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Chinese Cultural Forms in “The Gourmet Club”

Throughout “The Gourmet Club”, authentic Chinese food is presented as exotic cuisine that the main character, Count G, cannot resist tasting. To further emphasize the idea of exoticism surrounding the food, classical Chinese cultural forms are displayed throughout the text. These forms play a key role in developing the imagery and aesthetics of “The Gourmet Club”. Specifically, the Chinese cultural forms contribute to a distinctly foreign, yet authentic image in the story.

Readers learn that Count G and his comrades have only had the experience of eating the Japanese version of Chinese food, which is why actual Chinese food is so enticing and different. The author asserts this theme of uniqueness about the cuisine by employing Chinese cultural forms. For example, the text states, “but at the instant they passed, a whiff of shao-hsing rice wine reached his nostrils”(107). Shao-hsing rice wine is exclusive to China. The presence of an item that is difficult to encounter outside of China results in a sense of allurement. Using “shao-sing rice wine” in particular, rather than simply “rice wine” categorizes the wine as something directly from China, and something that is usually not common in Japan. This illustrates the story as possessing images of exoticism.

Another instance in which Chinese cultural forms are utilized to give a sense of foreignness is seen when the gourmet club members are trying to decipher what dish they are eating. One member thinks, “Yes, it definitely tastes like ham-and in particular, Chinese-style ham”(135). The member’s thought indicates that there is an obvious difference between what is considered “normal” ham to him and the “Chinese-style” ham. Describing the food as having a Chinese cooking style or approach lends to a feeling of specialty and unusualness. The feelings of specialty and unusualness relates to the general idea of exoticism.

Lastly, bok choi is a heavily attributed to China and the description of it continues to give a sense of uniqueness in “The Gourmet Club”. The taste-tester of the gourmet club notes, “Moreover, it was a tender sort of bok choi, like a well-boiled giant radish, sweeter and moister than anything he’d had before”(136). The intricate detailing of the texture and taste of bok choi creates a peculiar perspective on the Chinese dish, since the gourmet club member who is eating the vegetable is not very familiar with it. The excitement of consuming a foreign meal for the first time is heightened by the unconventional description. The unconventionality further supports a general feeling of exoticism to the story.

The foreignness and exoticism of the delicacies brings feelings of enticement and curiosity that are clearly displayed in the characters’ attitude and desires to taste the meals. The classical Chinese cultural forms themselves give a sense of authenticity to the food because it makes a connection to China. Tanizaki Jun’ichiro ultimately utilizes Chinese cultural forms to show a story of foreignness and exoticism. The Chinese cultural forms are mainly applied to authentic Chinese food and food becomes the aspect that emphasizes the above ideas.

Kobe Beef and Its Prestige

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Kobe beef is known for its marble pattern.

Originally, cattle were not native to Japan. When cattle were introduced in the country later on, they were initially used for the purpose of helping with labor. In addition to working as animal laborers, cattle held a role in some spiritual rituals. This role of the animals in spiritual rituals and the banning of consuming beef in Japan resulted from Buddhist philosophy and beliefs. The attitude towards beef has changed significantly in Japan since its first introduction. Now, the higher grade of beef, known as Kobe beef, has spread through Japan and to other countries due to its origin and quality.

Because of natural geographical barriers, such as mountains, cattle breeds were able to evolve separately amongst each other. Kobe beef comes from Tajima cattle located primarily in Hyogo prefecture (Staley).  The beef is famously known for its marbling. Marbling refers to the intramuscular flat in the beef that gives a “marbled” appearance. Kobe beef is also said to have a different texture, tenderness, and taste than other beef. These characteristics may be attributed to the raising of the cattle while still alive. Japanese cattle ranchers limit the animals’ range and feed it a particular diet of grains. Since the 1940s, the Kobe Beef Marketing and Distribution Promotion Association have overseen the production of Kobe beef. Authentic Kobe beef is now stamped with a seal so consumers now they are purchasing real Kobe beef. Consumers also often pay much more for Kobe beef in contrast to other types of beef.

