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Why is there a scarcity of female sushi chefs?

In Manhattan, there is a female-owned restaurant where the owner is also the sushi chef. The name is Taka Restaurant in the West Village on Grove Street. This got me thinking about why there's such a shortage of female sushi chefs.

I've heard that in Japan it's believed that women's hands are warmer than a man's and the salt content would affect the taste of the fish. This sounds like an old wive's tale to me because, logically, it seems to me that most men's hands sweat more than women's.

Here is a quote I read (link below) from Masa Takayama of Masa in the Time-Warner Building:

"Asked about the virtual nonexistence of women sushi chefs, Masa said, "Everything having to do with fish is man's work: catching, cutting, cooking, making sushi. It is very hard work, and women do not have the stamina to stand behind the sushi counter." All the sushi chefs I spoke with, and even Kazuko, one of the most self-reliant women I know, agreed. It reminded me of the old canard that women couldn't be chefs because they are incapable of lifting 15-gallon stockpots."

Do sushi chefs in the U.S. all 'catch' their own fish? It just seems a bit farfetched. So does anyone else have any ideas why there's a shortage of female sushi chefs. Personally, I wouldn't mind sitting at a sushi counter and talking/flirting with a female chef!


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  1. obviously hardly any sushi chefs these days catch their own fish.

    it wasn't too long ago that it was rare to see female chefs in any restaurant kitchens, and they still remain a minority. the japanese are much more hidebound to tradition, with gender roles more strictly adhered to than in most western nations. change will come, but very slowly.

    1. Triditionally it was thought that women's hands were too "hot" to make sushi properly. (According to my Japanese FIL.)

      3 Replies
      1. re: Scrapironchef

        I heard something similar on Todd English's show.

        1. re: marthadumptruck

          I always thought that was very strange, considering most women I know complain about cold hands and feet and men don't seem to have that problem as much. It's also more common for women (Asian, at least) to be anemic and/or have poor blood circulation and low blood pressure, which should all indicate very cool hands. I don't know. I'm neither chef nor doctor.

          1. re: Pei

            Hey, I'm not saying it has any basis in reality, just that was the excuse that was used.

      2. The real answer is because Japanese society is a boys club.

        1. We Japanese have no sense of humor or sensitivity in these kinds of things.

          1. I'm not going to comment on female sushi chefs since I'm not qualified and not Japanese. That said, you can ask the same question why there's very few women butchers, crab fishermen, crane operators, etc., in the U.S. If you can answer this question related to the U.S., you'll probably find a good deal of cross-over to the question of female sushi chefs, or lack thereof.

            5 Replies
            1. re: ML8000

              You are comparing apples to oranges. Why are there no American women butchers, fishermen and crane operators? I'm not sure but I would say it's easier to slice some raw fish and make it look pretty than to haul a whole side of bloody beef in a cold meat locker. I wouldn't want to be a butcher either or doing something unglamorous and back-breaking and I'm a guy.

              To shed some more light on non-traditional occupations for women, let's just look at the history of Rosie the Riveter during World War II when the men were away at war. The best known slogan was "We Can Do It!" and women did: they worked in the ammunitions factory, on airplanes, you name it-they did it. Click below for more information. Who knows? Maybe one day we'll have a female president and a 'First Gentleman' in the White House.



              1. re: Flynn1

                I welcome a female president as long as she doesn't represent the current party. As far as apples and oranges, I agree but in reading your message I think you got to the core by mentioning "non-traditional' which of course explains "traditional". Sushi chef and butchers are largely traditional jobs. This doesn't excuse occupational or gender inequity but it explains things in context. Re; Rosie the Riveter, one of my Aunties was one, one of the few Asian Americans, featured in a few documentaries, so I'm familar with the history.

                1. re: ML8000

                  That is so cool that your Auntie was one of the "Rosie the Riveter" workers. She must have had some great stories to share.

                2. re: Flynn1

                  I'm all for women being strong enough to haul and butcher blocks of meat, but bear in mind that being a sushi chef probably doesn't just involve slicing little fishies and making them pretty. In a small restaurant, you probably have to go pick the fish and haul them back to the restaurant yourself. And some of those tuna are pretty heavy!

                  1. re: Pei

                    Good point yet in a small restaurant the owner probably doesn't do everything himself. Also, not every sushi chef is an owner.

                    At the Fulton Fish Market in New York, there is a Seafood Delivery service for retail establishments and also a Loading/Unloading service per the link below.

