Akiko was born in a small town North of Sendai Japan. It may have been a small town in Miyagi, but Sugawara's future vision to help others was nothing short of huge. Akiko started working on the family farm as the household cook at early age of 7. For the next 15 years she proudly prepared dishes for the rest of her family while the entire family worked tirelessly at the rice planting business. Preparing delicious and beautiful cuisine is not only her passion, but it's embedded in her so deeply that BentoYa Cooking is much more than 'just another business'.
In her mid 20's she moved to Canada where she lived for 10 years. After about 3 years Akiko's fluency became so strong that she pitched her talents as a bonafide business to the Canadian Government. It came as no surprise to all in her circle that her concept was selected alongside very forward thinking start ups. She called this concept BentoYa Catering where she was granted a scholarship to a business school with funding provided to kick off the brand. She did all this in her second language, English, all on her own with her sights set on making a difference in the country she once called home.
After a few years of success in Vancouver, Akiko wanted to take her concept back to Japan to once again showcase the magnificence of Japanese cuisine. For a decade she amazed Canadians by her skills but it was now time to make a go of it in Japan. The original concept of teaching Japanese Cooking Lessons in English took a few twists and turns before meeting entrepreneur Rina Ikeda at a Washocook Cooking Certification Course. The two culinary minds hit it off right from the start and BentoYa was reborn. Without Rina, this new and innovative Cooking Class may have taken years to come to fruition.
Rina grew up in Kobe where beef is well known for it's quality. Her family ran a seafood wholesale company for more than 30 years so her house was always stocked up on food. She will sometimes comment on how her weight was an issue all the way up until university where she made the decision to start eating healthy. When she was 3 years old, she says she weighed 40kg! You can ask her in person about this but she blames her past life weight issues on poor diet and consuming too much food in her day to day life. Rina says, "my family loved eating so much!"
After graduating from high school, her mom recommended that she join ABC Cooking School to learn how to become a "good housewife". "In Japan you are considered to be a good wife based on your culinary skills", she Ikeda says. The upside to the course was after learning how to cook and eat healthy, she lost about 20kg very quickly. Rina then stopped using foundation on her face because her skin looked very healthy after learning how to eat properly. She now knows first hand from these life experiences how healthy Japanese food. That is why she is so passionate about sharing Japanese Cuisine, in English, to foreigners residing here in Japan. Or anyone that wants to learn English for that matter.
During her days as a student at university, she truly enjoyed teaching international students about Japanese food. Rina is also a Certified Tofu Master, Junior Vegetable Sommelier and Washocook Cooking Certificatied Instructor. She also have Kitsuke Koshi (License to Teach People how to Wear a Kimono. Teaching the language, the culture and the customs of Japan with foreign people remains on of her biggest passions.