An international snacker

Sasa is from New Zealand and Japan and currently lives in Austria with her Austrian partner. Her blog Sasasunakku shows her passion for discovering and sharing new foods (sunakku is the pronunciation of ‘snack’ in Japanese), and you can find recipes from the various countries in which she has lived. Let’s find out more about Sasa’s international experiences.

You describe yourself as being from New Zealand and Japan. Is that because of your parents or the fact that you lived in both places as a child?

I was born in Sapporo in the northern island of Hokkaido in Japan to a Japanese father and a mother from New Zealand. We lived in Sapporo and Yokohama before moving to Auckland in New Zealand when I was six so my first language was Japanese though I express myself better in English now. 

Did you continue to get exposure to Japanese culture whilst you were living in New Zealand?

I did. I think those first six years were quite formative and we – that is, my little brother and I – went back twice for several months to live with my Japanese ojiichan and obaachan (grandparents) so we could attend school in Japan; once when we were 5 and 7 and again when we were 7 and 9 respectively. I also lived there twice for several years at a time in my 20s.

My parents divorced when I was 9 and my father remarried a Japanese woman and their house, though in New Zealand, is almost entirely Japanese. They speak only Japanese, eat Japanese food and watch Japanese TV and because I lived there half the week as I was growing up, I feel quite Japanese.

Why did you later decide to move back to Japan?

I moved back on my own for the first time when I was 21 because at the time I wasn’t sure about where “home” was. I taught English near Chiba city, which is a sort of satellite city of Tokyo and eventually found myself disillusioned with the fact that unless you look Asian, it’s almost impossible to be accepted there as Japanese, among other things. For a while the attention one receives as a foreigner can be amusing and flattering but I found it alienating as I was used to the Kiwi attitude that anyone brought up in New Zealand is a Kiwi and it was frustrating to feel Japanese and have well-meaning people compliment me on my ability to use chopsticks and speak Japanese. It was quite a lonely experience.

The second time was with my partner and brother. My brother was doing his Masters at Tokyo University and we’d always wanted to live there again together. We rented a flat in Shimokitazawa which is a bustling area popular with young people for the cafes, live music and bars. That time around it was a completely different experience – while the same things bothered me as before, I knew it was a temporary stay and I enjoyed all Tokyo has to offer and met some people I remain very close to – basically that time around I had a good support network which of course helps when setting up house somewhere new. I was also older (27) and clearer about what I wanted out of the experience.

How and where did you meet your Austrian partner?

We met in a bar in London when I went there on a working holiday when I was 25. He was just finishing a contract teaching German in a high school there and I had just arrived; we only had a month of overlap. We realised we wanted to see where things went between us so he asked if I would be interested in moving with him to Yorkshire after the summer break as he had been offered a job there. I didn’t have any plans as yet so I agreed. It was a trial by fire as we basically moved in together after spending a month dating in London, 2 months emailing back and forth while he was working a summer job in Italy and I was working in London and a short holiday together in Tuscany. Living in Hull wasn’t my cup of tea at all which is why we decided to move to Tokyo after travelling through New Zealand and Thailand.

What are your most and least favourite things about living in Austria?

We live in Vorarlberg which is technically part of Austria but culturally quite different to the rest of the country; it was settled by a tribe which has links to those in Bavaria in Germany and the east of Switzerland and the dialect is very distinct. I find the people here polite but rather reserved – they tend to hold one at arm’s length. In general it’s quite politically conservative and there is a lack of ethnic diversity (nearly everyone is Austrian with a small minority of those with Turkish heritage) which I find difficult, being used to a more multi-cultural society. I’m often mistaken for someone of Turkish background and have received some rather hostile stares from xenophobes.

Spring and summer here are glorious though – it’s not only because the winter is so long and bitter in comparison. Everything is stunningly lush all of a sudden and the backdrop of the mountains is really just like something out of a storybook. 

From your blog it’s clear that you enjoy cooking and I loved the idea of different sections for recipes from the various countries you have lived in. How do you go about discovering recipes when you move to a new country?

I tend to gravitate toward good cooks I think. I talk endlessly about food and I find it’s a great common denominator – hardly anyone doesn’t like eating. I’m interested in home cooking though I used to work as a cook in restaurants for a few years and I finagle invitations to people’s kitchens by dropping quantities of not-so-subtle hints. 

In Thailand I had a boyfriend who was a chef so I learned a lot from him, in the U.K. I worked in fine dining and catering, I grew up spending time in my grandmother’s kitchen in Japan and here in Austria I’ve learned a lot from Florian’s mother who is a great cook – I ask my students about regional dishes and how to prepare them too. I often stay in people’s homes when I travel and given a choice between going out to eat and cooking at home, I almost always choose the latter. One memorable experience was at the holiday house of a Spanish friend I met in Thailand – we drove up and her grandfather was just putting the finishing touches on an enormous paella he was cooking over an open fire which fed the whole brood. People are generally happy and proud to tell you about their culinary traditions and I can never get enough.

I enjoyed reading the post on your preparations for moving back to New Zealand. The part where you talk about the difference in seasons was especially interesting – it’s something we’ve been talking about at PocketCultures because we have contributors and readers from both hemispheres. Would you share some of your ideas for dealing with it?

Obviously food is seasonal and while I worry a bit about boring readers in the northern hemisphere when I go back I plan to have a link on each post for a recipe for the opposite season from the archives. I think a lot of my readers come for the stories (as opposed to say, the photos) so I hope that will continue to keep their interest.

Read more:
Where’s home if you grow up in two countries?
You don’t need to live abroad to have a global outlook
Q&A with MaryAnne, Canadian teacher in Shanghai

About the author

Lucy (Liz) Chatburn
Lucy is English and first ventured out of the UK she was 19. Since then she has lived in 4 different countries and tried to see as much of the world as possible. She loves learning languages, learning about different cultures and hearing different points of view.
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4 Comments

  • Marietta

    have had the privilege to meet Sasa and i should add that apart from a great cook, funky traveler, interesting blogger, she (and her partner) are probably two of the sweetest persons one can ever meet. you always feel “At home” around sasa!
    great interview!!

  • A lovely interview- I am half Aussie half kiwi but my kids are half Japanese half Aussie (well, quarter Aussie/quarter Kiwi I guess!) and it is interesting reading Sasa`s experiences about growing up with the two cultures (and now, a third!)

  • Thanks Marietta and Lulu for visiting and commenting.

    And thanks Sasa for volunteering for the interview. Wish you all the best for moving back to New Zealand and your next steps.

  • Sasa! That’s funny running into you here on Pocketcultures. For others reading, we’d just met recently through our food blogs. It’s great to read more about you here:)

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