Methods Course „Berlin’s Japanese Foodscape“ 2024: Welcome to the 9th Season

by Cornelia Reiher

This summer semester, the methods course „Berlin’s Japanese Foodscapes“ will once again take place at Freie Universität Berlin. This year, BA students will also be taking part for the first time. As every year, the research workshop consists of a colorful mix of interview exercises with guests from the gastronomy, restaurant excursions and project work. This year, we are once again cooperating with Yoko Kawamura and her students from Seikei University in Tokyo to give our students the chance to experiment with the online interview format. The students will test their Japanese language skills and hopefully gain interesting insights into the eating habits of Japanese students. In the coming weeks, the students will form groups and develop their own research projects on culinary globalization and Japanese cuisine in Berlin. As always, we will document the results of the projects as well as impressions from the excursions and interview experiences on this blog. Stay tuned for updates!

Accredited as authentic: Certifications in Berlin’s Japanese Foodscape

by Cornelia Reiher

If you want to go out for Japanese food in Berlin, you have a wide choice of different restaurants offering a variety of dishes in different price categories. It is not easy to make a decision, but there are many institutions and media offering guidance. If you want to dine at a high level, you should take a look at the Michelin Guide, which lists three Japanese restaurants in Berlin in 2023. The internet and social media also provide information and reviews on Japanese restaurants. And if you are out and about in Berlin’s Japanese foodscape, you will notice the many certificates stuck to shop windows, emblazoned on websites or framed on restaurant walls. Media and professional associations award certificates to restaurants to guide customers, but above all to distinguish them from other restaurants, and numerous organizations offer certificates. However, these are not only awarded by organizations in Germany, but Japanese institutions also award certificates to Japanese restaurants in Berlin.

The Japanese government’s attempt to certify authentic Japanese cuisine abroad so that Japanese business travelers don’t – heaven forbid – accidentally walk into a restaurant run by non-Japanese came under fire in 2006 and was mocked as the sushi police (Sakamoto and Allen 2011). This name was even picked up for an anime series.But other organizations are still certifying Japanese restaurants. One such certificate is the “Authentic Japanese Restaurant” (nintei honkaku nihon ryōri ten) certificate issued by an organization called Nintei Nihon Restaurant Association located in the U.K. and established by a Japanese restaurateur based in London who owns eateries in London, Germany and Tokyo. According to Farrer and Wang (2021: 24), “[m]ost, though not all awardees are Japanese-owned restaurants, including some in Paris, London, and Berlin”. Nintei Nihon Restaurant Association’s stated goal is “to recommend only the establishments serving authentic and mostly affordable Japanese cuisine outside of Japan, where you can confidently take your friends and family too for an enjoyable experience” (Nintei Nihon Restaurant Association 2024).

The Authentic Japanese Restaurant Certificate in a Sushi Restaurant in Berlin
Copyright © Cornelia Reiher 2023

Since 2016, JETRO, Japan’s exchange and trade organization with offices around the world, including Berlin, has been promoting the Japanese Food Supporter Program, which was established by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) to foster Japanese food worldwide. Its mission is “to bring safe and delicious Japanese food and alcoholic beverages to all corners of the world“ (JETRO 2024). Until the end of January 2024, 5,503 stores and restaurants were certified as Japanese food supporters (ibid.). The certificate indicates that restaurants use Japanese ingredients. JETRO Berlin has been trying to promote the certificate for 5 years. As restaurants receive no reward other than a sticker and have to take part in time-consuming surveys about which products are used, it is not easy to convince restaurants to adopt the logo, a JETRO official told me.

The Japanese Food Supporter sticker in a Japanese restaurant in Berlin
Copyright © Cornelia Reiher 2023

Another JETRO initiative to introduce Japanese restaurants to customers is a restaurant guide, which was published in 2023 and is currently being revised as new restaurants open and others listed in the current guide have already closed. Restaurants listed in the guide are selected if at least the chef or owner is Japanese. The criteria underlying the awarding of the certificates presented here and the inclusion in the restaurant guide all relate to a concept of authentic Japanese cuisine, which refers either to the involvement of Japanese people in the preparation of the food or to the origin of the ingredients from Japan. The interests behind the initiation and dissemination of such certificates are diverse and range from supporting Japanese restaurateurs to marketing Japanese agricultural products. While the restaurant guide is most likely to provide consumers with information, it remains to be seen to what extent certificates like the Japanese Food Supporter certificate or the Nintei Nihon Restaurant certificate actually provide consumers in Berlin with guidance in their search for delicious Japanese food and would need to be investigated separately.


