In life we are surrounded by decisions, and then sidled up to that, lies fate, perhaps with things we can or can not change.
And so it was, this idea of fate that steered a young Japanese girl to Turkey 18 years ago. Her decision to remain has led to a journey as fast paced and hectic as the streets of Istanbul.
Introducing Ayumi Takano
Ayumi has Turkish entertainment industry credentials longer than a christmas shopping list – Film and TV series actress, State Theatre actress, TV presenter, TV cooking show host and more recently seen at the launch of her Japanese cookbook – a first for Turkey.
Looking back at her beginnings Ayumi says, “Turkey chose me. I wanted to go on a tour to Cuba but there were no seats. Turkey was suitable with my dates so I booked an airline ticket.”
From her hotel room she sat and flicked through the TV channels. She remembers, “Private TV had just started in Turkey, there was so much available. I found the chaotic environment on TV intriguing.”
And outside the hotel windows, Istanbul life rumbled by. “I could feel the energy from the town, and the country. It reflected chaos. It was exciting for me.”
It was a different Turkey back then, on many levels. On a lighter note she tells me soy sauce wasn’t available, there were more water cuts and only two different wines in stores.
Concerning the more important things in life she says there has since been great improvements with infrastructure making life more comfortable.
However, at the same time she also tells me…
“Psychologically I was more comfortable in the past. Maybe I was more mute to what was going on around me, because I couldn’t understand as much Turkish.”Ayumi
18 years later, I welcome her into my home for our interview. She has a natural Audrey Hepburn glamour, which is morphed with a cultural Japanese flair and a quick Turkish tongue. What a package! A Japanese Audrey speaking Turkish.
I pose one problem to my unique guest. I have a piece of steak and a mostly empty fridge. And so it is that the kimono wearing Ayumi from the front cover of her cookbook, is now in my kitchen wearing an apron, crushing garlic, mixing red wine, mushrooms, onion. Just like the title of her book this is definitely ‘Ayumi’s Kitchen’.
Later sitting on the couch she tells me about her first gig in Turkey. Coincidently her Asian background gave her a role in a film as a Chinese tourist in Istanbul.
Unbeknown to Ayumi, the film starred Turkey’s most famous comedian Cem Yılmaz. She explains, “I underestimated the size of the project. Once released it went viral.”
“Everything developed so fast. I had no idea what was going on.”Ayumi
The above mentioned christmas list of career developments began and continued…
How did this Japanese wonder tackle Turkish?
She says her grammar improved by doing a masters in Turkey and she was able to solve the language in a more mathematical way.
But, she tells me of the more difficult times when the Turkish actors would sometimes improvise while she was still trying to master the language and couldn’t go beyond the memorised script.
“It made me frustrated, but I took it as a challenge. It pushed me even more to learn about the language.”Ayumi
Ayumi says she has been away from show business for a while due to a sequel of tragedies, losing both her parents in short periods of time.
She says she withdrew and mourned. But is now ready and making her return.
And it seems her direction is one that would make both her parents proud. Ayumi’s book is dedicated to her father who was a French cuisine chef, while her mother was a food nutritionist.
She says, “My father trained my taste-buds from an early age. I learnt how to cook well from him.”
She describes Japanese food as “simple, pure and presentable”.
“The way it is presented is very important. A lot of our food has a story and a meaning. In our culture there are old rituals we still continue. Food culture is a great example of this harmony between modern and old.”Ayumi
Ayumi’s city of two decades, Istanbul, also tells this story of time.
Her favourite area of Istanbul is the space between lands, telling me, “I love going on a ferry and crossing continents and looking back at the town I live in.”
She describes Istanbul as “very difficult”. “It’s a naughty town, but a town that you cannot cut your ties with because you love it so much.”
Fate aside, this sincere love for Istanbul has kept Ayumi from Cuba.
“I’ve been concentrating on Turkey so long I haven’t thought of going back home (Japan) or to Cuba.”
Written by Sheldon Heyes
‘Ayumi’s Kitchen’ is the first Japanese food culture, table etiquette and cookbook in Turkey written in Turkish.
Available through Iş Bank Publishing and at all major book chains.
A fail safe gift idea for lovers of life, culture and food.
You may also enjoy reading “Tasting Hori“. Discover an authentic Japanese restaurant right here in Istanbul.