New project report: Food and Feedback: How customers of Japanese restaurants in Berlin perceive authenticity

Giulia Noll and Tony Pravemann try to explain how customers define the authenticity of a Japanese restaurant in Berlin by using reviews from the crowd-sourced local business review and social networking site Yelp and summarized their results in a project report to provide exciting insights into the customers view in Berlin’s Japanese foodscapes.

The first onsite interview this year at Tsukushiya

After conducting online interviews for a year now, I was very happy to be able to go to a Japanese restaurant in Berlin to conduct an interview. I met with Kazuko and Niels at Tsukushiya. Kazuko is the chef and Niels the owner and manager of this Japanese restaurant that offers Japanese home-style food (katei ryōri). This includes for example okonomiyaki, donburi, curry rice and karaage. Kazuko came to Berlin in 2016 and Tsukushiya opened in February 2017.

I first spoke to Kazuko in Japanese for about an hour before Niels joined us and the interview continued in German. We touched upon several issues that came up in interviews with other restaurateurs and chefs during the past years as well, particularly vegan and vegetarian variations of Japanese food and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. When we met, Tsukushiya had just reopened for outdoor dining two weeks ago. The restaurants in the street received an extra permission to put more tables and chairs outside in spots that are usually designated parking lots.

Kazuko and Niels both confirmed what we have heard from other Japanese food entrepreneurs and food workers in Berlin before. Despite the economic difficulties, the pandemic enabled them to have more time for themselves. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the restaurant opened at noon and in the evenings with only one day off during the week. During the first lockdown in spring 2020, they had offered takeout and the summer business in 2020 went surprisingly well, but during the second lockdown from November, they closed their restaurant until March. After the reopening in May, they decided to just open in the evenings and changed their menu to less laborious dishes. Both are very  happy that customers have returned and view the future with optimism.

Ethnographic walk on Kantstraße: Exploring Japanese restaurants

In the past years, participants of this method course have visited Japanese restaurants to practice participant observation as customers. This year, however, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, indoor dining in restaurants was just permitted very recently and only few Japanese restaurateurs reopened their eateries for indoor dining. While for outdoor dining a negative Covid-19 test result is not required anymore, it is still mandatory for indoor dining. Therefore, there is much more going on outside of restaurants where people can enjoy food, but only together with members of one more household.

Because of these restrictions, I decided to assign an ethnographic walk to practice observation skills instead of a joint restaurant visit this year. I divided students into three groups and set a different walking route for each team around Kantstraße in Charlottenburg. This area is not only famous for its Asian shops and restaurants, but is also the place where the first two Japanese restaurants in Germany opened before World War II (Möhring 2018, 36). Today, there exists a small cluster of 15 Japanese restaurants around Kantstraße, most of them with Japanese or Vietnamese ownership.

All teams were assigned to walk the area and visit different restaurants. As a broader research question, all teams were to observe how Japanese restaurants respond to the Covid-19 pandemic. In order to answer this question, they were supposed to take field notes and pictures, describe the restaurants, menus, customers as well as staff and start at least one conversation with customers or staff. I also asked them to buy some food and to describe its taste, arrangement and ingredients.

After the 90 minutes walk, I met each group at Savignyplatz to discuss their experiences, impressions and possible difficulties. Students reported very interesting insights and encounters. They will write their own blog posts about their results and experiences. They have enjoyed the ethnographic walk very much and I am looking forward to see more field notes and pictures and to discuss the merits of participant observation in class.


Möhring, Maren (2018): Von Schwalbennestern und neuen Fingerfertigkeiten. Globalisierung und esskulturelle Transfers am Beispiel asiatischer Küchen in Deutschland. In: Jahrbuch für Kulinaristik 2, pp. 31-51.

Online-interview with a Japanese pastry chef

To get some more interview practice in Japanese, we invited another Japanese food entrepreneur for an online interview. Shin is a pastry chef and in 2016, founded a café in Berlin. He sells Japanese-French fusion cakes and tartlets, matcha latte and, during the summer, matcha ice. During the interview, students asked about his café, his products and work and about his impression of Berlin’s Japanese foodscapes. In the end, we also inquired about his experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The interview went smooth due to students’ great questions and Shin’s willingness to share insights about his life in Berlin and his work. Although the pandemic had a negative impact on his business, he also enjoyed some time for himself due to a reduced workload. He said it was no problem to switch to takeout service, because cake can be taken home easily. He didn’t only receive financial support from the federal government and from Berlin’s federal state government, but his regular customers stopped by during the pandemic and bought cake to support him as well. While it was rough at times, he wanted to keep his café open for his customers. In November 2020, there were only very few customers coming on weekdays, so he decided to only open on weekends. With the relaxed Covid restrictions, customers slowly return for enjoying matcha latte and cake at the café’s terrace. Instead of meeting Shin online, next time, we’ll go there and have some of his delicious cake ourselves.

