Satire and Criticism on the Conventions of Food in Japan

Japan’s culture sometimes dictates strict customs and conventions that seem rather ridiculous to accept. In Tampopo, Juzo Itami heavily uses satire in food to point out the inconsistencies in Japanese culture. Tampopo’s main story follows Tampopo’s quest to make her ramen shop first-rate. The story branches into many different subplots involving food, each of which uses satire to attack traditional Japanese conventions.

One of the restaurant sequences of Tampopo follows the subplot of several businessmen. At a first-class French restaurant, the confused businessmen attempt to interpret the cryptic menu. All the businessmen fallback on the same

Businessmen awed by the culinary knowledge of the lackey

simple dish, but their heads turn when their lackey tells the waiter to wait a moment for his order.  Ignoring the warnings of his superior, the lackey demonstrates highly cultured culinary knowledge and effectively upstages his bosses. Itami satirizes the inconsistency in the business culture through food. In Japanese culture, the social standing of superiors is something to be both respected and revered. Those following orders must act according to their place and respect the wishes of their superiors at all times. Not only does the lackey disobeys the unreasonable wishes of his superiors to simply order the same thing, the lackey shows that he is more cultured and better than his superiors. Itami reverses the social standing of the business corporate ladder; the lackey is the superior to the businessmen.

The second restaurant scene immediately follows. The scene depicts an instructional classes for “ojou-sans” (well-mannered, young ladies). While the instructor informs the ladies that spaghetti should be eaten completely silently like a mouse, a foreigner at the restaurants loudly and obnoxiously slurps the spaghetti in protest of her teachings. The scene immediately breaks down to everyone, including the instructor loudly slurping the spaghetti. Itami satirizes both the uptight “ojou-san” culture of Japan and the Japanese conceptions of western culture. The “ojou-san” culture dictates the lady must act with refinement at all times, no matter what the situation. By degenerating everyone to loudly eating spaghetti, Itami openly mocks the culture as worthless and simply unreasonable. The westerner helps fix the preconceived conventions of the Japanese thought to be part of western culture. Western culture is not as refined as the Japanese think.

Itami even goes as far as satirizing the everyday Japanese family table. A family surrounds an almost lifeless mother on her deathbed. Desperately pleading for his wife to do something, the husband orders the mother to make a meal. Surprisingly, the almost lifeless mother complies and makes fried rice while her family does nothing to help her. She dies shortly after she makes the rice, and the father orders the family to finish their mother’s last meal. In Japanese culture, the

Mother dies cooking meal for family

wife is almost always forced to take care of the meals for the family and her husband coming back from work. The half-dead mother making a meal almost unconsciously despite her condition shows how ingrained the concept is in Japanese culture and how the wife is forced to follow orders no matter what the situation. It doesn’t matter if she is tired or on her deathbed; she will make dinner for her family.

In summary, Tampopo is Itami’s stage to criticize the traditions, conventions, and preconceptions of the Japanese tradition using food.


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