Culinary scholarship in Tokyo brings hope to Burmese students
Burma has faced political turmoil since his army seized power in a coup last year. The COVID-19 outbreak has also led to a decline in the number of Burmese students studying in Japan which, until then, had been on the rise.
Amid this situation, a culinary school in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district has enrolled six Burmese students with full scholarships. The students began attending classes at the end of May and the school believes they will become “a beacon of hope for young people in Myanmar”.
“Thank you for this food!” This was the refrain uttered by the six students at the table before starting their meal.
In the staff room Shinjuku Chorishi Senmon Gakko (Shinjuku Culinary School), six women were sitting around a table having lunch. They were international students from Myanmar who had come to study in Japan since the end of May. Already studying Japanese at universities or other institutions, they were in Tokyo hoping to learn Japanese manners and etiquette while having lunch with the staff.
“Japanese dishes are low in oil, light and very tasty. I want to make some for my family,” said Nwe Nanda Au, a beaming 26-year-old student.
Career option in a haven of peace
The security situation in Myanmar has deteriorated since the military coup in February 2021, and an increase in airfare prices caused a dramatic drop in the number of Burmese students studying in Japan. The culinary school had taken one to nine Burmese students each year, but none were enrolled in 2021.
“As a fellow Asian, I felt called to receive Burmese students who wanted to study in Japan,” said Umeo Kamikanda, director of the culinary school.
The school covers all student tuition and living expenses. The six Burmese students at the lunch table in May were selected through interviews and other procedures from among 100 applicants who responded to the school’s advertisement for the one-year program.
Kalaya Thein Thein, 24, had worked as an interpreter for a Japanese company in Myanmar. But she lost her job when the business was suspended due to the military coup and the pandemic. “For a long time, I was at home doing nothing. I wanted to try something new, so I chose to study a cuisine that was already familiar to me.”
The other students had studied and worked in Myanmar to fulfill their dream of studying in Japan – until it all fell apart.
Kay Tuy Soe, 33, said: “I couldn’t use the internet, petrol prices quadrupled and I couldn’t afford to buy anything.
Endry Nya Maw Kyaw, 22, revealed that she ‘couldn’t tell the police even if something happened’ and ‘lives in anxiety every day’.
First steps towards their dreams
Director Kamikanda hopes that after completing the one-year culinary school program, students will gain qualifications, gain the necessary hands-on experience in Japanese restaurants and start their own businesses at home. He hopes that by gaining a variety of experiences during their limited stay in Japan, the students will become entrepreneurs and a guide for Myanmar’s youth.
The students have no prior culinary training, so the road to opening a restaurant will not be easy. But they took the first steps towards their dreams.
Nunu Shwe Ba, 23, expressed her determination. “I think it will take 5-10 years for Myanmar to become the safe country it used to be. I want to use what I learned in Japan to one day open my own restaurant in Myanmar.”
(Read the report in Japanese on this link.)
Author: Misaki Owatari