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Meet Tomoko Imade Dyen of Turning Off Japanese

Today we’d like to introduce you to Tomoko Imade Dyen.

Tomoko, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
People often ask me “So…. what do you do?” with a slightly confused look on their face.

On my resume, it says “Japanese food ambassador,” which probably adds more confusion than clarification.

I do culinary PR, mostly for Japanese restaurants, events, and organizations, but I also plan and produce events and culinary programs, consult restaurants as well as assist other organizations needing cross-cultural marketing between Japan and North America. As if that weren’t enough to fill the day, I also write and produce a Japanese TV show.

When I’m not doing any/all of the above, I love to practice what I preach in the kitchen, as cooking is one of my favorite activities (as you probably could have guessed). I am a Tokyo native and a New York transplant. Because I love food and information, it was a natural choice for me to work as a TV producer after graduating from college. I’ve been covering food trends since the food truck was just a roach coach.

From tv production to consultation, to digestion… you could say the food is my life… or to answer everybody’s question, “I literally will work for food.”

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Japanese companies often don’t see the importance of PR and Marketing and don’t have much of a budget to work with, especially when it comes to social media and many business executives don’t see PR and Marketing as specialized skills. Sometimes, they will ask me to work on their projects with very little to no budget or ask an office assistant who may not be fully immersed in both cultures, to take on the task.

I accepted no/ultra-low budget offers in the past because I thought I needed to establish the job market for it, which provided me with many opportunities. While there hasn’t been any widespread change in the industry in this regard, I have been lucky enough to find a few great companies who understand the importance of what I can bring to the table (in more ways than one)!

We’d love to hear more about your business.
I do PR and marketing (including social media) for Japanese food-related projects; restaurants, sake, and food producers. Unfortunately for some, Japanese food is limited to sushi and ramen, but of course, in real life, those are just a drop in the ocean when it comes to Japanese culinary culture. For that reason, my mission is to share the many ways to enjoy Japanese cuisine both at restaurants and at home. Los Angeles is a diverse city and there are plenty of Japanese ingredients to be found both at specialized Japanese grocery stores (my favorite is Nijiya Market) as well as at local markets.

Also, having lived on the East Coast for nearly 2 decades, I feel lucky to live in Southern California whose produce is the best in the country, and possibly in the whole world. This makes my job of promoting the use of local ingredients in Japanese cuisine easy and fun. Besides…hungry Angelenos, as well as culinary professionals, are always looking for the next great taste. I hope I can satisfy their curiosity!

I’m proud that I have been lucky enough to turn my passion for food into a business.

Because people are more interested than ever in finding interesting new flavors, Japanese cuisine has much to offer besides sushi and ramen. Recently I started working with Japan House Los Angeles, (https://www.japanhouse.jp/losangeles/) and we are creating exciting new culinary programs in which people can actually participate. I’m really looking forward to the many workshops and talks by chefs from Japan and also from here in the States.

“Turning Off Japanese” is not really a company, but it started as a website and my social media handle. When I married an American man who doesn’t like any Japanese food, I had to turn off my Japanese-ness and adapt to American cuisine that I had no interest in before. I don’t do much beautifully styled shot, there are plenty of talented young influencers who can do that. I found my niche as a Japanese food educator as well as to promote interesting and delicious American food culture to a Japanese audience.

What were you like growing up?
I grew up in Tokyo where I was expected to take piano lessons and solve math problems at an early age. My parents put me in an English speaking kindergarten, so I was exposed to other cultures from an early age. I lived with my parents and grandparents until I was 6 years old, which made for a very strict and proper household.

Rules were always expected to be followed, which I didn’t always do…even to the point of being the “problem kid” at my private girls’ school where the expectation was to wear a uniform every day and never to question authority. For example, it never made sense to me why I had to stay home just because my skirt was 1 centimeter shorter than it was supposed to be (ok, maybe it was 10 centimeters). Hey, at least I got a day off from school.

I’ve always loved comedy. My father was funny and his bedtime stories always made me laugh. My mother often complained that his stories just kept me up instead of helping me fall asleep. While my best friends idolized boy bands, I loved comedians. I learned their jokes and read their books and realized it was ok to be edgy and not always follow the rules.

I’ve always loved food, eating everything in front of me. I credit much of this to my grandmother who always took me to places where I could experience the ‘downtown’ Tokyo life in Asakusa as well as a fancy lunch on the Ginza. I’ve always enjoyed cooking, but my parents never really allowed me in the kitchen, because to them, the study was more important.

When I was finally allowed to use the kitchen, my mother somehow convinced me that cleaning up was the most important part, and you know what? She was right…

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Bode Helm

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