Jun’ichirō Tanizaki uses the sexualization of women and the feminization of food as a means of dramatizing the notion of exoticism in The Gourmet Club. In the first sentence of the story, Tanizaki describes the members of the Gourmet Club and how they “…loved the pleasures of the table not a whit less than they loved those of the bedroom” (99). Here, there is an immediate connection between sexual pleasure and food, a pattern adopted by the author throughout the story to emphasize the dynamic theme of exoticism.
The story introduces the members of the Gourmet Club as men who seek to find new fine foods and flavors. When the men “…discovered some novel flavor, they took as much pride and pleasure in it as if they’d found a beautiful woman for themselves” (99). The sexualization of food in this example shows that the driving force of these men when finding new flavors is to reach an ultimate goal that involves a feeling of pleasure. The feeling of discovering a new flavor of food is akin to that of finding a beautiful woman, as both are “novel”, and provide the opportunity to learn, or “discover” new things about their subject. This relationship between sex and food is an unfamiliar one. In this way Tanizaki is able to draw an analogy between exploring food and a beautiful woman for the first time.
Toward the end of The Gourmet Club, Tanizaki describes a scene to the reader in which the members of the club are taking a look at a menu for the evening. Tanizaki weaves an erotic scene as he writes, “…it takes no great imagination to picture the excitement it aroused when the members of the club discovered [Deep-fried Woman, Korean Style] on that evening’s menu” (138). There is an explicit and immediate relationship between food and sex as the men become “aroused” at the thought of a dish that consists of “…the flesh of a woman, deep-fried as tempura” (138). Tanizaki is feminizing the dish through personifying it as a woman. He creates an image of a woman as an item on the menu waiting to be devoured by the men, should they choose to order her. As in the previous example, there is a sexual relationship formed between the men and their feelings toward food. Food satisfies physical hunger, while sex can satisfy a different sort of physical or even emotional hunger. Tanizaki makes this hunger one and the same. It is an extreme relationship that is key to the story as a whole. The men have an ultimate goal of finding new exotic flavors and the feeling that overcomes them once they accomplish this goal is one of sexual pleasure and arousal.
A common facet of exoticism is tying together the unfamiliar and, in this case, erotic. These examples of the reoccurring relationship between food, sex, and women, embody this aspect of exoticism. One wouldn’t necessarily expect food to be compared to beautiful women. One also wouldn’t expect food to have the ability to induce sexual pleasure and arousal in men. Tanizaki is able to connect food to exoticism through the sexualization and feminization of different foods. This makes this relationship all the more powerful, therefore dramatizing the idea of exoticism throughout The Gourmet Club.