Author Archives: austinhoang

Japan: A Nation of Lost Identity (My Year of Meats Extra Credit)

In order to survive in this planet of ever-growing changes, shifts and changes are often made, leading to the discarding of past values and tradition. In Ruth Ozeki’s novel, My Year of Meats, Ozeki indicates a shift in Japan as a country, as a result of influences in capitalism, consumerism, and overall American Culture. Ozeki makes it increasingly evident that Japan is losing its identity amongst nations as Japan seeks to conform with societies which have been deemed successful and prosperous. Japan is shown to seek adaptations of cultural lifestyles with a change to a diet richer in meats and shift towards desires of the “American Dream.”

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Modernization of Japan into a Meat Culture

Clear resentment is presented towards past Japan through Akiko’s husband, John, who displays a growing loss of interest in his wife due to her small figure and infertility, which he views to be due to a meat-deficient diet. The remedy in such situation is concluded to be a change to a more American lifestyle, one that incorporates large consumption of meat. In such way, Ozeki utilizes meat as a linkage to American consumerism and culture, displaying shifting tides in Japan, as Japan becomes further accustomed to meat consumption through the cooking show, My American Wife, that Jane (the Protagonist) helps to produce. Ozeki essentially hints to the failure of infrastructure in Japan as a whole, as Japanese culture has caused its people to pale in comparison to American people.

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Large Portions of Meat (Symbolizing American Culture & Consumerism)

The Protagonist Jane can be seen as the bridge between Japan and the America, as she is of Japanese and Caucasian decent. In presenting this duality, Ozeki is able to further the idea of American health and stature through both the successes of Jane with her TV show and Jane’s figure itself. John who comes into contact with Jane, in one passage, commends Jane on her height and intelligence, which he attributes to her Caucasian side. This sort of American favoritism that Ozeki incorporates into her novel, creates a sense of a dying Japanese culture that people seek to abandon for something of greater nourishment and prosperity. In My Year of Meats, this nourishment comes in the form of the meat that is cooked on the show and the meat that is sold to the Japanese people through BEEF-EX. The early Meiji Era values of 19th century Japan, values that include buddhist ideals of being frugal, low meat consumption, and overall moderation, are discarded and replaced with American values of excessiveness and high consumerism (in particular with that of meat). This new 20th century Japan, illustrates Japanese high regard toward a state of modernity, which is thought to be only possible through the mimicry of “American culture.”

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Cover of My Year of Meats Novel (displays Japanese Chopsticks which pick up Beef Cow)

My Year of Meats is a novel in which Japanese progression towards modernity in the 19th and 20th century is displayed through Japanese adaptations toward the American lifestyle. Ozeki displays such shift through the symbol of meat which becomes an increasingly common part of the Japanese peoples’ lives. American consumerism is placed at the utmost highest pedestal, as it emanates and produces prosperity and health which is shown through the juxtaposition of American and Japanese women.

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Societal Expectations and Its Double Standard in Dolphin Slaughter

With the progression of time societal norms, expectations, and standards begin to transgress across boundaries of country and culture. From this, a dilemma arises in which one questions what exactly is right and wrong, and who is to set such standards in the various growing societies of the world. In the 2009 Documentary, The Cove, produced by former National Geographic Photographer Louie Psihoyos, mass killings of dolphins within Taiji, Japan of the Wakayama Prefecture is put into light and questioned on a moralistic level. The film follows former dolphin trainer, Ric O’Barry who claims that the dolphin killings are wrong on several different levels, and are utterly unnecessary and inhumane altogether. This controversial claim has put the Japanese on the defense as they argue that the killings of the dolphins for the usage of food are merely part of Japanese culture, which cannot simply be deemed morally wrong by another culture’s standards.

