If you think your life has been a little difficult of late, spare a thought for the parents who have needed to prepare three meals a day for hungry children who have been forced to spend time at home following the school closures since March. A number of mothers, in particular, have taken to social media in recent weeks to vent their frustrations.
Responding to this, among other things, culinary expert Kentetsu Koh went so far as to apologize for previously suggesting that “loving, home-cooked meals are what makes children grow” in a recent online interview with the Asahi Shimbun.
“The closures showed how hard it is to make three meals a day from scratch,” Koh says. “I mean, I do this for a living, but even I was worn out.”
In late March, Koh launched a YouTube cooking channel titled Koh Kentetsu Kitchen that was inspired by his own experiences following the school closures. Like many at the time, Koh had started working from home and discovered that coming up with three recipes for his three children every day was hard work. And that’s even before you get to preparing and cooking the food, as well as cleaning up.
“My wife works as my agent, so she was also busy,” Koh says. “Things got pretty chaotic.”
Koh Kentetsu Kitchen focuses on simple meals that require only a few ingredients and little time. The first recipe Koh posted was a stove top cheese on toast, made in just a couple of minutes and requiring nothing more than a slice of bread and a handful of shredded cheese, with a smidgeon of butter as an optional ingredient.
With schools slowly reopening and some parents returning to work, it might be time to reassess the proportion of work Japanese mothers put into creating meals each day.
Close to 60 percent of households in Japan now operate on double incomes, but surveys show that women continue to shoulder the burden of housework. Although it’s true that the amount of time men spend on housework has tripled over the past 30 years, they only manage to rack up a fraction of the time that women spend in terms of cooking, cleaning, doing the laundry and caring for children.
Koh says that the “amount of effort Japanese moms put into ensuring the health and happiness of their families can be overwhelming.”
On top of the regular housework, preparing three meals every day has many women caught in an endless cycle.
“Women are told that it’s OK to take a break now and then,” Atsushi Shirao writes in Huffington Post. “But it’s not a matter of taking a break and buying boxed lunches for the whole family once in a while. It’s the thought of having to deal with the next meal as soon as this one is over, in whatever shape or form that meal may take.”
In his interview with the Asahi Shimbun, Koh proposes a solution to this problem.
“In Japan, society and traditional values endorse home-cooked meals but overseas, mothers don’t face that same pressure,” he says. “In France, mothers don’t cook on weekdays. In other parts of Asia, parents pick up meals from food stalls on their way home from work. Although Japanese home-cooking is a rich and wonderful culture, the onus shouldn’t fall on mothers to keep it going. It’s OK to rely on frozen food and prepared meals. It’s OK to serve a pastry for breakfast. I do that myself. After a couple of days of doing that, maybe mothers will feel like standing in a kitchen again.”
Koh also suggests that the whole family be involved in preparing meals.
“If one person is in the kitchen making dinner, someone else should set the table and do the dishes,” he says. “My two older kids have learned to cook very simple meals, and get these out on the table. Ideally, meal times should be a fun experience, not a grueling task. To make that happen, it’s essential to always say, ‘Thank you, that was delicious to the person who made it.”
Cooperation and participation are crucial, Koh says, arguing that the whole family then comes to an understanding of what it takes to prepare three meals a day.
Shirao agrees, saying, “Making meals is hard work and deserves a lot of appreciation.”
Koh says that staying home and eating in is likely to become the new normal in the short to medium term and, as such, should offer families an opportunity to reassess their behavior.
As a commentator using the handle @nakayosea notes on Japan Kanko Passport: “Stop asking me what’s for the next meal. I’m not a diner!”
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