Farrer, James and Chuanfei Wang (2021), “Who owns a cuisine? The grassroots politics of Japanese food in Europe,” Asian Anthropology, 20:1, 12-29, DOI: 10.1080/1683478X.2020.1774960.

JETRO (2024), The certification program of Japanese Food and Ingredient Supporter Stores Overseas (accessed February 19, 2024).

Nintei Nihon Restaurant Association (2024), “About,” (accessed February 19, 2024).

Sakamoto, Rumi and Matthew Allen (2011), “There’s something fishy about that sushi: how Japan interprets the global sushi boom,” Japan Forum, 23:1, 99-121, DOI: 10.1080/09555803.2011.580538.

Making Japanese food in Berlin: Miso and Obento

by Cornelia Reiher

As the research workshop „Japanese Cuisine in Berlin“ only takes place in the summer semester and is aimed at Master’s students, I usually offer a course on food and nutrition in Japan for BA students in the winter semester. This course mainly deals with food, agriculture and nutrition in Japan itself, but also includes texts on the globalization of Japanese cuisine. One focus of this semester’s course was on food education and regional cuisine. I therefore invited two colleagues from Japan and the USA to make miso and obento with the students.

Different aged miso that we tasted during the workshop
Copyright © Cornelia Reiher 2023

In December 2023, Takako Horita from Oita Prefecture visited our course. She is a nutritionist and has been working for a local government for many years. Her tasks include offering cooking classes, developing healthy eating plans for specific population groups and developing concepts for food tourism. In particular, she has dedicated herself to preserving traditional food practices and has documented, for example, the production of miso with older women in the region. They have also published a recipe book. Ms. Horita also visits schools and kindergartens to make miso together with children.

Ms. Horita explains students how to mix soy beans with koji
Copyright © Cornelia Reiher 2023

The culinary infrastructure for Japanese cuisine in Berlin described in my last blog post played an important role in the preparations for the workshop. Ms. Horita asked the students to soak, cook and bring soybeans before the workshop. Before giving the students this task, I visited numerous Asian and conventional supermarkets to find suitable soybeans. It turned out that, although soybeans were available, the koji kin needed to make koji or the ready-made koji itself is very expensive in Berlin. Ms. Horita therefore brought koji from Japan.

Students proudly present their miso
Copyright © Cornelia Reiher 2023

The workshop itself was a lot of fun for the students, even though they won’t be able to taste their own miso for a few months. After everyone had made a miso ball of a satisfactory consistency to take home, we ate miso soup together, which Ms. Horita prepared from misodama she had made herself. She had also brought miso of different ages for the students to taste.

Debra Samuels presents the prototype for the obento the students were asked to make and explains to a student how to make tamagoyaki
Copyright © Cornelia Reiher 2024

After ending 2023 with a miso workshop, we started the new year with an obento workshop. Debra Samuels, food journalist, cookbook author and food educator from Boston, who had already cooked with us online in the Corona Lockdown 2021, visited us at the FU Berlin to give the students insights into the world of obento and to prepare their own obento with them.

Making tamagoyaki and onigiri with tuna mayo filling
Copyright © Cornelia Reiher 2024

Since we had also talked about the connection between nutrition education and gender in the course, the topic of obento lent itself to talking about the role of mothers, their daily performance of preparing an acceptable obento and social practices of inclusion and exclusion in Japanese schools. It was insightful for the students to make their own obento. The many individual steps required to create an obento that is considered appropriate and sufficiently kawaii impressed the students greatly and helped them to better understand the burden of Japanese mothers.

Cutting tamagoyaki
Copyright © Cornelia Reiher 2024

Debra asked the students to make onigiri, tamagoyaki, octopus sausages, tsukemono made from cucumber and a tomato heart. Despite the somewhat limited equipment in the seminar room, fabulous obento were created, all of which were different because the students had made an effort to give their obento an individual touch. Debra had bought all the ingredients in Berlin, so this workshop also showed that the culinary infrastructure in Berlin makes it possible to prepare Japanese dishes here without any problems.

Some examples of student’s obento
Copyright © Cornelia Reiher 2024

Both workshops were not only a welcome change from the otherwise text-based lessons, but also gave the students exciting insights into food practices in Japan and their globalization. I would like to thank Takako Horita and Debra Samuels very much for making these experiences possible.