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Keep Out Sign Preceding the Taiji Cove

The killing and eating of dolphin and dolphin meat is placed under the attention of the world and subjugated as morally incorrect by the cast of The Cove. In the documentary, this standard is set in place under the justification that dolphins are creatures of intelligence and emotion as opposed to the livestock animals that are slaughtered by the masses all over the world (especially with Western Cultures of meat indulging). Ric O’Barry brings to attention a sense of a “crisis of conscience” through his narration as he proclaims the inhumanity of animal killings of a specific species of animal (the dolphin). The aspect of a double standard comes about as the usage of other animals for food is not once questioned while the Japanese culture of eating dolphin meat is detested and looked down upon. The modernist values of America become essentially imposed upon Japanese culture, a culture geographically far and essentially unrelated to that of America. As in many foreign cultures (not that of just Japan), killing for sustenance and nutrition is necessary for the continuation of life and culture.

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Undercover Video of Dolphin Killings in Secret Taiji Cove

Ric O’Barry and the crew of The Cove, however bring to light the thought of dolphin meat poisoning the people of Japan rather than providing nourishment and nutrition. The film incorporates the Japanese history of the Minimata Disease, using the topic as a focal point in arguing the immorality of dolphin consumption on a dual level. On one hand, the killing and eating of dolphin is morally wrong as dolphins are intelligent creatures, while also on another hand, the fisherman who sell the dolphin meat are essentially killing and poisoning the Japanese people. The Minimata Disease was first discovered in 1956, as a result of mercury-induced poisonings that left many Japanese citizens impaired and deformed. Dolphins, being higher up on the aquatic food chain, are likely to contain higher levels of mercury than that of smaller fish due to bioaccumulation. In mentioning such, the film is able to provide another point in justifying dolphin killing and consumption as unnecessary practices. The film includes such argument in order to nullify the Japanese defense of the utility of dolphin meat.

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Interview of Taiji Councilmen on the Controversy of Dolphin Killing/Eating

Psihoyos creates the film in such a way as to heighten the sense of a “post” society in which some sort of disaster is to come. This post-disaster that is envisioned is brought about through the dolphin killings which could both lead to a natural imbalance and widespread death (through the Minimata Disease). The Cove is set in a sort of heist scene, incorporating elements of technological espionage, creating the sense that the people of Taiji were hiding a dark secret. In incorporating such aspects, Psihoyos effectively predisposes the idea of dolphin slaughter and consumption to be immoral and cruel. In analyzing the film further, very little consideration is placed towards Japan’s unique and extensive culture, as the film focuses predominately on the mission of the exposure to the “wrong-doings” of the Japanese; leaving audience to only further question the social bias presented within the film.

Social and cultural alignment across nations are extremely unlikely leading to inevitable debate and controversy over regional food cultures. Japan and its long-held culture of eating dolphin meat is deemed as both wrong and inhumane by Ric O’Barry and the production cast of the film The Cove. This heist-styled documentary film emphasizes the innocence of the dolphins and the need to protect such animals. Ironically, however, much is left to be heard about the many other animals that are slaughtered daily, giving rise to biased and exclusive sentiments towards the animal of dolphin. In this on-going controversial debate, Japan defends its rights as a culturally independent and separate nation, staying steadfast with its cultural lifestyle and eating habits involving dolphin meat.

Momotarō: The Story of the Unification Against Injustice

The plight of the unseen and unheard masses sometimes grows to be so large, so as to stir up an uproar and wave of discontent, one of which that consists of the righteous and good conquering the evils and perils of the world.  In the Japanese folktale story Momotarō, which arose in Japan as early as the Edo Period (1603-1867), a righteous and honorable character by the name of Momotarō (桃太郎 Momotarou , “Peach Boy”) conquers the evil Oni (鬼, “Demon,” “Ogres”) of Oni Island. Momotarō conquers such Oni through the help of several animal companions who he awards millet dumplings to. The food of the traditional millet dumplings essentially unites Momotarō and the animals that he meets along the way, giving rise to the victory over the Oni which comes up in all forms of the Momotarō reiteration. Momotarō, being an upright and versatile character, is able to withstand the test of time through its popularity as a figure of unification against evil.