                    §1-34 Seafood Delivery Operations. A seafood deliverer shall be subject to the requirements for conducting a seafood delivery business that are contained in this section.
                    (a) The market manager may designate an area or areas within the market area where Seafood Deliverers shall park while picking up seafood from wholesalers for delivery.
                    (b) (1) Seafood deliverers shall possess a valid driver's license as required by §501 of the Vehicle and Traffic Law.
                    (2) All vehicles employed in a seafood delivery business shall possess: proper vehicle registration as required by §401 of the Vehicle and Traffic Law; a valid inspection sticker obtained pursuant to the provisions of Article 5 of the Vehicle and Traffic Law; and insurance coverage as required by Article 6 of the Vehicle and Traffic Law.
                    (3) All vehicles employed in a seafood delivery business shall display a sticker or decal issued by the market manager in a location to be designated by the market manager.
                    (c) A seafood deliverer shall not offer seafood for sale within the market area for resale to the public unless the seafood deliverer is also registered as a wholesaler.
                    (d) Seafood deliverers shall comply at all times with all applicable Federal, State and City regulations regarding the proper handling of seafood.

              2. I was of the impression that sushi originated as a samurai specialty.

                1. OK, on a more serious note, my mom and aunts all made great sushi; two of my cousins had successful staurants. Another cousin was a chef on a US coast guard cutter long ago. All of us make traditional sushi. None of us, however, are "sushi chefs". That in Japan requires a long apprenticeship and produces a person that can make all the tricky things, especially with sashimi, that Nihongin and Hakujin alike like to see done in front of them. The learning process is long, arduous, steeped in Japanese culture, and traditionally a male domain.

                  It might be better, however, calling them sashimi chefs, because all of us--male and female--make real and good sushi.

                  1. Taka is no longer owned by a female sushi chef, FYI. She sold it several years back, now -- and the quality of the sushi has definitely gone downhill. Must be those grubby male hands, I guess. ;)

                    1. I had heard the temperature story - but also that womens body temperatures vary significantly based on their hormones and at certian times are distinctly hotter than men.
                      I don't know how true this is or whether it is all a wives tale, but I do know that I wash my hands in cold water after prepping fish.

                      1. Why are most bartenders male? Why are there fewer male nurses now than there were in 1975? Why are most mayors male? Why are most elementary-school teachers female?

                        Occupations are gender-stratified. There is often no internal logic to it. Sushi is a Japanese import, and Japan is a horrifically sexist society. There's your answer(s). It doesn't take a sociology professor to figure this one out, but I am, in fact, a sociology professor, so bask in my expertise (my expertise concerning the obvious in this case).

                        My neighbourhood sushi place (Midori, in Calgary), which does fantastic spicy tuna and yam tempura rolls, has a very competent female sushi chef. But it's Korean.

                        1. I don't mean to sound snobby, but anyone who hasn't tried sushi in Japan should not even attempt to be a sushi critic. Being from Japan and often traveling a lot, my friends tend to take me to sushi restaurants thinking that's what I would like. I've tried sushi restaurants in Germany, Austria, Italy, France, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, and many parts of the Canada and U.S. and the sushi is just plain awful. It costs 4 to 10 times the price and tastes about 1/10th as good as even the cheapest kaitenzushi restaurants in Tokyo.

                          I suspect the primary reason for this is due to the freshness of the fish which must also be determined by the demand. When it comes to raw meat of any sort, the freshness is the primary factor in quality. I've heard people from other countries talk about how good their sushi restaurant is because of the rice and I've been to all these so-called great sushi restaurants and they're all awful. They probably talk about how good the rice is because the old, stagnant fish they serve is hardly noteworthy.

                          In Japan, there is so much demand for raw fish that you can find 5 kaitzenzushi shops in one block. Kaitenzushi is basically a sushi restaurant where the sushi is made without anyone ordering it. You just go inside and pick up the plate you want. You'll rarely find these restaurants outside of Japan since there isn't enough demand to go ahead and make 300 pieces of nigiri and then expect it almost all of it to be consumed within the following hour. For that reason, the fish is extremely fresh. Even more exotic orders like uni and shako are usually caught the same day they are served.

                          Anyway, back to the main subject, I assume sexism plays a major role in the lack of sushi chefs. The old tale that this is due to women's hands being warmer has some minor truth to it. Women and men's body temperatures are different and women's body temperatures fluctuate more during menstruation. Women tend to have higher core temperatures than men but their hands and feet actually tend to be colder. It may have been this finding that women's core temperatures are higher that lead to this belief, but being that their hands are actually colder, maybe women would make even better sushi chefs than men.

                          Perhaps sexism isn't the sole reason, however, since there are other very highly-regarded cooking roles in Japan like ramen for which recipes are extremely coveted secrets and yet there are an abundant number of females making ramen in even the best restaurants in Japan.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: stinky472

                            My favorite sushi place in Berlin is a Kaiten style bar. While you can also order anything from the menu, there are boats with nigiri, sashimi, and other stuff floating around the bar, ready to be plucked off. Delicious stuff, tho decidedly non-traditional food. Oh, and the owners AND chefs are >gasp< Vietnamese...