Kobe beef is now a symbol of Japan. The great lengths taken to produce and distribute Kobe beef are due to the meat exclusively coming from Japan. In present times, Kobe beef has risen as a prestigious delicacy in other countries. The meat has presented itself as an exotic and, therefore enticing, dish outside Japan. It is much harder to come across Kobe beef in places like North America and Europe because it is native to Japan. The exclusivity of this food is a reason for the larger demand. Even though there is larger demand, the amount of authentic Kobe beef available for consumption is much less, making it even more desired. Kobe beef is also ranked so highly that it exceeds the grading of the USDA scale (Staley). Hence, Japanese beef quality is of a higher caliber. Some beef has even been mislabeled outside of Japan as Kobe beef so it can sell.

Despite the original beef consumption bans, the association of wealth and luxury to the food caused for the lifting of those bans. A once barbaric-like practice in Japan has been embraced (Cwiertka). The changing beliefs in Japan about food items for consumption has led to significant differences in what Japanese eat today. The above standard quality of the beef in Japan has also made it into a desirable dish throughout the globe. Overall, beef is now part of Japanese cuisine. Kobe beef, in particular, has now transformed into a world-renowned delicacy that is representative of Japan. 

The Transformation of a Classic Tale into Pro-War Propaganda

Momotaro is a classic piece of Japanese folklore that is prominent throughout the culture and known to a majority of the Japanese population. Mitsuyo Seo’s Momotaro no Umiwashi, also known as Momotaro’s Sea Eagles, was produced in 1942 as a propaganda film that utilized the story of Momotaro to promote the war effort, and specifically the event at Pearl Harbor. In the original folk tale, Momotaro is born from a peach, raised by an old couple, and becomes a warrior whose purpose is to destroy demons with the assistance of power-wielding animals. In the anime, there is more emphasis on the battle with “western” demons that employs the use of large-scale weaponry and attack tactics, distinguishes who the audience is supposed to support, and softens the realities of a full-scale war while using the familiar plot of Momotaro to effectively appeal to the target audience as a pro-war propaganda film. 

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Momotaro and his crew upon a modern and large battleship.

 

Throughout the film, the employment of war machines and plans of attack is evident. One of the first pieces of war strategies in Momotaro’s Sea Eagles involves Captain Momotaro briefing his fleet of monkeys, dogs, and pheasants about the upcoming plan to infiltrate Demon Island. In the scene, Momotaro and the crew are on a large naval ship that is carrying many warplanes. Along with the battleship and planes belonging to Momotaro’s army, the enemy also possesses huge ships, aircrafts, and a military base that are eventually destroyed by the animal soldiers. The destruction is caused by weapons consisting of torpedoes and arson, which are directed by Momotaro and carried out by the animals. The portrayal of Momotaro’s battle with the demons in the anime aims to relate and promote the modern war effort of World War II, unlike the battle of the original folktale. The image of a full-fledge war and the technology for battle in the anime familiarizes the subject of war itself to the target audience of Japanese children, with the intention that they will support the war and fight for their country.

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The “western” enemy is portrayed as a beer-drinking brute who is no match for Momotaro’s army.

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The animal soldiers are much more dignified than the enemy and are able to use skillful tactics to destroy Demon Island.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another method in which Seo transforms Momotaro into a persuasive piece of propaganda is the way in which he displays the enemy with a deterring manner and actions. Because this film was produced as a result of the occurrence of World War II, the enemy is clearly a western army, and symbols in the film further hint that the enemy is the American military. To further distinguish the classic division between the “good guys versus the bad guys”, the leader of the opposing group inhabiting Demon Island is seen as an alcoholic brute who does not have clear authority over his men, as seen in the above left image. Contrastingly, the animal soldiers of Momotaro’s military are cute, and even have a sense of innocence about them while they also hold themselves to a higher integrity and capability than the western military leader.  The stark contrast between the characters leads to the audience sympathizing with Momotaro’s side and feeling unsympathetic towards the “bad guys” when they are destroyed and lose the battle. This particular battle and bombing of Demon Island also parallels the events at Pearl Harbor and is meant to show the young Japanese viewers that the attack on Pearl Harbor was necessary and a heroic battle. The overall effect of the different representations of the two fighting sides promotes a greater sense of national identity, unity, and pride for the Japanese people.