The Name Momotarō itself is derived from the Japanese word of “momo,” meaning “peach tree” and “tarō” meaning “big boy;” which is also a name that is often traditionally given to the first son of a Japanese family. Across both literature and text, the symbol of the peach which gives rise to Momotarō, represents much more than the fruit itself. The peach fruit aspect of the folktale embodies ideals of prosperity and longevity, which Japan very much seeks for itself. With the peach’s large proportion that of which has never been seen before, as told in the Iwaya Sazanami’s 1938 publication of Momotarō, the peach can be seen as a reflection of the type of nation that Japan sought to be displayed as. On a historical standpoint, Japan was growing as an industrial nation and military power in both the 18th and 19th century, paralleling the enormous growth of the peach. The peach while symbolizing a long life, also referred to the youthful generation of Japan, making it an ideal tool to target children as well. Through Momotarō, Japanese children grow up with values of bravery, selflessness for one’s country, and resolve in dire situations.

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The Birth of Momotarō from the Peach

Within the Momotarō tales, not only does the food of the peach appear, but also the cuisine of Japanese millet dumplings which Momotarō utilizes to essentially seal the companionship with the animals (typically of which consists of the dog, monkey, and pheasant). The millet dumpling, also known as the kibi dango (団子), is a delicious and simple Japanese snack which serves to provide for comfort and nourishment to Momotarō and his comrades in their battle against the evil Oni. In Mitsuyo Seo’s film, Momotarō’s Sea Eagle, the millet dumpling is handed out to the enlisted soldiers under Momotarō. In such scene, the millet dumpling provides sustenance and assurance to the animals before they set off to battle the Oni, who coincidently resemble American cartoon characters such as Bluto, Popeye, and Betty Boop. The Iwaya Sazanami 1938 textual treatment of Momotarō, in contrast to the film, portrays only half of the millet dumpling being given to the animals. In such way, a hierarchical system is established through the millet dumpling; a system of which consists of the god-sent Momotarō above his animal comrades. This subtle aspect incorporated into the textual version of Momotarō reflects the traditionalist view of Japan in hierarchy to the rest of the world (where Japan is above other countries). The millet dumpling, native to only Japan, across all platforms of Momotarō, prepare the animal soldiers for a battle for the basic rights of the villagers who suffer harassment and devastation from the demons, who have frequently pillaged the local villages.

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In further analyzing Iwaya Sazanami’s 1938 publication of Momotarō, ironic aspects revolving around the millet dumpling appear. The millet dumping is incorporated into the quarrel between the animals and significantly defuses the situation. In such scenario, the millet dumpling serves to end fighting and quarrel through its appeal as delicious nourishment. However, through the unity and camaraderie of the animals caused by the millet dumplings, war against the Oni is essentially made possible. In this case, the millet dumpling serves as a mechanism in initiating and sustaining war, rather than defusing war. Through ironic incitation and destruction, greater peace is achieved for the people of Momotarō, paralleling what many countries seek with war, including Japan. The simple millet dumpling of simple ingredients is made out to be not so simple with its utilization throughout the Momotarō renditions within Japan.

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In the traditional folktale version of Momotarō such as in Iwaya Sazanami and the National Diet Library Newsletter publications, The Peach Boy is portrayed as a righteous and virtuous character sent from the heavens, worthy of much respect and worthy of being followed after by the various animals of the forest. More recent displays of Momotarō, such as in  Mitsuyo Seo’s Momotarō Sea Eagle, establish a standpoint where Momotarō is a Japanese citizen in the Navy. In such sense, Seo alludes to the idea that Japan as a country is worthy of respect from all others, and is on a level and standard close to that of the gods. Seo transgresses the boundary between man and god, giving rise to a distinction between Japan and other foreign countries. Japan with its rising as a political power and growing militaristic agenda benefitted greatly from the numerous effects of the steadfast figure of Momotarō in film.

Initially, the folktale was used as a sort of children’s story so as to instill righteous values and character upon young Japanese children, but with the progression of time Momotarō came to represent many platforms and fulfilled several agendas, some of which included war propaganda and human rights campaigns. In the period both preceding and during World War II, Momotarō would be the popular choice as a type of central figure in militaristic and nationalistic propaganda. Momotarō propaganda such as with Mitsuyo Seo’s Momotarō Sea Eagle was created in hopes of instilling the “Japanese Spirit” into the Japanese populous, so as to push the war effort in Japan’s favor against demons such as the Americans. Just as in the animation where the various cute animals unite to fight off the Oni, eventually defeating the demons, Japan too sought for a Japanese unification amongst its citizens in the war effort against America.

