[From June Issue 2011]
In recent years, sushi roll art and design has become popular in Japan. Upon slicing through an uncut sushi roll, you may find in the cross section images of animals or popular Japanese animation characters. It’s said that these beautiful and fun-to-eat sushi rolls are greatly appreciated at celebrations and parties.
AOKI Mizue is the director of the Sakura Sushi School and teaches sushi rolling and fish slicing techniques to people at home around Tokyo and across Japan. About three years ago, she introduced these artfully designed sushi rolls as part of her lessons, which she now gives to many students, mostly women, but increasingly to tourists as well. It helps that she can draw on the English language skills she acquired while living abroad.
One of her students, GOTO Takako, took her friend UKON Ryohei to his first Saturday lesson where the three themes were: the popular Japanese animated character Anpanman, the newly arrived and much anticipated Ueno Zoo pandas, and their favorite food of bamboo leaves. On that day, a smiling Aoki told her students that, “these are difficult themes, but don’t worry. I’ll go slowly, one by one.”
The training begins after everyone introduces themselves and the lesson objectives are explained. The students then start to work with the ingredients Aoki has prepared for them. Dried gourd shavings are usually used for the eyes and mouths while fish sausages are used for noses. Aoki’s assistants are there to help, but the students are encouraged to slice and arrange the ingredients themselves. Photos are taken at different intervals so that students have images to refer to when they try again at home.
About three hours later and their sushi was ready. Goto remarked that she was happy to have succeeded in making Anpanman, her favorite of the day’s three themes. And even though Ukon is a good enough cook to host house parties, he also remarked that, “You really can’t do this without taking lessons.” In designing sushi rolls, he enjoyed the creative side that isn’t easily found when making dishes where seasoning and adjusting the heat are the main tasks. Here, students can also take their sushi home.
The Tokyo Sushi Academy, where students are trained to become professional sushi chefs, offers courses that technically qualify people to design sushi rolls. The easiest 3rd degree is for the one-day course in which beginners create three types of designed sushi rolls. The intermediate 2nd degree is more difficult in which students must master 12 different designs in two days. The professional 1st degree, which you can only attempt after passing the intermediate level, is a two-day course where you learn seven different types of intricate sushi roll design as well as basic skills including vinegar rice preparation.
Upon completion of each course the students receive a Japan Sushi Instructors Association certificate. They can then use what they have learned for international cultural exchanges or to earn some extra money on the side. Additionally, the Academy also offers courses for non-Japanese chefs individually or as restaurant administrators.
KAWASUMI Ken, the Academy’s chief instructor and an authority on sushi roll design, says, “Whether Japanese or foreign, many people learn Japanese culture and spirit through sushi making lessons. And many of those who leave Japan are happy they received our Academy’s certificate. We also provide business support to our graduates.”