[From August Issue 2014]
Launched in May 2013, “KitchHike” is an Internet service that brings strangers together round the dining table. Foreigners visiting Japan can sample home-cooked Japanese dishes, and non-Japanese living in Japan can serve up their native dishes to Japanese. While the service is available in different countries across the world, the majority of users are in Japan at present.
“Cooks” display their menus, profiles and prices on the KitchHike site. Deals are made when “hikers” who want to sample one of these menus make a reservation. Registration is free. Prices are currently only in US dollars, but there are plans to deal in other currencies, too. Kitchhike takes a portion of the price charged in service fees.
Currently, most cooks are Japanese women in their 20s and 30s. What’s unique about KitchHike in comparison with restaurants is that cooks prepare their dishes at home and sit down to eat with guests to enjoy intercultural exchanges with strangers at the dining table. Because of the registration system, so far there hasn’t been any trouble.
This service was launched by ASARI Yutaka and YAMAMOTO Masaya, former employees of a large advertising agency. “Seeing how Facebook was gaining more and more users in Japan, I started up a web-based business to give people the opportunity to meet up with each other,” says Asari. The two hit upon the idea when discussing their experiences of international travel – a hobby they both share.
“When I went to Myanmar, I mentioned to a taxi driver at a marketplace that “I’d like to eat a good meal.” He was puzzled at first, but ended up taking me to his own place to have a meal with his family,” recalls Asari. After several such experiences, he began to think, “I’d like to have homes outside Japan.”
“I don’t mean having a house outside Japan,” says Asari. He believes in the value of meeting locals while traveling and tasting typical home-made dishes with them and their families. “So KitchHike doesn’t deal in room rental for travellers or in homestays. In principle, you simply eat a home-cooked meal together with your host in their home,” he explains.
Asari is proud to run a business that offers its service to anyone in the world regardless of nationality and language. “It’s rewarding to feel that we’re creating a new culture,” he says. “We’ll be delighted if, say, a mother who cooks for her family is better off and gains self-confidence by turning an economic profit as a KitchHike cook.”
“Recently, a cook was registered in the Republic of Ghana, West Africa. She’s from a deprived background and had no access to the Internet, but she managed to register with the help of a Japanese NPO,” Asari smiles. “Our service isn’t very well known yet, so we intend to organize events and collaborate with other companies,” he says, describing his dreams of expansion.