Even after World War II, Momotarō would still be used as a figure head in times of crisis such as with the discovery of the Minimata Disease in 1956 in Minimata City of the Kuramoto Prefecture within Japan. As the disease grew in number and prevalence, Noriaki Tsuchimoto sought some sort of greater awareness and justification, which came in the form of his film, Minamata: The Victims and Their World. Such documentary put to light the social injustices of the large corporations, and called for the unity of the Japanese citizens against the evil big industry which poisoned Japanese waters and produce (in particular fish) with their mercury-enriched fertilizers. This very much paralleled the plights and struggle within the Momotarō folktale, making Momotarō an ideal figure to head the campaign against the evil demon’s of Japanese big industry. A Minimata community began to form in the periods following the the outbreak of the disease, as a result of the all the suffering and pain the villagers endured. Minimata, being heavily dependent upon the fish produce, suffered in silence whilst the big corporations, ignorant to their pains as they could afford food of higher quality and purity. This new community with its newly-found resolve and unification would at the very least have its voice heard, while gradually obtaining their goals of social justice with regards to the poisoning of Japanese waters.

Japan throughout its history of both prosperity and devastation would require a figure to unite its citizens in a holistic community, capable of uplifting any disaster. The tale of Momotarō fulfilled such role for the Japanese people with its aspects of camaraderie and resistance through the unification under the millet dumpling and symbolism of the peach. Time and time again, whether it be through literature or film, Momotarō and its food displays the greater power of a community as a opposed to an individual. Even the simplest of objects such as the food of millet dumplings can unify an entity that would otherwise be powerless while segmented. A war may be waged by a single entity, but it must be fought by the masses to be considered even possible. The importance of the Momotarō and food to Japan’s constant plight is undeniable, and will likely be prevalent for generations to come, whether it be as a result of the instillation of values, war of powers, or devastating disease, as is evident in Japan’s extensive history.

Momotarō: The Story of the Unification Against Injustice

The plight of the unseen and unheard masses sometimes grows to be so large, so as to stir up an uproar and wave of discontent, one of which that consists of the righteous and good conquering the evils and perils of the world.  In the Japanese folktale story Momotarō, which arose in Japan as early as the Edo Period (1603-1867), a righteous and honorable character by the name of Momotarō (桃太郎 Momotarou , “Peach Boy”) conquers the evil Oni (鬼, “Demon,” “Ogres”) of Oni Island. Momotarō conquers such Oni through the help of several animal companions who he awards millet dumplings to. The food of the traditional millet dumplings essentially unites Momotarō and the animals that he meets along the way, giving rise to the victory over the Oni which comes up in all forms of the Momotarō reiteration. Momotarō, being an upright and versatile character, is able to withstand the test of time through its popularity as a figure of unification against evil.

The Name Momotarō itself is derived from the Japanese word of “momo,” meaning “peach tree” and “tarō” meaning “big boy;” which is also a name that is often traditionally given to the first son of a Japanese family. Across both literature and text, the symbol of the peach which gives rise to Momotarō, represents much more than the fruit itself. The peach fruit aspect of the folktale embodies ideals of prosperity and longevity, which Japan very much seeks for itself. With the peach’s large proportion that of which has never been seen before, as told in the Iwaya Sazanami’s 1938 publication of Momotarō, the peach can be seen as a reflection of the type of nation that Japan sought to be displayed as. On a historical standpoint, Japan was growing as an industrial nation and military power in both the 18th and 19th century, paralleling the enormous growth of the peach. The peach while symbolizing a long life, also referred to the youthful generation of Japan, making it an ideal tool to target children as well. Through Momotarō, Japanese children grow up with values of bravery, selflessness for one’s country, and resolve in dire situations.

