Food & Culture

Where Japanese Australians go for a taste of home

Across Australia, there are plenty of spots to experience the food and culture of Japan. And for these chefs, restaurateurs and producers, it's just a matter of knowing where to look.

By Anne Hasegawa
Illustrations: Kelsie Walker
Kara-age. Yakitori. Sushi. And snacks – lots of snacks. For many Japanese Australians working in food and wine, the comforts of home come in bite-size pieces. From restaurants and supermarkets, to gardens and festivals, it turns out there are plenty of Japanese gems hidden in our own backyard.
While our grand plans for picnics under cherry blossom trees, bento boxes on bullet trains, and 5am ramen in the city that never sleeps are still on hold, the land of the rising sun is not completely out of reach after all.
So just where do you go when you want a taste of Japan? We asked seven prominent Japanese Australians working in food and wine to share their rituals of reconnection and help us uncover the best spots to experience a taste of Japan in Australia.


Tofu maker | Tofu Shoten, Melbourne
After moving here in 2015, Sava Goto found the locally produced tofu wasn't up to the same standards as the soft, silky cubes found in Japan. So, she decided to do it herself, bringing her newly acquired skills from Japan all the way to Melbourne through her shop, Tofu Shoten.
"If I feel like Japanese comfort food, I like going to Aka Siro in Collingwood, it's so good! My go-to dish is kara-age, I think they've got the best in Melbourne. The owners have come in to buy tofu recently and I told them how much I miss their kara-age – I need to go back.
"I go to Fuji Mart to buy very particular Japanese things, like gobo (burdock), sake kasu (lees), nigari or a good umeboshi (pickled plum). Something that you can't get often. I go there and try and find things that they don't always stock and are difficult to get in Melbourne.
"There's also a guy who makes shokupan (Japanese milk bread) – a wholesaler called Little Cardigan, who supplies the bread for St Dreux. It's just next level. Making shokupan is a skill that you can't learn quickly – you need a lot of experience – and this really impressed me."


Chef | Hifumiya Udon Noodle House, Perth
Born and raised in the Japanese countryside of Kurashiki in the Okayama prefecture, Daisuke Hiramatsu has been honing his chef skills since the age of 18. By day, his restaurant Hifumiya serves handmade udon by the bowl; by night, it transforms into Jigoro, an izakaya where the kara-age is juicy and the sake is plentiful.
"It's not a place you go to casually, but there's a Japanese restaurant called James Parker that I love going to. It's such a beautiful place and of course, the chef is Japanese. From the omakase menu and chef's specials, to the sushi that you eat at the counter and the snacks you have with your sake, it's all reminiscent of Japan, and very delicious.
"When the sun sets at Hifumiya, we actually turn into an izakaya called Jigoro. Our menu is casual and focused on classic Japanese dishes, like kinpira gobo, Japanese potato salad, green beans with sesame (ingen no goma-ae) – things that you can't really find outside of Japan.
"I love engaging with Japanese cultural practices that remind me of my life back in Japan, like watching kendo. It makes me feel nostalgic. I like sharing it with the people around me here, to show them the other parts of Japanese culture.
"There's a big Japanese matsuri here, the Perth Japan Festival, that happens every year in March. There's dancing and taiko, people dressed up in kimonos and even cosplay. We did an udon workshop for kids this year, to show them how to stretch and cut udon dough, which they could take home and cook with their parents. They were so happy."


Owner/chef, WaKenbo, Melbourne
Kenji Ito is a skilled chef and gardener, who moved to Australia with his wife, Noriko, in 1999. He nurtures his green thumb through his restaurant WaKenbo in Melbourne's Fitzroy, which celebrates uniquely Japanese produce, grown in his own garden.
"When we go out for Japanese food, we often go locally [near the restaurant], such as Tamura Sake Bar, Wabi Sabi Salon and also Cibi. Around where we live, we love going to DenDeke, which is a beautiful Japanese restaurant. I love getting yakitori, kara-age and drinking sake. And it's so nice to talk to people, especially the owners, who are Japanese. It reminds me that I'm Japanese!
"But for me, when I'm in my garden it reminds me most of Japan. Most of the produce at our restaurant comes from our garden. We grow a lot of Japanese vegetables, like gobo (burdock), mitsuba, ginger and shiso. But we also buy from the Japanese grocery stores like Hinoki on Smith Street, and Fuji Mart in Prahran.
"I'm planning to go for a drive to a yuzu farm in the north-west of Victoria. I want to go there and see all of the yuzu trees. Because you know, yuzu is our Japanese spirit, our soul."


