How the Women of Onomichi are Shaping the City with Chocolate

down the streets of Onomichi, one thing that can be noticed is that the chain
restaurants found in almost any other city are mostly absent here. In their
place, many private shops, often run by younger people in their 20s and 30s,
can be found. Situated between the mountains and the sea with an abundance of
nature, Onomichi is a city that brings in many travelers, from throughout Japan
and from abroad as well. Thanks to this rich and stimulating environment, and
the dedicated efforts of the local residents and government to assist
migration, in recent years, Onomichi has seen younger generations move into the
city more and more. New food trends have also emerged as well.

Foo CHOCOLATERS: Marina Gokan, factory head (2019)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Examples of these developments include Japanese tea shops, organic farms, lemonade shops, Japanese sake bars, and more. Even among such notable businesses, one establishment that has enjoyed particularly strong attention is ”foo CHOCOLATERS”, a chocolate factory run by women living in Onomichi. The representative, Marina Gokan (photo), is one example of Onomichi’s inward migration, having moved to the city after she graduated from a university in Tokyo.

Foo CHOCOLATERS: 3 variations of chocolates; PAN, NEU and CHA (2019)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

“When I first visited Onomichi, I felt the urge to live here, and decided to move. Coming here also led to my keen interest in food, as many people who gather here are quite serious about food being part of their culture heritage,” explains Ms. Gokan.

One example are the organic food producers and sustainable culinary culture advisors at the monthly “Onomichi Daidokoro”, which can be found at the local shopping district since 2011. There are also the local dining and drinking establishments, that create links betweeb creative people. “There are people here who utilize food to propose a certain way of life. People who not only satisfy their stomachs with delicious food and drink, but who are also able to derive the meaning of the lifestyles in the area. I have found these people in Onomichi to be very stimulating.”

Foo CHOCOLATERS: Hao Bui who works at the factory at Hiroshima Airport (2019)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Marina and Hao Bui (photo), who handles cocoa bean roasting’s and visual direction at foo CHOCOLATERS.

“Many people in Onomichi have traveled to a wide variety of places, or are from various parts of the world. Onomichi offers a chance to engage in different essences that aren’t present in other cities. And the same can be said regarding food. Much in the way that a DJ might use an existing sound in a new and fresh way, we are seeing more and more examples of previously existing food cultures being stimulated in fresh and novel ways. New trends and movements emerge as more and more diverse people of Onomichi collaborate with each other.”

Foo CHOCOLATERS: 3 variations in a gift box. (2019)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Vegan milk chocolate made by the women of Onomichi

Ms. Gokan established foo CHOCOLATERS in 2018. The factory’s vegan milk chocolate is produced using cashew milk. “Chocolate is a treat that is enjoyed throughout the world. It has the power to bring people together, as they are broken into pieces and are shared. Our vegan chocolate, which is made using cashew milk, gives people the chance to enjoy enjoyable experience that transcends race and religion”, she says.

Foo CHOCOLATERS: Vegan milk chocolate made from cashew milk (2019)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Ms. Gokan has possessed an awareness of issues relating to the borders of race and religion for some time now. She independently set up a project which has created zines and has held events relating to issues faced by women, queer, trans, and non-binary individuals. Through this, she was introduced to Onomichi’s food culture, and concluded that chocolate is a far more casual and normalized tool in comparison to words. Behind this, she had a strong conviction of creating a connection to gender, nationality, religious and other social problems.

Foo CHOCOLATERS: Women working at the factory (2019)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

“At cacao plantations overseas, we encounter problems relating to child labor and economic discrepancies between men and women. Given this, our chocolate strives for a more direct trade, and tries to ensure that the people working on the plantations receive a fair price for their labors. Moreover, there are people even around me who are troubled with gender and nationality issues, as well as being a refugee. In any case, as a female this overall discussion directly involves me, and I believe that I can use food to encourage and support quality work styles and lifestyles for women.”

Foo CHOCOLATERS: Cocoa bean roasting machine (2019)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

A piece of chocolate can cross borders

For many years here in Japan, there has been a tendency to consider cooking at home as “women’s work” and historically, women have been placed in a position where they have to provide food. However, Ms. Gokan wants to bring upon awareness to problems, and to bring upon change to the mindsets and lifestyles of women, by having women participate in culinary activities by their own will.

“Foo CHOCOLATERS operates with just 10 female staff members. With an all-female staff, there are certain health issues that we face, as well as those relating to pregnancy and childbirth. However, these issues have proven to be less difficult than they initially seemed. We want to realize a work style and lifestyle where we are independent. I’d also like to provide our staff and other related individuals with opportunities to take interest in social issues and to start and spread new projects.

Visit Onomaru Shoten’s foo CHOCOLATERS pop-up shop and you will see chocolate sold by women who have also brought their elementary-age children with them. Other children wave as they pass by on their way home from school. Bit by bit, an environment where women can work in comfort is taking shape.

Pop-up Shops of USHIO CHOCOLATL and Foochocolaters (2019)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Religion. Race. Gender. Majority and minority. Surveying our world, one can find boundaries and borders all over the place, and within them, various problems of tension and friction exists. And this is by no means a discussion about some far-off country. You can expect to find these conflicts and divisions nearby as well, taking shape in various forms, and at differing scales. By crossing those borders and accepting our differences, we break and share a piece of chocolate. With that future in mind, these women continue making chocolate.

Foochocolaters (2019)Original Source: foo chocolaters

Credits: Story

Cooperation with:

Photos: Yuri Nanasaki
    Yusuke Abe (YARD)
Text: Masaya Yamawaka
Edit: Saori Hayashida
Production: Skyrocket Corporation

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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