Mao Nakajima, 31, works for intermediary wholesale company Hicho in Tokyo’s new major wholesale fish market, where she examines southern bluefin tuna and other fish and places bids.
Intermediary wholesalers fillet tuna weighing more than 70 kilograms and sell pieces to buyers from restaurants who visit the Toyosu market in search of ingredients.
“It’s fun to select and bid for tuna, imagining how the fish would be decorated on a plate at a restaurant,” says Nakajima, who chose the profession after watching her grandfather work as an intermediary wholesaler at Tsukiji, Toyosu’s predecessor.
Women like Nakajima are increasing their presence in the market, which has long been considered a male bastion. And more women are participating in auctions at the new Toyosu market, which replaced the now-defunct Tsukiji market last October.
According to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, there was no woman certified as an auctioneer until around 15 years ago. Now there are seven at the market.
Tomoko Inoue, 35, has 10 years of experience at Toyosu wholesaler Tsukiji Uoichiba Co. She handles seaweed such as wakame (seaweed) and konbu (kelp) from Miyagi Prefecture, which was hit hard by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
“I want to expand sales channels for producers who continue making shipments after recovering from the disaster,” Inoue says.
One female sushi chef who buys fish regularly in the market is Yuki Chizui, 32. She has been the manager of a popular sushi restaurant in Tokyo’s Akihabara district from its opening in August 2010.
The sushi eatery, Nadeshico Sushi, which employs only female chefs, offers colorful plates of otsukuri (sliced raw fish) decorated with vegetables.
Chizui has taught sushi-making techniques to more than 100 women, including part-time workers.
Due to its location in Akihabara, a hub of Japanese subculture, “customers sometimes come to the eatery with the misconception it is a maid cafe,” Chizui says. In maid cafes, women dressed in maid costumes serve food and drinks to customers as if they are their masters.
Chizui says, “I want to keep serving delicious dishes utilizing aesthetic sensitivity and a sense of color unique to women.”