By Mao Hashio
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
It can be hard to learn a new language by yourself. Meeting people with the same interests and goals can help to keep you motivated and ultimately learn more quickly. And what if you can learn a new language together with your friends, eating the country’s food?
Becky Yoshitani, a co-owner of Hurry Curry of Tokyo in South Lake Union, has created such a space. She hosts Japanese Language and Culture meetups at her restaurant from 7 p.m. till closing on the first and third Thursday of every month.
Jason Truesdell originally started the Japanese Language and Culture meetups in November 2006.
Reflecting on the inception of the meetups, Truesdell explained, “I learned Japanese at university for two and a half years and had both professional and personal connections to Japan. So, I wanted to have a fun environment to bring people from Japan who were living in Seattle together with people who were learning Japanese or had connections to Japan.”
Truesdell said he wanted to make the event style more attractive for everyone, including people from Japan. Instead of a structured approach like events dedicated to learning, he chose to hold language meetups at casual restaurants and bars for most evening events for a more inclusive and engaging atmosphere. He started rotating between restaurants in the U-District, Capitol Hill, and other parts of Seattle every Thursday, and one of the locations was Hurry Curry of Tokyo in South Lake Union.
Even after he moved to Japan with his family in 2017, Yoshitani decided to keep the meetups going. When the COVID-19 pandemic happened in March, all the businesses in South Lake Union shut down, including Amazon, which accounts for most customers at lunchtime. Yoshitani had to close the dine-in area at the restaurant and switch to takeout only at the restaurant, so no meetups were going on for a while.
“It was a long tough year for all of us,” Yoshitani said.
Despite the struggles of the pandemic, the restaurant and business have survived. Their first location in Santa Monica, CA is celebrating their 35th anniversary this year. When people started coming back to the offices, Yoshitani decided to resume hosting the meetup at her restaurant.
“A lot of people here have forgotten what a huge role the Japanese played up till the war,” said Yoshitani. “This is a great opportunity to introduce Japanese culture to people by having language meetups and other kinds of events.”
Yoshitani said she wants to introduce to people in Seattle that Japanese food is not just sushi and teriyaki by giving a history of Japanese curry and other Japanese comfort food through having a meetup at her restaurant.
“Japanese food has much more variety, and they are very friendly to American tastes,” Yoshitani said with a smile.
Approximately 20 individuals congregated at Hurry Curry of Tokyo on the third Thursday evening of January for a meetup. When entering the restaurant, you are met with three paintings depicting scenarios of Japanese people eating curry. These paintings were painted by Yoshitani’s daughter, a professional comic book artist who goes by Yoshi Yoshitani.
Francisco Garcia de la Corte came to the meetup for the first time. He went to Japan in November 2023 and has been studying Japanese since then. He has been studying Chinese characters and Japanese words through online mobile applications. He is planning to go back to Japan in March this year for skiing.
“I cannot speak Japanese, but I came here to start with listening to people talk in Japanese,” Garcia de la Corte said.
Wilmen Dueño, who has attended many meetups at Hurry Curry of Tokyo in the past, was actively engaging in a conversation with people who started learning recently during the meetup. He started learning Japanese 19 years ago when he was in high school.
Manan Bajaj, who started studying Japanese nine months ago, said one thing he likes about the meetup is that it typically has a lot of participants, as it allows there to be groups of all skill levels.
“I always enjoy talking to people there,” Bajaj said. “It’s a good chance to practice Japanese conversation naturally while just meeting new people and potentially making friends.”
Anyone can sign up for the meetup weeks in advance through meetup.com. Hurry Curry of Tokyo also has happy hours daily from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. During this time, you can get a special food menu with a great deal and Japanese beer at a discounted price.
“We have a huge space available for the meetup, so people can stay for a long time unlike other restaurants,” Yoshitani said. “So come in early, get the happy hour and enjoy the meetup until we kick you out!”