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Touchdown Japan: Sushi class in Tokyo's Tsukiji district impresses foreign tourists

Participants are seen at a sushi-making class at "Tsukiji Cooking" in Tokyo's Chuo Ward, on March 16, 2018. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- A culinary class situated next to Tokyo's world-famous Tsukiji wholesale market, which offers sushi-making lessons in English, is proving to be a huge hit with foreign visitors to Japan.

"Tsukiji Cooking," which is adjacent to Japan's largest comprehensive market, opened four years ago with the aim of providing lessons to tourists from overseas.

Shintaro Takizawa, one of the firm's instructors, previously worked at a Japanese restaurant in the U.S. for seven years before taking up his current role. His native-level English ability enables him to teach sushi-making skills to attentive students in a smooth manner -- impressing numerous people including three young American women who recently attended the class.

The American visitors clearly found the experience stimulating. They felt inspired to keep trying more complex forms of sushi such as the "Gunkanmaki" battleship sushi, which is shaped exactly as it sounds.

Culinary tours, which offer a hands-on experience of a different gastronomic culture, are thriving in the West -- and Tsukiji Cooking wanted to get involved as well.

Trying out dishes made from locally sourced, decent and seasonal ingredients appeals to just about anybody who travels overseas. However, some people like to go one step further, learning about local food culture and ingredients and actually making the food themselves.

"We target 'foodies,' namely people who are discerning when it comes to food. In particular, there's been an increase in the number of relatively affluent visitors from Europe, North America and Asia. Our location is ideal because all the ingredients can be bought at Tsukiji Market, satisfying the fussiest of customers," explains Misao Sugibayashi, head of Tsukiji Cooking.

The class starts at 10 a.m. The first step is to physically go to Tsukiji Market just as it is closing, in order to purchase ingredients for the class, in accordance with the participants' requests. The outer market at Tsukiji offers ingredients from across Japan, and customers are allowed to negotiate regarding price, and also take photos. It's a district where people can enjoy "the catch of the day."

When the three American women visited the class, they attempted to make sushi, and also cooked some fish over a charcoal grill. One of the women, a real-estate worker from California called Stephanie, remarked cheerfully that "nigiri" sushi was slightly difficult to make, as rice got stuck to her fingers. She included a trip to Tsukiji Cooking as part of a nine-day tour across Japan.

Stephanie also sampled ramen across various parts of Japan and was looking forward to experiencing a Tokyo subway journey during evening rush hour.

Japan is presently experiencing an unprecedented level of inbound tourism. The number of foreign visitors to Japan in 2018 is likely to exceed 30 million people, and businesses are competing fiercely to attract custom, which amounts to 5 trillion yen's worth of foreign currency to the Japanese economy.

As a result, "sacred spots" geared toward foreign visitors, such as Tsukiji Cooking, are becoming increasingly popular. (Japanese original by Tadahiko Mori, Tokyo Opinion Group)

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