Image

The Birth of Momotarō from the Peach

Within the Momotarō tales, not only does the food of the peach appear, but also the cuisine of Japanese millet dumplings which Momotarō utilizes to essentially seal the companionship with the animals (typically of which consists of the dog, monkey, and pheasant). The millet dumpling, also known as the kibi dango (団子), is a delicious and simple Japanese snack which serves to provide for comfort and nourishment to Momotarō and his comrades in their battle against the evil Oni. In Mitsuyo Seo’s film, Momotarō’s Sea Eagle, the millet dumpling is handed out to the enlisted soldiers under Momotarō. In such scene, the millet dumpling provides sustenance and assurance to the animals before they set off to battle the Oni, who coincidently resemble American cartoon characters such as Bluto, Popeye, and Betty Boop. The Iwaya Sazanami 1938 textual treatment of Momotarō, in contrast to the film, portrays only half of the millet dumpling being given to the animals. In such way, a hierarchical system is established through the millet dumpling; a system of which consists of the god-sent Momotarō above his animal comrades. This subtle aspect incorporated into the textual version of Momotarō reflects the traditionalist view of Japan in hierarchy to the rest of the world (where Japan is above other countries). The millet dumpling, native to only Japan, across all platforms of Momotarō, prepare the animal soldiers for a battle for the basic rights of the villagers who suffer harassment and devastation from the demons, who have frequently pillaged the local villages. 

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The Monkey Distributing the Millet Dumplings Before Battle (Mitsuyo Seo’s Momotarō’s Sea Eagle

In further analyzing Iwaya Sazanami’s 1938 publication of Momotarō, ironic aspects revolving around the millet dumpling appear. The millet dumping is incorporated into the quarrel between the animals and significantly defuses the situation. In such scenario, the millet dumpling serves to end fighting and quarrel through its appeal as delicious nourishment. However, through the unity and camaraderie of the animals caused by the millet dumplings, war against the Oni is essentially made possible. In this case, the millet dumpling serves as a mechanism in initiating and sustaining war, rather than defusing war. Through ironic incitation and destruction, greater peace is achieved for the people of Momotarō, paralleling what many countries seek with war, including Japan. The simple millet dumpling of simple ingredients is made out to be not so simple with its utilization throughout the Momotarō renditions within Japan. 

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Momotarō and His Animal Comrades Enjoying Millet Dumplings in a Textual Rendition of the Folktale

In the traditional folktale version of Momotarō such as in Iwaya Sazanami and the National Diet Library Newsletter publications, The Peach Boy is portrayed as a righteous and virtuous character sent from the heavens, worthy of much respect and worthy of being followed after by the various animals of the forest. More recent displays of Momotarō, such as in  Mitsuyo Seo’s Momotarō Sea Eagle, establish a standpoint where Momotarō is a Japanese citizen in the Navy. In such sense, Seo alludes to the idea that Japan as a country is worthy of respect from all others, and is on a level and standard close to that of the gods. Seo transgresses the boundary between man and god, giving rise to a distinction between Japan and other foreign countries. Japan with its rising as a political power and growing militaristic agenda benefitted greatly from the numerous effects of the steadfast figure of Momotarō in film.

Initially, the folktale was used as a sort of children’s story so as to instill righteous values and character upon young Japanese children, but with the progression of time Momotarō came to represent many platforms and fulfilled several agendas, some of which included war propaganda and human rights campaigns. In the period both preceding and during World War II, Momotarō would be the popular choice as a type of central figure in militaristic and nationalistic propaganda. Momotarō propaganda such as with Mitsuyo Seo’s Momotarō Sea Eagle was created in hopes of instilling the “Japanese Spirit” into the Japanese populous, so as to push the war effort in Japan’s favor against demons such as the Americans. Just as in the animation where the various cute animals unite to fight off the Oni, eventually defeating the demons, Japan too sought for a Japanese unification amongst its citizens in the war effort against America. 

Even after World War II, Momotarō would still be used as a figure head in times of crisis such as with the discovery of the Minimata Disease in 1956 in Minimata City of the Kuramoto Prefecture within Japan. As the disease grew in number and prevalence, Noriaki Tsuchimoto sought some sort of greater awareness and justification, which came in the form of his film, Minamata: The Victims and Their World. Such documentary put to light the social injustices of the large corporations, and called for the unity of the Japanese citizens against the evil big industry which poisoned Japanese waters and produce (in particular fish) with their mercury-enriched fertilizers. This very much paralleled the plights and struggle within the Momotarō folktale, making Momotarō an ideal figure to head the campaign against the evil demon’s of Japanese big industry. A Minimata community began to form in the periods following the the outbreak of the disease, as a result of the all the suffering and pain the villagers endured. Minimata, being heavily dependent upon the fish produce, suffered in silence whilst the big corporations, ignorant to their pains as they could afford food of higher quality and purity. This new community with its newly-found resolve and unification would at the very least have its voice heard, while gradually obtaining their goals of social justice with regards to the poisoning of Japanese waters.

