Hi, this is Peter from the Yamashina branch of Smiths English Schools. I have been living in Japan for around thirty years and have enjoyed teaching English at Smiths in Yamashina for more than twenty years. During this time I have taught many different kinds of students at my school. A question which often comes up in classes is what I did before joining Smiths.
I was lucky that after arriving in Japan my Japanese wife’s parents offered me a job. They own a traditional Japanese style sweet shop in Shiga and offered me work there. Although I imagined I would be teaching English eventually, I saw this as a great opportunity to learn something about Japanese culture and to learn a new skill.
Western and Japanese sweets
As an Englishman arriving in Japan I had an image of sweets as sugar or chocolate based treats mainly for kids. I soon came to understand that Japanese style confectionary was very different. The main ingredient in many cases is bean paste, usually either smooth or rough red but sometimes white bean paste. For the first few months working for my in-laws I prepared this bean paste. This was very hot work in summertime, mixing boiling beans until the consistency was just right. Even today I still prefer the flavor of white bean paste because I had to prepare red paste every day and came to dislike it. My English school students are often surprised by this as most claim they taste so similar.
While working in the sweet shop I learned that the sweets were also seasonal. We would produce particular items for special ceremonies or events. For example, red and white steamed bean paste buns for weddings. There were also beautifully colored sweets for cherry blossom viewing and others for Autumn colored leaves. My father in law was patient enough to teach me how to make many of these but I could never match his speed or skill level. At the time though I did become quite well known in Shiga as the foreigner making Japanese sweets. I was even interviewed by several newspapers and magazines. I still have some newspaper cuttings displayed in my Smiths English classroom and new students often want to find out more.
Although I rarely make sweets now I continue to learn. Many of my English school students kindly bring me sweets as gifts from their trips. From this I find out about the regional variety which is available. Other students teach me about the importance of sweets in the tea ceremony. I am sure I still have much to discover with the help of my schools students.