Australian tourists are traveling to Japan in record numbers, creating a growing appetite for authentic Japanese cuisine here at home. Yoko Nakazawa is experiencing the surge first hand, regularly selling out of her miso paste at markets around Melbourne.
“I use traditional Japanese techniques which a lot of big miso companies don’t use anymore,” explains Yoko.
Yoko’s miso business, Umami Koji began after she moved to Australia in 2012.
“I found it difficult to fit into this community or culture," she says.
"It just didn’t work and I felt like I was in the dirt.
"I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t see.”
“Making miso every year was part of my lifestyle so I wanted to keep doing it even in Australia.
"I posted on my Facebook page my photos of miso, and people started asking for their own.
"Can you make it for me? Can you sell it to me?”
She started selling small quantities at the local farmers market, but as demand increased, Yoko needed to develop a business strategy.
In 2015, she undertook the Stepping Stones program, a partnership between Small Business Victoria and the Brotherhood of St Laurence.
The initiative helps women from refugee and migrant backgrounds develop their business.
The program’s coordinator, Rebecca Pinney Meddings says more than 1,600 participants have been through the program since it began seven years ago.
“We offer three years of support, but the program itself is a 15-week small business course," explains Rebecca.
"We co-facilitate the program with Small Business Victoria to develop workshops that are tailored to people of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.”
“We worked with Yoko to look at her product, look at pricing, look at all the areas of market research in where she wanted to find customers.”
Yoko’s business is still young, but it’s growing. She’s recently expanded her product range, and now also offers Japanese cooking classes from her own home.
She also hopes to release a cookbook in the coming year.
“It’s not clear sunny conditions yet, I still have a lot of difficulty with understanding English, but I can see more, I can move, I can breathe," says Yoko smiling.
"This business brought my confidence back, and brought me joy so that’s really good.”