Japan is well known the world over for its gracious hospitality. Visitors are welcomed, made to feel special and often treated like royalty.
"Omotenashi" as it’s called is hard to define, but the Japanese use it to describe what they believe is their unique approach to hospitality which involves the subjugation of self in service to a guest; without being “servile.”
When Sachie Nomura arrived in New Zealand from Japan at 18 and not speaking any English the tables were turned and it was her 80-year-old homestay grandmother who practiced her own form of Omotenashi.
“While she was quite strict she set two important rules for me from the outset. The first rule was that I would only speak English in all my conversations while the second rule required me to write a daily journal which she would check every night for spelling and grammar.
Both of these rules helped me to master English quite quickly.”
Receiving her mother’s approval to travel to learn English in another country, something Sachie describes as very “un-Japanese,” would prove to be a turning point in her life. It was also her mother who offered to convince Sachie’s father to let their free-spirited daughter follow her passion.
“At school I loved PE and I really enjoyed sport, but I was also good at academic subjects as well. However, it was one of my teachers who encouraged me to come to New Zealand after connecting me with a returning student who had spent time here. Although I initially wanted to move to the U.S., he convinced me that New Zealand was a much better option due to its friendly people and relatively safe environment. So I decided to follow in his footsteps.”
Taking a university course in a language that Sachie was still learning proved to be a major challenge in itself. She initially enrolled in a Computer Science degree after following her passion for maths, but quickly found it wasn’t for her, switching instead to a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Chinese & Linguistics. (The decision would later prove to be serendipitous after subsequently marrying her Chinese boyfriend!)
After graduating and working in travel followed by a stint in hotel management, things took an expected and dramatic turn one day causing Sachie to closely examine her own life and what she wanted to achieve.
“Two of my colleagues lost their life partners to heart attacks on the same day. It was a very big wake up call for me and I had this lightbulb moment where all I could hear was my mum’s voice when I was a child telling me that if there is something that you really want to do in life you should do it so that you don’t go through the rest of your life with regrets.”
Anxious to return home that evening, Sachie drew a mind map of all the things that she wanted to achieve, including how she could utilise her knowledge of Japanese cooking. Having spent time learning from some of Auckland’s top Japanese chefs and with a passion for Asian expression a business opportunity was staring her right in the face and Sachie’s Kitchen was born.
“I quickly realised it could be a bridge for Kiwis to demystify and experience the magic of Japanese & Asian food.”
Starting the business from home using her own kitchen, it didn’t take long for Sachie’s Kitchen to become Australasia’s largest Asian cooking school with its own custom designed premises in Parnell while also collecting several awards along the way.
The classes appeal to individuals with a passion for Asian cooking and also corporate teams who book events that cover Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Malaysian, Chinese, Indian & Korean cuisine.
Sachie has gone on to launch her own range of branded food products nationwide as well as hosting a TV cooking show which is now syndicated to 45 countries along with accompanying book releases.
But it hasn’t all been plain sailing.
“I used to be a control freak and I’ve had to learn how to let go and to trust others. I learnt this the hard way after one day collapsing in the kitchen. My fingers went numb and I was very pale; it was a big wake up call.
As a result, the saying ‘If you want to go fast, do it yourself, if you want to go further, do it as a team’ has special meaning for me.”
Four years in the making, the recent launch of Avocadomilk in the USA – a world first – has been a personal highlight for Sachie in 2019.
As for the original mind map that was drawn when Sachie’s Kitchen was first conceived – it’s now framed and takes pride of place on the wall of the cooking school as a reminder that good ideas can sometimes taste good too!