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Club Gastro Japo and food, the best way to get to know Japanese culture

“A small boat sailing in the ocean is easy to knock over, whereas many boats sailing together are difficult to turn over,” with that idea in mind, a small group of Nikkei gastronomers gave shape to an idea. Sergio Asato, Alejandra Kano, and Naomi Kanemoto did not know each other. It was through a chat group that they began contact with a common motivation: to join forces as small entrepreneurs and Japanese restaurants to get ahead in the middle of the economic crisis. What began as an initiative with commercial aims (connections that would allow them to make bulk purchases together from suppliers) became a network that multiplied very quickly.

In Argentina, although Japanese gastronomy was beginning to be noticed, Japanese businesses—with their characteristic humbleness and low profile—were kept out of the wave. Only the Japanese community knew where and what to eat. With this verve and desire to change things, ‘Club Gastro Japo’ took shape. Because who could show an Argentine better what ramen is, how to use hashi, and the benefits of matcha than a local Nikkei?

Umami Sweets Box, an assortment of Japanese sweets. A mix from different entrepreuners at Club Gastro Japo.

Word of mouth (many restaurants are family-owned and related) shaped it. In a short time this group of cooks and restaurant owners saw with satisfaction that they could not only share professional concerns but also understand that together as a team they could achieve greater things. Giving visibility to what Nikkei kitchens have in common: organized innately under the order of Kaizen and with the trendy ‘head to toe’—not wasting—instilled through the mottainai our grandparents taught us.

Members of Club Gastro Japo (chefs and restaurant owners) at the 2019 Gastro Japo Food Week held at the Japanese Ambassador’s residence.

As a team, they achieved commercial deals, sponsorships, and created big projects such as, in 2019, the first Gastro Japo Food Week with the support of the former Japanese ambassador to Argentina, Noriteru Fukushima. The mission of Club Gastro Japo was to make Japanese culture known through daily basis—its flavors, its food.

It’s a week of promotion to show that Japanese gastronomy is much more than sushi. In a united way, each local (small Japanese entrepreneur, Nikkei and non Nikkei) faced the big chains with their proposal. They added dishes such as okonomiyaki, donburi, chawanmushi, and even the very homey oden to their classic restaurant menus. They presented traditional hot dishes of Japanese cuisine prepared with local seasonal products (generating support from the national government, interested in promoting fishing) and highlighted the strengths of being a Nikkei, with the best of both worlds.

Japanese dishes. Social Sushi Izakaya.

With their work, Club Gastro Japo gave visibility to Japanese culture and put its community on everyone’s lips.They reached the front pages of the national newspapers and became an example for other communities. Today, Club Gastro Japo has become a civil association and spreads Japanese culture as only good food can. As a team and for their work—especially strong, united, and helpful during the pandemia crisis—they have just received the Outstanding Institution 2020 award from Centro Nikkei Argentino.


© 2021 Paula Ikeda

Alejandra Kano Argentina Club Gastro Japo Food Japan Naomi Kanemoto Sergio Asato