Pastries and sweets from Shin’s Café (Copyright © Shin Komine)

Students’ interview with Akiko

After the first online interviews with students from Seikei University, we had the opportunity to conduct an interview about Berlin’s Japanese foodscapes offline. Due to the relaxed Covid-19 regulations we met outside for a picnic with Akiko. Because only members from a limited number of households were allowed to meet, I divided the class into two groups. Akiko brought vegan obentō, so students could enjoy food while interviewing her.

Akiko runs a catering business that is specialized in vegetarian and vegan food. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, her business was disrupted and she now receives support from the German employment agency to make a living. She offers lunchboxes, cookies and preservable food like miso and kimchi, for example and keeps in touch with her customers via a mailing list and social media. Students were eager to hear why she came to Berlin, how her business went before the pandemic and how she copes with the Covid-19 induced changes. We had interviewed Akiko a year ago and in June 2020 she was grateful for the German Soforthilfe (financial support) and rather optimistic. But the catering business has not recovered yet, since joint business lunches, private parties and gallery openings are impossible.

Students had prepared questions for the interview with Akiko by checking her website and took turns in asking questions. Outdoor interviewing posed some challenges for interview recording and eating, talking and taking notes at the same time was quite difficult. However, doing interviews face to face and eating the food the research participant had prepared offered more opportunities to ask questions students had not thought about before. While online interviews are a great option to overcome the limitations caused by the pandemic, by meeting in real life all participants created a much more relaxed atmosphere without technical problems. Our picnic also provided the first chance to meet for the students who have so far only met in online classes.

Berlin’s Japanese foodscapes during the Covid-19 pandemic: Interview with Japanese pastry chef Chie

Recently, the number of Covid-19 infections in Berlin has dropped significantly and more and more people are getting vaccinated. After more than five months, restaurants in Berlin reopened their open air seating for guests with a negative corona test result no older than 24 hours. From June 4, customers without a test can use the outdoor dining facilities and indoor dining will reopen for tested and vaccinated customers. The beautiful weather will guarantee crowded beer gardens and cafés.

Since last spring, we have interviewed Japanese restaurateurs, chefs and food workers in Berlin to ask them about their experiences during the two lockdowns since March 2020. This week I had the chance to talk to Chie who is a pastry chef. She moved to Berlin in 2012 and since then has worked in different Japanese restaurants were she was mostly responsible for desserts and pastry. She creates matcha tiramisu, mochi and other delicious sweets. For several years, she has been working in an Italien pastry shop and also continued her work for Japanese restaurants and catering activities.

Throughout the pandemic, the pastry shop Chie works for remained open for takeout. In Summer 2020 and before the second lockdown that began in November, they also received some catering orders again. Chie worked reduced hours, but didn’t experience great financial loss due to Kurzarbeitergeld (short-term work allowance) and a generous boss. She said she didn’t need much money during the pandemic, because she usually spends it on travel and dining out. Both was impossible during the last year.

One thing Chie is looking forward to when restaurants reopen is to create Japanese desserts again for Japanese restaurants. Although many Japanese restaurants offered takeout services during the pandemic, they didn’t sell desserts to go. Remembering Chie’s great desserts and pastries sold in Japanese restaurants in the past, we can’t wait for the full reopening of Japanese restaurants in Berlin and to enjoy yuzu tiramisu again!

 Chie during our online interview and two of her creations: matcha roll and yuzu tiramisu

Informal book launch: Studying Japan: Handbook of Research Designs, Fieldwork and Methods

Since the handbook came out in December 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic has been going on worldwide. Although we gave some book talks at a few universities, we could not have an onsite book launch to celebrate the handbook’s publication with our authors.

Therefore, we decided to organize an online event. As the second best option, we invited all authors to join us for a celebration via Zoom on May 18. The intercontinental celebration featured toasts and short thank you speeches, but most importantly offered authors the chance to get to know each other or meet friends during breakout sessions. While colleagues from the US had their morning coffee, authors from Asia and Australia enjoyed their after work beer.

Although the Covid-19 pandemic and the current situation with regard to vaccination in the different countries was a big topic, some authors also shared their experiences with using the handbook in class. We are looking forward to a real book launch party, hopefully in the near future.

Research project „Berlin’s Japanese foodscapes“ in 2021: now in English

The sixth season of the participatory research project/method course „Berlin’s Japanese foodscapes” is on and taught in English for the first time. In summer 2021, 10 students from FUB’s Japanese Studies MA program will conduct new and exciting projects on Japanese food in Berlin to get some experience with qualitative research methods. Due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, there will be methodological challenges to face, but just like last year, we will be flexible and find alternative ways to make our data.

In order to get interview praxis, we collaborate with Yoko Kawamura and her students from Seikei University in Tokyo. FUB’s students will interview Seikei students online about their lives, experiences and food consumption during the pandemic and ask them about the situation of restaurants in Tokyo. After this first Japanese language interview experience, we will prepare for interviews with Japanese food entrepreneurs and food workers in Berlin.

