Harajuku goes Jamaican

Yvonne Goldson heats up our tastebuds

Harajuku goes Jamaican

‘Never put your dreams on hold,’ is what Yvonne Goldson inscribed in an autographed copy of her patois handbook – a Jamaican-Japanese dictionary and best-seller in its tenth edition since first being published in 1998. Goldson should know. She left her post at an international law firm for the kitchen of her new JamRock Cafe – Tokyo’s newest outpost for authentic Jamaican cuisine located in the heart of Harajuku.

JamRock is the euphemistic hybrid of the “Jam” in Jamaica and the “rock” in the rock-steady rhythms of reggae music, and is how Jamaicans refer to their island nation. ‘It’s what we Jamaicans call the island…when things are going good,’ she says with a wink of the eye and an infectious laugh that fills up the café’s bright space. Goldson, a pioneer member of the Association of Jamaicans in Japan, envisions JamRock Cafe as the home-away-from-home where Tokyoites and Jamaicans can get together to eat proper Jamaican food without having to catch a flight out of Narita Airport.

Yvonne hails from Trelawny, Jamaica (hometown of the world’s fastest sprinter, Usain Bolt), and has lived in Japan for 12 years. She smiles when she speaks in her lilting Caribbean cadence, and possesses the fearless aura of her American stomping ground of California. This combination makes her not only an unflagging representative of her home island, but also the warm heart of her business.

‘I first came to Japan to find a publisher for my book,’ recounts Goldson, of her initial reason to make the voyage to Japan. On a year’s hiatus from work due to a car accident in Los Angeles, Goldson went back to school where a friend encouraged her to study Japanese. Listening to reggae music on the way to classes, her interest was piqued when she discovered a similarity in Japanese phonetics and Jamaican Patois. ‘I was working days, and writing after work at night,’ she recounts of the one-year process that went into producing the book. For her, Goldson says writing Japanese is easier than speaking and after a few months of writing her dictionary she visited Japan, found a publisher and published her book, staying to oversee the editing.

‘Jamaican Patties’

English is Jamaica’s mother tongue but everyone speaks patois – a colourful and expressive language that is a blend of misappropriated English, Spanish, French, and west African dialects. Patois is the substrate for the stories that are the basis of reggae and the ever- evolving zeitgeist of popular Jamaican culture. Japanese who flock to Jamaica, whether for the Reggae Sunsplash music festival or international development work with The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), find speaking in patois endearing to Jamaicans. Goldson’s book is one of the bridges that's making patois more accessible to Japanese interested in Jamaican culture, especially the ubiquitous topic: food. The dictionary covers Jamaican food, fruits, beverages, desserts which are on the menu at JamRock Cafe.

‘People have this idea that all we eat in Jamaica is jerk chicken, but we don’t really make that at home. That’s more of a street food,’ muses Goldson on the reasons why she is focusing more on home-style dishes. A look at the menu shows that a cross section of Jamaican home-style favourites, even ackee and saltfish (the national dish of Jamaica), are ready to be enjoyed.

‘Ackee and saltfish’

Ordering a meal in patois at JamRock Cafe is one of the charms of going there, especially speaking with Kanto, the Japanese server who has a very convincing Jamaican accent. Try saying ‘Mi waan fi nyam nuff’ (I want to eat a lot) and when Goldson’s mouth-watering food arrives to your table it is safe to say ‘Mek we nyam’ (Let’s eat!).

Goldson said her former boss inspired her to start her business after eating her food. She met her head chef, a Rasta man called Twitch, at the popular Jamaican One Love Reggae Festival in Yoyogi Park; the two collaborate on JamRock’s menu and catering.

‘It is good to be naïve,’ Goldson replies when asked about her advice to Tokyo entrepreneurs. ‘If you think too much about what obstacles you might face, you might talk yourself out of doing it. Just go and do it. Follow your dream.’ Her dream was a vision of cooking good Jamaican food and providing a familiar atmosphere for people to unwind.

‘The Patois Handbook: Let's Speak Jamaican!’ by Yvonne Goldson, published by UPLINK in July 1998 is now available on Amazon.jp.

