National Identity in The Gourmet Club

Junichiro Tanizaki’s The Gourmet Club depicts Count G’s quest for finer cuisine as Tokyo’s eats become increasingly mundane for him and his club of Japanese gormandizers.  Through his choice of diction, Tanizaki fills Count G’s world of cuisine with sexual flavors.  Additionally, he employs exoticism to create nationalistic overtones and critique upon how the Japanese should identify with another culture.

It becomes important to establish the erotic nature of the food in The Gourmet Club because it helps the reader understand just how far Count G and his underlings will go for gourmet cuisine.  Tanizaki explicitly makes it clear from the beginning that the members of the club truly respect and admire cooking.  For the Gourmet Club, “cooking was an art” (99) and “they took as much pride and pleasure in [discovering some novel flavor] as if they’d found a beautiful woman” (99).   The narrator’s opening commentary states that the members’ hunger for fine food matches their lust for the pleasures in the bed sheets.  Tanizaki’s selection of vocabulary also aids in making the sexual characteristics of food quite prevalent.  The narrator comments that the members seek a “blissful new experience” (104) for the taste buds on their tongues which had to “lick and slurp” (102) for any new flavor.  Later, the scene with the Chinese cabbage pushes even further the sexual tone food carries in the narrative.  The supposed woman who comes out into the darkness to play with A’s “lips, stretching and releasing them” (133) is rather erotic with her actions; her hands later become covered with A’s saliva and create a “sweetish flavor, with an aromatic, salty undertaste” (135) after the fingering of his mouth. The opening commentary and this scene under consideration allow the reader to note not only the sexual overtones but also the greater impact of the sensual experience that food elicits in the members of the Gourmet Club. 

The reader must also understand how exoticism is created in the narrative.  Tanizaki creates a sense of exoticism for China by placing discontent of Tokyo eats amongst those in the Gourmet Club. By having them be “sick to death of Japanese food” (102), he separates cuisine into Japanese self and other foreign cuisine like “Chinese food—that rich cuisine said to be the most developed and varied in the world” (102).   The commentary makes the exotic food of China seem different and more appealing.

Finally, Tanizaki establishes nationalistic overtones to the narrative with his final commentary.  Not until the end, after working up the uniqueness of Chinese cuisine, does the narrator state that the gormandizers of the Gourmet club are “consumed” (139) by the fine cuisine Count G can now make after a night of peeking upon the banquet at Chechiang hall.  Throughout the whole narrative, Chinese cuisine is seen as something lucrative and exotic.  At the banquet, “not one of them looked ill, or seedy, or shabby…” (117) and most “…were fine-looking men, well built, with healthy faces” (117) in “Western dress” (118).  These people are clearly not Japanese.  Tanizaki utilizes exoticism to critique the national identity of the Japanese by endowing the foreigners in his narrative with negative attributes.  The narrator describes those at the banquet as being “abstracted, as if some inner focus had been lost” (117), and later, he peeks in a room with a “strange odor” (127), an opium den.  Tanizaki acknowledges an alignment with the Chinese perhaps as both being oriental, but it is almost as if this alignment causes a loss of national identity amongst the Japanese.  This is a critique on Japanese national identity because the narrative targets a mainly Japanese audience.  The narrator acknowledges that he must be “strict in my choice of reader” although “it is impossible to do so” (128).  By acknowledging the reader, Tanizaki suggests to the reader (likely Japanese) to reflect upon him or herself.

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