• Kyodo

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With Japanese food enjoying a global boom, culinary training institutes in Japan have seen a surge in foreign students eager to learn how to make the country’s traditional cuisine.

The number of international students has more than doubled, with 424 enrolled in fiscal 2017 compared with 178 in fiscal 2010, according to the Japan Association of Training Colleges for Cooks.

Their popularity seems to be a reflection of the 30 percent rise in Japanese restaurants abroad in the past two years, with 118,000 on record as of October 2017. Helping to fuel the boom was the addition of washoku — or traditional Japanese cuisine — to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2013.

The operator of the Tsuji Culinary Institute and the Tsuji Institute of Patisserie in Osaka said foreign enrollment has more than tripled to 240 in the seven years through fiscal 2017.

“I was stunned by the beauty of washoku’s tableware and delicate taste, the spirit of hospitality and everything,” said Li Zichen, a 23-year-old from Hangzhou, China, who is studying at the Tsuji Culinary Institute. “There is no border for ‘deliciousness.’ I would like to become a respected cook, so my hometown folks can enjoy my dishes.”

Most foreign students are from Asia, with trainees from China accounting for 31.6 percent of the total in fiscal 2017, followed by South Koreans (24.3 percent), Vietnamese (15.6 percent) and Taiwanese (14.6 percent).

Like the students, the Japanese food industry has high hopes the trend will help boost sales of Japanese food around the world.

Tamaki Bito, head of the planning division at Tsuji Culinary School, said it wants foreign students to learn the Japanese tradition of finding harmony between cooking and nature.

“We have a responsibility to support the cultural significance of food and agriculture,” Bito said.

In 2016, the government established guidelines setting out the knowledge and skills overseas cooks should possess to produce authentic Japanese cuisine.

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.

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