Toronto Life - The Dish

The latest buzz on restaurants, chefs, bars, food shops and food events. Sign up for the Dish newsletter for weekly updates. Send tips to



Why are there no female sushi chefs? Blame warm hands and menstruation

Yet another man making sushi (Image: rick)

According to the Star, there are only three female sushi chefs in Toronto because of a series of age-old beliefs about how the Japanese culinary art must be executed:

Women’s hands are too warm to handle raw fish or sushi rice. Their perfume, makeup and lotions interfere with the food. Hormonal fluctuations wreak havoc on delicate Japanese food.

As silly as those reasons sound, they apparently still prevent women from advancing in the field. Mina Makimine, the chef at the Japanese consul general’s office in Forest Hill, says that her colleagues talk about “the biological differences which cause women, during their monthly cycles, to fall into different states that affect the delicate and sophisticated form of Japanese cooking.” Shoko Sakiyama, a female sous-chef at Edo-ko near St. Clair West and Spadina, adds that back in Osaka, many female chefs gave up their careers after marriage to take care of the house.

The chefs do say that Japan is now more progressive when it comes to accepting women in sushi schools (it also helps that the country lifted a ban on women working past 10 p.m. in 1999). The article also says that the city’s new generation of Japanese restaurant owners don’t care about the sex of their chefs as long as the sushi is good.

The New York Times profiled female sushi chefs back in 2002 and mentioned the same three beliefs regarding warm hands, perfume and makeup. That piece estimates (this is 2002 we’re talking about) that there are at least six female sushi chefs in New York City, nine in Los Angeles and about 200 in Japan. NPR did a similar story a year earlier.

Since it takes a good 10 years to train as a sushi chef, we’re wondering how many more female chefs are now working in those cities. But considering eight years have passed and the Star is still echoing the “things are slowly changing” message that the Times did in ’02, it’s going to be a very slow progression.

Why are Toronto’s sushi chefs almost all male? [Toronto Star]

  • Nat

    All men say I have very cold hands (and feet), I wear little makeup to avoid skin problems and I don’t like perfume. And I don’t menstruate also – it’s been a while since modern medicine discovered means to get you away from menstruating. So, I shall apply to a sushi school?

  • Jay

    I know that there is a female sushi chef working at Takesushi….i wonder if the author has his facts straight or not, maybe she should have done a little more research then just going by hearsay…

  • Salanth

    Strange, I’ve also found that most women have colder hands than men. Face it, the men are worried. Women’s smaller hands are more nimble.

  • Josh D

    Just another example of North Americans excusing sexism because we’re scared to offend another culture.

    Sexism is sexism folks!

  • ColdHands

    Are you kidding me?! Women with warm hands? What a joke!

    Perhaps I was destined to become a sushi chef b/c my hands (and feet, for that matter) are ALWAYS super cold. I won’t go so far as to say “freezing” which would be an exaggeration. My feet get respite from a pair of classic short Ugg boots.

  • squirt

    alright then, all you ladies with the cold hands and feet, go on and become sushi chefs…nat, do whatever pleases you.