KOFU, YAMANASHI PREF. – Toshimi Furusawa, 62, flew to Cambodia this summer to teach local people traditional Japanese cooking as a senior volunteer with the Japan International Cooperation Agency.
“This is a great opportunity and I plan to teach them what I believe is authentic Japanese cuisine,” Furusawa said in an interview before leaving her home in Kofu, Yamanashi Prefecture.
Furusawa opened a Japanese restaurant 25 years ago with her husband near JR Kofu Station, and had since focused on stocks or broths called dashi, which form the basis of many Japanese dishes.
But she closed the restaurant to spend two years working as a JICA volunteer in Cambodia.
Traditional Japanese cuisine, or washoku, has become popular in the Southeast Asian country since it was added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2013.
Furusawa developed an interest in volunteer work abroad when she visited her son in Africa while he was working under JICA’s Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers program, and saw a local woman and her daughter begging.
“I thought it should not only be financial assistance that we can provide to them,” she said. “We can also help them acquire skills to survive.”
Furusawa learned that JICA was recruiting volunteers in the field of cooking. She began studying English again and cleared the necessary JICA dispatch criteria within six months.
Furusawa said about her approach to teaching at the vocational school in Cambodia where she now works: “I will value the basic style of washoku, but will also make arrangements in response to Cambodia’s diet and culture.
“Each dish will taste different depending on the environment and it will also reflect the cook’s personality,” Furusawa said. “If I can have Cambodians understand that, I would be satisfied with my teaching.”
She said she looks forward to discovering what Japanese food is like when adding ingredients to match the preferences of Cambodians who like to use spices.
She also hopes to teach Japanese table manners and ways to sharpen Japanese kitchen knives.