Event: “More than Sushi: A Conversation with Debra Samuels and Cornelia Reiher about popular Japanese Cuisine in Berlin and beyond”

Join us for the Open Monday Special Edition on Food at JDZB.

Date: February 5, 2024

Time: 6 pm

Location: Japanese German Center Berlin (JDZB), Saargemünder Str. 2, 14195 Berlin

Presenters: Debra Samuels (NPO: TABLE FOR TWO USA, Content and Program Developer) and Prof. Dr. Cornelia Reiher (Freie Universität Berlin, Japanese Studies)


Vortrag „Kulinarische Authentizität als Emotion. Japanische Gastronom*innen in Berlin und ihre vegetarische/ vegane Kundschaft“

Vortragende: Cornelia Reiher (Freie Universität Berlin, Professorin für Japanologie)


Universität Potsdam


Datum: 23.01.2024

Zeit: 10:15 – 11:15

Japanese migrants in Berlin and their culinary infrastructure

by Cornelia Reiher

When I talk to Japanese migrants in Berlin, they usually say that they miss Japanese food. Although there are many Japanese restaurants in the city, it is too expensive to eat there every day. Most of my research participants only go out to eat in Japanese restaurants on special occasions. Some take sashimi and other dishes to eat at home, while others never eat at Japanese restaurants. Therefore, in this post, I introduce the everyday eating practices of Japanese migrants in Berlin and where they buy the necessary ingredients to prepare them at home. In 2018, one of our student projects investigated how Japanese exchange students use Asian supermarkets in Berlin. However, Japanese migrants who live in Berlin long-term use many other options besides Asian supermarkets to buy ingredients for Japanese cuisine on a daily basis.

A variety of miso at a Japanese supermarket in Berlin
Copyright © Cornelia Reiher 2023

Most of the migrants I have interviewed over the years have told me that they cook Japanese food at home or prepare fusion dishes such as pasta with soy sauce. Some prepare rice and miso soup every day. One research participant told me that onigiri is her soul food, and when Japanese migrants get together, they bring rice-based dishes such as maki sushi. Rice came up in almost all the interviews and conversations I had, and many Japanese migrants mentioned that they bring rice home from a trip to Japan, ask their relatives to send it, or buy yumenishiki rice in Asian supermarkets, even though it is very expensive. Japanese migrants who have lived in Berlin for more than a decade emphasize that it is much easier to buy Japanese ingredients today than it was twenty years ago. The number of Asian supermarkets and online delivery services has increased. Some Japanese foods such as soy sauce or sake are now even available in normal supermarkets. A new Japanese supermarket offering products from Japan has recently opened in Berlin. It offers sake, spices, fresh vegetables and mushrooms, curry pastes, sweets, noodles and more. The supermarket even sells ready meals, just like in Japanese supermarkets, including sashimi and sushi, as well as yakitori, bentō and onigiri. The dishes are freshly prepared in a small kitchen in the store.

A new shopping venue for Japanese ingredients in Berlin
Copyright © Cornelia Reiher 2023

In addition to supermarkets, online delivery services provide the Japanese population with frozen fish and other ingredients they need to cook at home. To save some money on delivery costs and because deliveries are often made during the day when most people are at work, some migrants take turns to take orders for their friends in a group order. Sometimes companies that supply fresh ingredients to the Japanese migrant community across Europe organize pop-up events in cities with a larger Japanese community. On these occasions, many migrants come together and enjoy the opportunity to see and choose the products firsthand, meet other people and chat over a hot miso soup. These events are tailored to Japanese customers, the staff speak Japanese, and the information on the price tags is written in Japanese.

Fish sale at a pop-up event by a food import company in Berlin
Copyright © Cornelia Reiher 2023

Overall, the growing number of places where Japanese food and ingredients can be consumed shows how a culinary infrastructure has developed with the growing Japanese diaspora in Europe. Although more Japanese ingredients are available in Berlin, most migrants emphasize that they are still expensive. Therefore, many migrants make their own miso or nattō at home because they either can’t afford to buy ready-made products or don’t want to spend so much money on them. And some simply enjoy making it themselves. Of course, this is only possible because ingredients such as kōji are now available in Berlin or can be ordered online. This brief overview of where Japanese migrants buy ingredients for home cooking in Berlin shows that the city’s Japanese foodscape consists not only of restaurants and wholesalers that supply restaurants with ingredients, but also of supermarkets and stores where Japanese migrants and the growing number of people interested in Japanese food meet their needs for preparing Japanese dishes at home.