JamRock Cafe (read more)

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By Damion Mannings
Please note: All information is correct at the time of writing but is subject to change without notice.



26 comments Add a comment

This is good stuff..I hope to visit soon. I visited Edinburgh Scotland last year and discovered a fantastic Jamaican restaurant (Coyaba)..A so wi fi gwaan in a good way all over the world. I am proud of your success.

Posted by Vinroy on May 16 2010 22:34

Now I have another reason to visit Japan :). I can see alot of thought and creativity was put into your establishment. I am sure the food is as good as it looks. Well done Yvonne. Peace and Love to all Jamaicans across the world.

Posted by Mona-Lisa Banks on Apr 09 2010 08:06

Congrats. Keep up the good work. Peace & Love

Posted by Rita on Apr 02 2010 11:38

torie cum to bump in a japan yes sista nuff respect.GLOBAL

Posted by lorna on Mar 29 2010 21:55

big up yuhself yuh done know jamdung food a di best,keep on doing yuh ting,proud a yuh

Posted by stacey salmon on Mar 29 2010 12:36

Congrats...from one Trelawnian to another. Hope to make it to your eatery one day.

Posted by Corinne Wakeland on Mar 25 2010 02:17

Big up sista soulja, hard work and success is all you have known. Hope to visit you soon.

Posted by Sue Fennell on Mar 23 2010 11:40

Big up, Yvonne!! U inspire me! It takes time to find ur dreams sometimes - but it is well worth the wait!

Posted by Kim on Mar 21 2010 03:39

I am so proud of you Yvonne. I can't wait to visit Tokyo again and to see your restaurant. I will never forget how you made my Christmas away from Jamaica felt so special with your cooking, beyond-infectious-laughter. And how you took me under your wings like your own child and showed me the ropes of Tokyo. Will never forget you. All my love. Lots of success to you

Posted by Cherine Anderson on Mar 20 2010 14:40

Good job,we are everywhere doing great things

Posted by Donna-Mae on Mar 18 2010 18:21

Your restaurant is Exquisite!!!!!!! Passion and drive will make all dreams come TURE!!!!!!!! Blessed success Miss Yvonne..........Irie.......... Sweetp

Posted by Sweetp on Mar 18 2010 05:29

Congratulations Ms. Yvonne. I'm sure you've been a great inspiration to many. Keep up the good work. Hard work breeds success.

Posted by Shelley on Mar 18 2010 03:55


Posted by BARRY GARDNER on Mar 16 2010 21:16

yes we can do anything we put pur minds too. food looks sooo goood congrats

Posted by marcia on Mar 16 2010 12:59

u ha fi maki ; good to go.from allside trny.

Posted by benji on Mar 16 2010 10:34

I am so looking forward to going to Japan...

Posted by Jam Man on Mar 14 2010 02:00

We will make it anywhere. You GO GIRL!!!

Posted by Teddy Folkes on Mar 14 2010 00:24

You are inspirational, a pioneer at best. Vaya con dios.

Posted by Errol F. Hosein on Mar 13 2010 06:28

Great Yonne. I know where i'll be eating if i'm erver in Toyko

Posted by Nadine G. on Mar 12 2010 21:25

Greetings from another country girl and many congratulations sistah!

Posted by Jean on Mar 12 2010 01:21

Now I just have to visit Japan, not just to see the sites but to support my sister. Great job Yvonne, big up yuhself!!!!

Posted by Stephen-Claude on Mar 10 2010 13:46

Awesome! Can't wait to visit! So happy to see a fellow Jamaican living a dream! :)

Posted by Loi Laing on Mar 08 2010 10:39


Posted by fitzmack on Mar 04 2010 22:01

You go girl

Posted by Daphne May lewis on Mar 02 2010 23:30

The picture are georgeous, the food looks delicious, I can't wait to catch a flight to Japan just to try all those mouth-watering dishes. We wish you great success.

Posted by Vel and Trev on Mar 02 2010 12:25


Posted by Billy on Feb 25 2010 00:55

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