Washoku Shock! Brings Traditional Home-Style Japanese Food to Wells

November 21, 2014
Lecturer in Japanese Kurt Pipa developed the project on campus with help from students and fellow faculty members.
Student preparing food for Washoku Shock dinner

This fall, Kurt Pipa, Lecturer in Japanese, continued his ongoing Washoku Shock! local-foods Japanese home-cooked meal project. Washoku, translated as “Japanese cuisine,” was just that: a display of Japanese culture through a traditionally prepared, home-style meal. The dinner gave students in Wells’ Japanese language classes and members of the community a chance to experience authentic Japanese home-cooked meals not usually found in America. “There is a big gap between what Americans typically think of as Japanese food and what traditional Japanese cooking really is,” says Pipa.

Exchange students from Doshisha Women’s College in Kyoto, Japan, helped tend the garden, cook the meal and teach the participants about Japanese table etiquette as a part of the event. This essential aspect of the dinner allowed the Japanese exchange students to share their cultural background with their peers and strengthened the connections formed through language courses and intercultural programs at the College.

Washoku Shock! began as a purely educational endeavor to show students what Japanese cooking truly is like outside a Westerner’s perspective. “A lot of people think that Japanese food is sushi,” says Pipa, “but sushi isn’t a part of the home-style Japanese cooking.” The dinner demonstrated this insight through a variety of dishes including tofu, miso soup, bok choi, daikon salad, stuffed peppers, and more.

The dinner reached beyond just traditional Japanese cuisine and culture, however. Marian Brown, director of Wells’ new Center for Sustainability and the Environment, discussed “food mileage”—the distance food travels from the time of production to the time of consumption—in order to increase student awareness concerning the on-campus benefits of eating local.  Brown encouraged students to consider food mileage and buying local when shopping for food.

The dinner itself exemplified this ideal. Pipa, alongside his own Japanese language students, worked with Professor Emerita of Chemistry Linda Schwab and Professor of Anthropology Ernie Olson to plant and harvest a patch of Japanese greens and white turnips. The greens and turnips harvested by the students were then used to prepare the meal.

Harvesting homegrown vegetables on campus is a part of a greater effort to promote sustainable living. Projects like Pipa’s lead the way to creating more sustainable efforts on behalf of students and promote the need for a permanent garden on campus.  “Growing food on campus,” says Pipa, “is something that more students want and need to do.”

Generating a renewed interest in growing food on campus, the Washoku Shock! project presents itself as a feasible model for student clubs and organizations to establish enduring gardens on campus grounds and encourage sustainable living practices.


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