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Although ships are destroyed, explicit combat between the opposing sides is not present.

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The animal soldiers safely escape what would otherwise be a deadly plane crash in a real war.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Momotaro’s Sea Eagles is able to portray a war in a manner that is appropriate for children and does not frighten them entirely of war. Seo accomplishes this by a lack of explicit violence between the animals and the humans of the demon army, and no indication of death although the characters are in a war. The above left image from the film shows the destruction of the enemy ships from the battle and are not overly violent, which does not evoke a sense of fear. The lack of direct fighting between the humans and animals creates a break of reality and is not necessarily an accurate view of war. This masking of the realities of war is more appealing and citizens are more likely to enlist and support the war since they have not been exposed to the actual events of battle. Similarly, the subject of death that is part of war is not openly presented in the movie. The above right image of the three animals riding away on the sea eagle after their plane crashes into the ocean is an alternate ending that removes death as a possible scenario. Death is often times viewed as an event that people want to avoid for as long as possible. By eliminating the presence of death and blatant killing from war in Momotaro’s Sea Eagles, the more positive aspects of war such as camaraderie within the military and the pride of fighting for one’s country are more easily displayed and even romanticize the idea of war. The film also does an effective job of evoking a prominent sense of nationalism. This surge of nationalistic pride may even cause some to willingly go to war and die for their country even when they are aware that death often accompanies war. Idealizing war further develops the original plot of Momotaro into propaganda for the Japanese fight in World War II.

By taking a familiar and deeply rooted cultural story, Mitsuyo Seo creates a non-threatening and uncontroversial promotion of Japan’s participation in the war. Although a well-known piece of folklore is used, there are distinct differences between the folk tale of Momotaro and Momotaro’s Sea Eagles that turn the original story into a propaganda film in favor of Japanese efforts in the Second World War. Momotaro’s Sea Eagles focuses on the modern depiction of battle, unlike the battle of the original story, which was created in the late 1800’s. By employing warfare technology, having two clear divisions in the battle, and disguising the cruelties of war, the propaganda film appeals to the young target audience and motivates them to fight for their country in the actual war.

The Role of Food in Dramatizing Exoticism

In Tanizaki Jun’ichiro’s “The Gourmet Club”, the protagonist, Count G, searches for the next new and exciting delicacy to recommend and share with his fellow food enthusiasts. On his quest, Count G unexpectedly stumbles upon what appears to be a dinner party filled with never before seen Chinese cuisine. Count G then makes it a personal mission to taste the exotic food. Throughout “The Gourmet Club”, food is used to dramatize the idea of “exoticism” by possessing the ability to represent an aspect of a foreign culture and providing an exhilaratingly new adventure, due to the unfamiliarity of the Chinese dishes.

As a native citizen of Japan, the Count has never actually been to China and has only heard about the country and its food. The Count getting insight into an unfamiliar culture is noted in the text, “It was knowing that this club for Chinese from Chechiang Province, that there they were, enjoying real Chinese food as they listened to that intoxicating music, exactly following the customs of their native land-it was this that piqued his interest. As he would have been the first to admit, he’d never tasted real Chinese cooking yet” (111). Because Count G has never visited China and eaten authentic Chinese food, the events at the dinner party along with the food are exotic to the Count. Authentic food from a country that one has never been to can act as a representative symbol of that country. For example, to many non-French people, escargot is an unusual dish, but it is very much associated to France as a country and many do try it despite the peculiarity of it, so that they may have an authentic French cultural experience. In “The Gourmet Club”, the Count eating the authentic Chinese food allows him to have a cultural experience that is exotic to him and would otherwise not be readily available to him on a daily basis. Therefore, for the Count, China is exotic to him which makes his consumption of its delicacies that much more thrilling.