Japan throughout its history of both prosperity and devastation would require a figure to unite its citizens in a holistic community, capable of uplifting any disaster. The tale of Momotarō fulfilled such role for the Japanese people with its aspects of camaraderie and resistance through the unification under the millet dumpling and symbolism of the peach. Time and time again, whether it be through literature or film, Momotarō and its food displays the greater power of a community as a opposed to an individual. Even the simplest of objects such as the food of millet dumplings can unify an entity that would otherwise be powerless while segmented. A war may be waged by a single entity, but it must be fought by the masses to be considered even possible. The importance of the Momotarō and food to Japan’s constant plight is undeniable, and will likely be prevalent for generations to come, whether it be as a result of the instillation of values, war of powers, or devastating disease, as is evident in Japan’s extensive history.

 

Spaghetti Eating and False Perceptions of Western Culture

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Taken in three-shot style, The Spaghetti Instructor begins her lesson on how

to properly eat Spaghetti

Jūzō Itami’s 1985 comedy film, Tampopo, contains a volley of scenes which display the clash of culture between the society of the “West” and the society of a modernizing Japan. Within such masterpiece of cinematography, a scene arises in which the classic “how-to” scenario is portrayed with the topic of eating spaghetti. This scene, taken primarily in master shot, exhibits middle-aged Japanese women who seek to be a part of a high society culture, one of which involves knowledge of Western cuisine and etiquette. In beginning her lesson, the course instructor repeatedly emphasizes the need for one to quietly consume their spaghetti.  

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 In long-shot method, a European Westerner is both seen and heard to be

loudly slurping on his Spaghetti

Shortly following the instructor’s warning/advice, a loud slurping noise interjects, leading to a camera shift to a single long-shot of a Westerner eating his spaghetti. In doing so, Itami effectively destroys all prior notions of proper Western etiquette. The underlying significance of the scene is revealed to be the disparity of perceptions and reality of the Japanese people. In a larger sense, Itami may be alluding to just how lost and misinformed Japan is; as Japan, as a country, has yet to assimilate to the strength and greatness of Western Society.

In the following scenes, the students follow after the Westerner rather than the instructor as they carelessly slurp their noodles. Itami causes the instructor to seem even further misled and ridiculous as the proceeding shots display several students, one after another, loudly enjoying the spaghetti. The scene, while very comedic, can be seen to possibly criticize Japan’s lack of action and immediacy with regards to the following of the more sophisticated and powerful countries of the time such as France, Great Britain, and Russia. By emphasizing the noise and seemingly barbaric style of eating noodles, Itami can be interpreted to turn his back on much of Japan’s older customs which do not involve such Western styles of dining.

In relating back to Tampopo as a whole, there exists a parallelism between eating Ramen (Japanese Noodles) and eating Spaghetti (Western Noodles). The two cultures hold a similar ground or basis as they both consume noodles, yet at the same time are very different as they have different preparations and etiquette in relativity to their noodles. In interpreting such basis, Itami may be inferring that Japan as a country is actually not that far from the greatness and power of the West. Simple changes in custom and culture could thus allow Japan to rise as a nation to the esteemed superpowers of the time.  

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In Wide-angle view, the entire room of Japanese women (including the 

instructor) are loudly slurping their Spaghetti

With the conclusion of the scene, the instructor, herself, follows after the Western Businessman showing a shift in ideals and customs for all the Japanese people in the room (for Japan as a whole). Food, being a cultural capital in such consumerist era, is able to properly display the transgression between Japanese Culture and Western Culture. The final moments of the scene display that the willingness of Japan to assimilate and change shall allow Japan to ascend beyond many of the Asian Countries that were being occupied at the time, as Japan does not preside solely on old customs and culture.