During the Covid pandemic, many Japanese restaurants in Berlin offer delivery and take-out services. It is a nice change to the monotonous every-day life to unwrap a furoshiki and find …

Students have already formed small research teams and decided on topics to study. One project will inquire food labeling of imported Japanese food in Asian supermarkets in Berlin. Another project analyzes how Japanese restaurant owners think about Covid-19 regulations in Berlin. The third project will compare concepts of authenticity in Japanese restaurants run by food entrepreneurs with different nationalities and/or ethnic backgrounds. We are looking forward to interesting insights into Berlin’s Japanese foodscapes, exciting interviews and hopefully joint visits to restaurants once they reopen. Meanwhile we order Japanese food via delivery or make use of take-out services many Japanese restaurants in Berlin offer in order to remember the taste of Japanese food.

… a beautiful box filled with vegan chirashi sushi. This one was prepared by Akiko, we have interviewed last year (

Japanische Restaurants in Berlin im Lockdown 2021

Als im März 2020 alle Restaurants während des ersten Corona-Lockdowns schließen mussten, hätte niemand geahnt, dass sich diese Situation ein Jahr später fortsetzen würde. Nach einer kurzen Erholungspause im Sommer 2020, in der Restaurants wieder geöffnet waren, sind die Berliner Restaurants nunmehr seit November 2020 geschlossen. Lediglich Lieferdienste und Selbstabholung sind möglich. Die Novemberhilfen wurden schleppend ausgezahlt und viele Restaurants stehen vor dem Aus.

Dies betrifft natürlich auch die japanischen Restaurants. Von den ca. 290 japanischen Restaurants und Cafés in Berlin (eigene Zählung November 2020) boten Ende November 2020 fast 200 Restaurants Lieferdienste und/oder die Möglichkeit zur Selbstabholung an. Die restlichen Restaurants hatten geschlossen bzw. stellten online keine Informationen zur Verfügung. In den vergangenen fünf Monaten haben jedoch einige Restaurants zusätzlich auf Lieferdienst und/oder Abholservice umgestellt oder dauerhaft geschlossen. Einige Restaurants, die im ersten Lockdown im Frühjahr 2020 zu waren, haben wiederum in der Zwischenzeit einen Abholservice eingerichtet. Mitunter bieten sie diesen aber nur an einigen Tagen in der Woche an. Viele japanische Restaurants haben sich auf obentō spezialisiert, da man die japanischen Lunchboxen gut mitnehmen und aufwärmen kann.  

Mitteilung über Außerhausverkauf an einem japanischen Restaurant im März 2021

In dieser ungewissen Situation beginnt das neue und dritte Onlinesemester an der FU Berlin. Die Forschungswerkstatt wird sich daher ab April 2021 wieder intensiv der Situation der japanischen Restaurants, ihrer Betreiber, Köche und Mitarbeiter*innen widmen. Ob wir im Sommersemester Gelegenheit haben, japanisch essen zu gehen und unsere Interviewpartner*innen persönlich zu treffen, ist jedoch noch ungewiss.

Hygienemaßnahmen in einem japanischen Café in Berlin

Winterspecial: Japanisch kochen im Lockdown

Die Forschungswerkstatt „Japanische Küche in Berlin“ ist in der Winterpause. Während viele japanische Restaurants im zweiten Corona-Lockdown auf Abhol- und Lieferservice ausweichen oder schließen, sind viele Studierende im Online-Semester gar nicht in Berlin und haben nur wenig Möglichkeiten, Japanisch zu essen. Daher haben wir für das laufende Seminar „Essen in Japan in politischen und gesellschaftlichen Kontexten“ Food Journalist und Kochbuchautorin Debra Samuels aus Boston eingeladen, um mit ihr ein obentō zuzubereiten.

Debra Samuels aus Boston bereitete mit uns ein obentō zu

Debra schickte vorab eine Zutatenliste und schaltete sich am 21. Januar aus den USA zu, um mit den Studierenden über Ernährungsbildung (shokuiku), bentō (lunchbox) und japanische Küche zu sprechen und gemeinsam zu kochen. Die Videokonferenz machte es möglich. Nach einem spannenden Vortrag bereiteten wir nach Anleitung ein obentō mit tamagoyaki, Süßkartoffel chakin, Gurken shiozuke, Würstchen in Krakenform und onigiri zu. Die unterschiedlichen Voraussetzungen in den Küchen der Teilnehmer*innen brachten so manchen zum Schwitzen, aber die Ergebnisse können sich sehen lassen. Im anschließenden Seminar fand aufbauend auf dieser Erfahrung eine rege Diskussion über die Rolle von Frauen und Müttern in japanischen Familien, in der Kampagne zur Ernährungsbildung der japanischen Regierung und bei der Zubereitung von Essen statt.