Kikunoi, a reputable Japanese restaurant in Kyoto, is making preparations to hire its first foreign chef, a 20-year old son of a French chef to start by late January. The move is one way to maximize the leniency of visas being given, though limited, to foreign cooks of Japanese cuisine. The chef will apprentice for two years in the restaurant and will return to France after that period to create Japanese food there.
Hiring a foreign chef in a Japanese restaurant is unprecedented in Japan as tradition dictates that foreign cooks are hired for foreign cuisine only. Non-Japanese people who would want to prepare local cuisine must apply for a cultural-study visa, wherein they are required to be under an academic program where they will cook without pay and not serve the food to the customers. This December, UNESCO recognized Japanese food as an “intangible cultural heritage,” which changed that and the Ministry of Justice changed immigration rules to allow visas to foreign chefs of Japanese cuisine, though in a limited special “cultural” areas only set by the government, with Kyoto being the only destination for now.
The country’s strategy to promote Japanese culture and services globally plays a huge part in this move. Japan is hoping that it will help boost tourism in a country where manufacturing exports is declining in recent years due to competition from other nations cheaply producing the same things.