Utrecht is home to many nationalities. Every week, DUIC features an Utrechter with a different background. The concept was inspired by ‘180 amsterdammers’.
– article by Fenna Riethof
“Leisure time is less important to the Japanese than to the Dutch“
A few Japanese locals wandering along the Westerkade in August 2017 peered cautiously into the former French Vaartsche Rijn restaurant. The word ‘Kounosuke’ (the surname of the man who founded the electro giant Panasonic and who like Kanako, also comes from Wakayama) was displayed in the window in Japanese characters and the interior had been given a new lick of paint. Kanako Imai and her husband invited them in and explained that this would soon become their Japanese restaurant. Some of the Japanese immediately offered to help in the kitchen. In broken English, Kanako proudly recalls how she took them on.
“The food has to be real Japanese. There’s already a fusion restaurant and a few sushi bars in Utrecht, but nothing selling ‘authentic’ Japanese street food.” Service and hospitality are just as important as the food. “We want to show the people of Utrecht our customs, like putting yourself at someone’s service. We want to build a bridge between the two cultures. So far, so good. We’re fully booked every evening.”
That what she likes about the Dutch. They’re more open to new cultures than the Japanese. “They’re always friendly and ask about our authentic ways.” But the Dutch could learn a lot from Japanese service, she admits. “If you ask a professional something here, they often have to go and ask a colleague. In Japan, everyone in a company can answer all your questions.”
How did Kanako end up in the Netherlands? After high school, she wanted a break from studying and a time-out from being ‘one of the forty’ in the class. But taking a degree was crucial, because you can’t lead a ‘good’ life in Japan without qualifications. So she decided to spend one year in Europe as an exchange student. Her mother had heard of a country called Germany, where the people are very polite and always on time. Kanako found a host family and had the time of her life. As part of her studies four years later, Kyoto had the opportunity of spending another year abroad. She didn’t need to think twice, and returned to her beloved Germany.
After graduating, Kanako worked for a Japanese company for a while, helping restaurants to devise their menus. But she was homesick for Europe, where she saw herself running her own restaurant. She discovered that it was difficult to get a visa in most European countries, except in the Netherlands, which has special ties with Japan. “The Netherlands is quite like Germany and the people speak good English.”
It would have been difficult to launch her restaurant without ‘Danny and Stijn’, the former owners of the Vaartsche Rijn, who now run BROEI! on the opposite side. “They were so helpful, explaining how the restaurant business works here in the Netherlands.” The young couple hope to open a second restaurant somewhere else in the Netherlands in the future.
Name: Kanako Imai
Place of birth: Wakayama, Japan
Year of birth: 28 September 1983
Motto: ‘Seek your own happiness, so that your partner and family can be happy too.’
Allemaal Utrechters is a series of interviews with people who moved to Utrecht from another country. We ask them about their background and their impression of Utrecht, revealing the true diversity of our city. The ‘Allemaal Utrechters’ series is a collaboration between DUIC and Culturele Zondagen, and has been made possible with help from Stichting Dialoog and the Municipality of Utrecht. We hope to showcase every nationality in Utrecht.