Chef/co-owner, Shōbōsho and ShoSho, Adelaide
Yumi Nagaya is a country girl at heart. Growing up in the undulating hills of Nagano, she was drawn to the rugged natural landscapes of Australia. She came here for culinary school more than a decade ago – and never left. She is the development chef at Shōbōsho and co-owner of sister restaurant, ShoSho, in Adelaide.
"When I want to get Japanese food in Adelaide, I go to Ramen and Izakaya Himeji and get sushi and sashimi. They have the freshest sashimi there. It's where I go when I want to eat alone. I don't go with big groups – I like the experience of eating there by myself.
"I also make miso and koji at home for my friends and myself, because I can eat better product and feel like I'm home. My grandma used to make all sauces at home – soy sauce, miso, koji, sake, fruit wine – all sorts of fermentation. I'm from the countryside of Nagano so it was normal to make [these things] at home.
"We also have the Adelaide Himeji Garden. That's probably the most known Japanese place around, it's beautiful. But ultimately, it's the mountains that remind me of Japan most. We've got so many good hikes around here. I always pack lunch and make obento (Japanese lunchbox) with onigiri, kara-age (fried chicken) and tamagoyaki (rolled omelette). The basics."


Winemaker | Small Forest Wine, Upper Hunter Valley
With more than 30 years experience, Atsuko Radcliffe lays claim to being Japan's first-ever female winemaker. But it's not just winemaking that Radcliffe excels in. Since moving to Australia 20 years ago, she's also mastered the art of sake brewing, with a brief stint back in Japan, bringing a uniqueness to the wines she creates at her winery, Small Forest Wine.
"I'm a bit far from Sydney, almost four hours away, so I don't go out for Japanese very often. But the last time I did, I went to Gold Class Daruma, in the Grace Hotel and I had sushi and sashimi there. It's traditional, authentic Japanese food. I really enjoyed eating there.
"There's a Japanese supermarket called Tokyo Mart that I usually stop at on my way home from the city, to get some Japanese ingredients and products, like natto (fermented soybeans), which is so precious here.
"Natto is very cheap in Japan. But because I can't go to the shops in the city all the time, it's such an expensive, rare food at our place. My husband loves natto too so sometimes we share one pack together! It's delicious and very good for you too."


Miso maker | Mountain Miso, Orange
Hailing from a small fishing village called Tomonoura in Hiroshima prefecture, Nanae Harada moved to Orange four years ago, where the cool climate and traditional ageing process is the key to making her Mountain Miso from scratch.
"My favourite Japanese restaurant is Goryon-San in Sydney. It is a very authentic izakaya-style restaurant. Their yakitori and nabe (hotpot) dishes are great. I love sharing a nabe with my friends and family especially in cooler months.
"I visit the Cowra Japanese Garden and Cultural Centre when I miss Japan. It opened in 1979 to recognise and develop the historic and ongoing relationship between the people of Cowra and the people of Japan. In spring, they host Sakura Matsuri (Cherry Blossom Festival) to celebrate spring and Japanese culture.
"Another favourite place is the Japanese Bath House in Lithgow. I really miss onsen in Japan. It is such a relaxing experience. They have a few different baths that overlook Lake Lyell. There is a Japanese restaurant inside of the bath house and you can have a lovely green tea as well. It's amazing."


Owner/chef, Shunsai, Brisbane
Tokyo-born and Brisbane-raised, Shun Mori is the chef and owner of Shunsai in Brisbane. His globetrotting CV includes stints in Switzerland as the chef at the Japanese embassy and cooking for the Swedish royal family, but back in Australia, he's renowned for serving what could be the country's best kaiseki.
"I really like sushi, which I often make myself. I don't go out for Japanese food much but when I do, I like to eat yakitori at Bird's Nest. I normally order negima. I don't make yakitori myself which is why I like to go. It's something you have out rather than making it at home.
"I also like going to the Japanese grocery shop, Fuji Mart. I go there often to get Japanese snacks, I love it! My favourite is Karl, it's a corn snack (cheesy corn puffs). And osenbei (rice crackers).
"Other than that, there's a Japanese matsuri, Matsuri Brisbane, once a year here. They've got Japanese food and things like taiko performances and dancing. I usually go there to do a food stall for my shop."