Exoticism can be defined as the condition of being foreign, striking, or unusual. In “The Gourmet Club” the Count and his colleagues specifically look at food as an opportunity to try something enticingly new and, after trying all dishes possible, they attempt to find more riveting and different plates. During the men’s slump in discovering striking food, the narrator notes, “They scoured all the eateries of Tokyo, hoping to impress their fellow members by discovering some wondrous new flavor. They were like curio collectors rummaging about in dubious secondhand shops on the off chance of making an unusual find”(102). The comparison of the men to collectors looking for rare and peculiar collectibles displays how food provides an experience that is rewarding when a new piece can be placed into the gourmet club members’ “collection”, or list of unique foods they have tried. Similar to how thrill-seekers achieve an adrenaline rush by partaking in bigger and even slightly intimidating adventures, Count G and the other men have the goal of discovering grander cuisine to eat.

Exoticism is subjective and is varied from person to person because of personal experience. Ultimately, the unfamiliar Chinese food Count G encounters dramatizes exoticism because it provides a glimpse into a culture that is foreign to him and acts as an adventure, due to the thrill given when the Count is able to try the new cuisine.

The Power of Food

Tampopo is a film consisting of vignettes that display various themes that frame the main storyline of a woman, Tampopo, and her mission to create and serve the best ramen in her town with the help of others. One of the central themes presented in the film surrounds classism, social hierarchy, and economic hierarchy. The scene below, therefore, is significant in illustrating director Itami Juzo’s attempt of showing that food is the great equalizer of power and superiority is not necessarily accompanied by knowledge in all subjects; for example, the case in Tampopo being knowledge of French delicacies.

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The waiter compliments the young man because of his knowledge of French cuisine while the young man’s boss is visibly irked.

This particular scene begins with the young man on the left of the screen making several mistakes and getting reprimanded by the older man on the far right, implying immediately that the young man is inferior to the older man of a superior position and host of the business-related dinner. As the waiter is taking orders, the older businessmen all order the same static meal, possibly out of ignorance about French food or maybe they all simply wanted the same food. Nevertheless, the young man who appears to be a clumsy fool in fact has an immense knowledge and experience with French cuisine that is apparent while ordering and interacting with the waiter, much to the older man’s shock and embarrassment as seen in the screenshot.

The events within this scene humorously signify that food is a universal item which possesses a surprising power that enables even people of a low rank or status to also gain some of that superiority they may lack in social or economic spheres. The young man is an “underdog-like” character that ultimately uses his wealth of western cuisine knowledge to undermine the boss’s demeaning actions towards him and the boss’s own rank, whether the young man did so intentionally or not. Through the course of the dinner, the older men become inferior at the hands of the food-knowledgeable young man. The audience can infer from the scene that the older man is possibly knowledgeable in solely business subjects, but obviously is not informed in a well-rounded sense.

The mise-en-scene also portrays the role reversal through the characters’ body language. The young man gives much more care and pensiveness as opposed to the bosses, who simply appear to skim through the menu with little respect or appreciation for the menu selection. The facial expression of the older man is visibly irked and knows that the young man is actually presenting himself in a superior manner, especially to the waiter who even openly affirms the young man as “well-informed.” The above screenshot holds significance in the film by proving that food is capable of transforming traditional hierarchical roles completely. Also, it is evident that such traditional hierarchical roles do not exactly correlate with the quantity of knowledge about vast subjects, such as international food. Even throughout Tampopo, Itami Juzo portrays food as holding soft power that has an impact in a wide variety of settings.