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Meet Yoko Hasebe

Today we’d like to introduce you to Yoko Hasebe.

Hi Yoko, we’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to share my story. I grew up in Saitama, Japan and moved to Los Angeles in 2016 to pursue my dream as a professional dancer. I was working at a Japanese restaurant as a sushi chef at night while I went out to auditions and took classes as a dancer during the day. On March 15th, 2020, while I was working my regular shift, the government decided to shut restaurants down due to COVID-19. Not only did I lose my job within the week, but also dance studios where I trained everyday started to close down one by one. I told myself I should be grateful that my family and the people around me were healthy, I was struggling to feel contributive as a person. However, I was determined to come out of the quarantine stronger than ever. I asked myself what can I do now?

I knew I always wanted to start my own business, but I just didn’t know when to start or what I wanted to focus on. A couple of years ago, I started to eat and cook plant-based foods after having a burnout. As I started eating plant-based, I slowly began to feel better and more energized. I realized that I wanted to make food that was healthy and delicious. Before the pandemic, I had already created a vegan menu at the sushi restaurant, and it was pretty popular. Eventually, I started delivering plant-based sushi boxes to my close friends for free and asked for feedback. I did not want to use the word “vegan” because it gave an impression that was less than traditional sushi and was a secondary option. Also, I wanted to use word “plant” because I wanted to plant the seeds of hope in everyone’s heart as I deliver food during the difficult time. After getting honest feedback from my friends, I started to have courage to start my own plant-based sushi business. It was challenging and scary at first, but I felt very happy to make food that I believed was nurturing for our bodies and minds.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
I am learning to enjoy the struggle each day. Thankfully, my plant-sushi lovers are very genuine and caring people. I have had days I was late for delivery time because I received more orders than I expected. Also, my latest struggle has been really understanding the meaning of appreciating my culture. I often ask myself “Am I breaking the tradition of my culture by making it plant-based?'” How can I remain diligent yet evolving at the same time?” I haven’t found to the answers to those questions yet.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
I specialize in Plant-based Sushi which is still not common yet, but I believe it will be as popular as traditional sushi eventually. I respect my culture and traditional way of making sushi, but I would like to challenge it to make it more sustainable. Sushi made with fresh vegetables from your local farm- I see new possibilities in many ways. I am still operating alone, but my goal is to make this company that empowers all people to nurture their body and mind in sustainable ways. I have offered deliveries and catering so far, and I love seeing my plant sushi lovers’ smile and surprised faces. However, my imagination is limitless. I think about expanding my business to a plant-sushi making workshop, community garden with membership and even maybe a group retreat to Japan. I also hope my company will become a bridge to Japanese culture so that I can contribute to my hometown’s growth as well.

Can you talk to us a bit about happiness and what makes you happy?
Thank you for giving this moment to sit and think about this. I can confidently say it is the harmonious relationship with people around me and also the work itself. Showing up for myself everyday and growing each day makes me happy.

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Image Credits:

Lauren Kate& Dustin Heindle

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