. This kushiage restaurant also has an outdoor dining area, but it was completely empty. Inside, however, there were many people, so I assume it is very popular. There were two signs in front of the front door. One had the menu on it, so you could see that it was a slightly more expensive restaurant. Next to it was a sign advertising a sparkling sake and informing customers that edamame go with it for free. The windows, through which it was already very difficult to see, were also covered with stickers of various certificates. This also seemed to indicate that this was more of a fine dining restaurant. We decided to come back another time with more money and ended our trip.

* Jonas John is a student in the master’s program in Japanese Studies at Freie Universität Berlin.