Author Archives: caitlynlew

What’s All the Rage With Kobe Beef?

The perfectly tinged slabs of Kobe beef demonstrate the exquisite taste and luxurious quality that goes into making this Japanese delicacy.

In Japan, Kobe beef is recognized as a legendary delicacy, renowned for its exquisite taste and luxurious quality. However, prior to 1868 the consumption of beef, moreover any meat derived from a four legged animal, was strictly prohibited for the Japanese population (Longworth). Because of the Buddhist traditions popularly practiced during this period, ingestion of meat was considered a form of taboo, and thus restriction of meat from the everyday diet became an accepted norm. Following the Meiji Restoration in 1868, dietary restrictions began to transform. The new leaders of Japan wanted to reduce the powers of the Buddhist traditions by lifting their long held ban on the consumption of beef, and encourage the adoption of modern Western beliefs (Frazier).

Western cuisine provided many of the essential nutrients for the human body that traditional Japanese diet lacked and allowed the growth of a sophisticated style of dining. The typical diet of a majority of Japan consisted of rice, vegetables and seafood, traditionally eaten by way of hashi, the Japanese term for chopsticks (Longworth). Westernization influenced the transition of incorporating the fork and knife at the dining table. In addition, a wide variety of beef became available and integrated into the everyday Japanese diet. “From the Meiji period onwards, familiarity with things Western and, by extension, dining in Western style came to be regarded as a sign of sophistication and signified social prestige” (Cwiertka 23). Beef was heavily correlated with wealth and health because it provided a complete protein rich source for energy of the body, as well as many supplemental nutrients.

Kobe beef is derived from specific parts of the Tajima cattle.

Kobe beef is derived from specific parts of the Tajima cattle.

The exceptional taste of Kobe beef stems from a long history of breeding and mastering techniques to perfection. Traditionally, beef comes from a type of cattle called Wagyu, meaning “very old beef” in Japanese (Longworth). Through decades of selective breeding four types of Waygu cattle exist, including Japanese Brown, Japanese Black, Japanese Poll and Japanese Shorthorn. Kobe beef, on the other hand, refers to beef specifically cut from exact proportions of the Tajima breed of cow and “to gain Kobe certification the cows must be born, raised and slaughtered in Hyogo Prefecture, and the meat is never exported” (Joe). Such high standards for quality control of Kobe beef allows only about 1.2 million kilos of Kobe beef to be produced a year. Thus, its limited availability accounts for its expensive price. Techniques such as marbling are also employed, which can be defined as the cuts of the slices of meat that expose the fine running lines of white fat through the beef, allowing the flavorful and tenderness qualities of each bite. Furthermore, the technique of “massaging the cattle with sake and feeding them beer” was developed to ensure the “superior flavor, fat, and tenderness of Japanese Kobe beef” (Frazier).

A specific technique knows as "marbling" ranked the slices of Kobe beef at different standards.

A specific technique knows as “marbling” ranked the slices of Kobe beef at different standards.

For decades, sales and consumption of Kobe beef was strictly enclosed within Japan. With such a high demand for Kobe beef in countries outside of Japan, the introduction of Kobe Beef America, Inc. was founded, permitting quantities of high quality Kobe beef to be available in other countries at affordable prices (Kobe Beef). This cooperation produces prime quality Kobe beef in limited amounts that is distributed to select restaurants and retail outlets, guaranteeing the meat is handled and prepared to the ultimate dining satisfaction (Kobe Beef). Additionally, the importation of Kobe specific breeds of cattle to other countries has allowed the spread and popularization of Kobe beef in other countries. The growing availability have Kobe beef around the world allows everyone the opportunity to experience the hype of the “melt in your mouth” taste of Kobe beef.

Momotaro Plays Hide & Seek: Exploring food and heroism hidden in various texts

The legend of Momotaro has been featured in many films, such as Momotaro’s Sea Eagle and Minamata: The Victims and Their World, to help the people of Japan relate to the national crises pertaining to each film.  By utilizing the popular and cherished tale of Momotaro as a common theme, viewers of the film are more likely to grasp a firm understanding of unfamiliar and complex topics, such as war and disease epidemics. As the symbol of strength, bravery, and nobility, Momotaro acts as a role model to children and adults alike, just as superheroes act as cultural icons sought to emulate. In the children’s animation Momotaro’s Sea Eagle the director, Mitsuyo Seo, dramatizes the events of the bombing of Pearl Harbor during World War II by utilizing Momotaro as the commanding leader of a crew of devoted animals on mission to defeat their enemies on Demon Island. On the other hand, the director, Noriaki Tsuchimoto, takes various themes from Momotaro and implements them in his poignant and compassionate documentary, Minamata: The Victims and Their World, to illustrate the cruel and unbearable circumstances those affected with Minamata experienced. Momtaro’s Sea Eagle and Minamata: The Victims and Their World both integrate ideas from the Momotaro legend, enhancing the similarities and differences in two central themes, food as the source to ignite community unification and the role of a hero to serve moral justice.

In the legend of Momotaro, Momotaro’s Sea Eagle and Minamata: The Victims and Their World, the primary theme of food acts as a source to bring a community of people together. In the Momotaro folk tale the theme of food is viewed as both an object of consumption and as a symbol of strength and unification. When Momotaro departs for his voyage to Ogre Island his father packs him millet dumplings for lunch. Food is the primary source of fuel for the body, allowing the necessary endurance and power needed to take on arduous tasks. As Momotaro’s journey commences he encounters and befriends a dog, monkey and pheasant, all of which previously did not get along. Each time Momotaro encountered a new creature he offered them a millet dumpling and they immediately sought to become a member of the team.  Eating one of the millet dumplings which acted as a form of pledging their allegiance to Momotaro, and demonstrating how food as commodity acts as a uniting factor of strength, friendship and teamwork.

