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Mayuko Okada’s last meal: Pancakes over nattō

by

Staff Writer

Name: Mayuko Okada
Age: 34
Nationality: Japanese
Occupation: Japanese cooking teacher and owner of Mayuko’s Little Kitchen
Likes: Everything about food, beautiful shoes, my job, yoga, triathlons, reading books, waking up early
Dislikes: Oysters


1. What do the kanji that comprise your first name mean? Would you say they match your personality? My name consists of 真 (ma), the kanji for 真実 (truth), 由 (yu) for 自由 (freedom) and child (子). I’m not sure if it matches my personality but I hope that I live up to my name.

2. What do you love about living in Japan? The courteous and responsible customer service.

3. Where do you go to escape Japan? I recently went to Taiwan for a day trip. It only takes three hours to get there and you get the tropical climate, delicious nikuman (meat buns), etc. It completely took my mind off daily life.

4. Whom in Japan do you most admire? The Yangmingism scholar Masuoka Yasuhiro, who had a huge influence on postwar Japan. I sympathize with his way of thinking.

5. What’s the strangest question you have been asked in your job? I asked one of my class participants to pour miso soup into a bowl and he asked, “Do we eat the contents?” I never thought anyone would think that and it gave me a new perspective on things.

6. What is your Japanese comfort food? Definitely nattō (fermented soybeans). There are a lot of imported soybeans around today, but I like that nattō is made from the ingredient that makes up the basis of many traditional Japanese foods. Soybeans fermented with bacteria — it’s the ultimate product of the country’s climate and fermentation culture. And there’s nothing that looks quite like it!

7. What’s the most challenging homemade dish you teach in your class? I try to keep recipes for my class simple so that participants can make them in their home countries, but I suppose miso soup would be the hardest because the taste is slightly different every time you make it. So many factors affect the taste, from the kind of konbu seaweed or bonito flakes you use to how long you heat it.

8. If you could have dinner with anyone from history, who would it be and what would you eat? Shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi. I’d love to hear his exciting stories of how a lowest-ranked peasant became a powerful ruler. Maybe over some yakitori — on him.

9. What would you like to be doing in 10 years’ time? Teaching Japanese cooking to foreign participants in a kitchen with a view over some lush greenery. I hope my cooking lessons become the must-do activity for foreign tourists.

10. What song best describes your work ethic? Katy Perry’s “Roar.” Hearing those beats and the lyrics about standing on your own feet and creating your paths helps me feel motivated when I’m feeling low on confidence.

12. What’s the biggest joy in your job? I feel energized when I can tell that my clients like Japan more through the food and my lessons. I sit back on my sofa and let that satisfaction sink in after I finish work.

13. How do you relax when you aren’t working? When I’m mentally drained, I go for triathlon practices and sweat it out. When I’m physically exhausted, I go to Spa Laqua in Suidobashi, Tokyo, and spend a whole day just being lazy. I call that place heaven.

14. What would you like to eat before you die? It would be fitting to say tamago-kake-gohan (a bowl of rice with raw egg) with nattō here, but my honest answer would be bill’s pancakes. I’d like to devour the pancakes that are served with maple syrup and butter topping.

15. What would you take to a deserted island? A hair straightener. Bad hair days really make me miserable.

16. What’s the most exciting/outrageous thing you have ever done? I was in Australia for a short period of time in a home-stay. Once, after I returned to Japan, I gave my Australian host mother a big surprise by secretly flying over and showing up in a cafe on her birthday. It was so much fun!

17. What’s been the most embarrassing moment in your life? When I was going through the job hunting process, I woke up one day to realize that I should be in my final interview. I apologized wholeheartedly to the company and they gave me the interview, but I felt so embarrassed and pretty miserable.

18. What do you want to be if you are reborn? An American pop singer. I used to dance and I just think it would be so cool to be able to sing and dance like Beyonce and entertain a huge crowd. Cheap thoughts, really.

19. If you won ¥1 million in the lottery, what would you do with the money? I’d invite every single acquaintance of mine and have a yakiniku barbecue party in a restaurant. I wonder, though: Will ¥1 million be enough?

20. In a word, what’s the appeal of Japanese cuisine? It’s the epitome of Japanese aesthetics and culture!