In a similar manner, Momotaro’s Sea Eagle presents the uniting force of food as a symbol of strength and celebration. For example, after Momotaro commands his troops to depart to Demon Island one monkey fuels up his stomach with a skewer of millet dumplings.

Food is a source of power and strength.

Food is a source of power and strength.

Upon flexing, the bicep muscle of the monkey’s arm immediately enlarges, signifying his gain of strength needed to carry out his mission. Furthermore, when the dog and monkey soldiers return to Momotaro’s naval ship after the completion of their mission the animals rejoice in celebration by eating rice balls. The consumption of millet dumplings and rice balls as simplistic Japanese cuisine expresses the unification and national pride the animal soldiers have for their country.

Food can also act as a symbol of victory and celebration.

Unlike the legend of Momotaro and Momotaro’s Sea Eagle where food is viewed as a positive source of strength and unity, food in Minamata: The Victims and Their World acts as a symbol of poison and death, rather than a necessity for life. Yet comparably, through the negativity of the Minamata epidemic stirs an uprising and unification of a community. In basic terms, the Minamata disease was methyl mercury poisoning. The Minamata disease originated from the Chisso Corporation factory dumping methyl mercury into the ocean, illegally. The carelessness of this factory caused the poisoning of many underwater creatures, which ultimately caused a significant amount of people who consumed the diseased sea life to contract the disease as well.

The Minamata disease cost the lives of many loved ones.

The Minamata disease cost the lives of many loved ones.

Symptoms of those who became affected included the loss of the ability to speak correctly and the loss of the senses. Unfortunately, the disease affected not only the host, but also the victim’s families and loved ones as well. The survivors of the epidemic resulted in a devastating loss of friends and family, but not hope. From the tears and sorrows caused by broken hearts grew rage and the demand for blame and compensation. Through tragedy people are, once again, observed joining together in unison and rising against a common enemy.

Additionally, another theme presented in all three films is the central figure of the righteous hero, and of course the enemy as well. In the Momotaro folk tale, an old couple’s wish is granted when a giant peach drifts down a river. Inside the peach is a boy, Momotaro, whom the couple adopts and raises. Momotaro grows up to be an intelligent and independent leader who embarks on a journey to Ogre Island to defeat the fierce enemy ogres. Upon success, Momotaro transpors gold, silver, jewels and other riches back home to his parents, safe and sound.  Thus, embodying the qualities of a genuine hero.

Likewise, Seo used many similar tactics from the Momotaro legend in Momotaro’s Sea Eagle to develop his plotline. For instance, the idea of Momotaro and his team of animals as the undefeatable heroes is a reoccurring theme. Momotaro ranks at the top of the social ladder as the commanding officer of a crew of rabbits, monkeys and dogs. He expresses his authoritative powers by commanding his army through specific tasks, yet unlike the Momotaro folk tale, he never comes face-to-face with physical contact in battle. Additionally, to stay consistent with the historical background of the film, Seo developed the enemy character to drastically juxtapose with that of the heroes. Momotaro and his team of cute animal warriors were depicted

The beer bottle was indicative of excessive drinking, causing American’s to be viewed as the “bad guys.”

as the team of “good guys” saving the Japanese nation from the enemies on Demon Island. However, on Demon Island, the single American soldier was illustrated as a human-like figure with demonic accessories, such as horns, a tail, and a beer bottle at hand, indicative of excessive drinking. Alcohol gave a negative connotation that was frowned upon according to societal norms; hence, the portrayal of American’s as the “bad guys”.  At the end of the film, the members of Momotaro’s force return to the ship safe and sound, just as in the tale. Conversely, in the film Momotaro does not return home with treasures, because the treasure to be gained is the satisfaction of justice served against their enemy ogres.

The hero and enemy roles in Minamata: The Victims and Their World are also portrayed in a contrasting manner to that of the Momotaro folk tale. Where the hero plays the protagonist role in the Momotaro tale, the hero of this documentary is the underdog. The role of the hero in Tsuchimoto’s documentary is a group of common people representing all those who have been affected by the Minamata disease, rather than a single being as in the

This quote makes a direct reference to the Momotaro legend’s fight at Ogre Island.

Momotaro legend. The heroes consist of a community of members who journey abroad to Osaka to fight the “ogres” of the Chisso Corporation factory. In one scene an elderly woman speaks, “We have arrived in the land where the blue and red ogres dwell,” making a direct reference to Momotaro’s journey to Ogre Island in the legend. Contrasting to the compensation of treasure gained by Momotaro in the legend, the heroes of the Minamata community took action not for the sake of their own merit, but to help those that were innocent. As for the role of the enemy throughout this documentary, the audience gets the sense that the Chisso Corporation should be viewed as the “bad guys.” The Chisso Corporation was indeed responsible for the mercury poisoning; however food in general can also be seen as a coexisting enemy.  Consumption of food is what spread of the Minamata disease and infected the lives of innocent beings. As a consequence, the need to rally up the heroes to fight for justice was essential to defeat these enemies, just as Momotaro and his team of animals had on Ogre Island.

By incorporating the tale of Momotaro in Momotaro’s Sea Eagle and Minamata: The Victims and Their World national anxieties are made more comprehendible for the general public to interpret. As in the Momotaro legend, both films demonstrate that food is factor for community unification and that leadership and justice are characteristics of a righteous hero. As a result, the viewers of these films easily accept the noble and respectful qualities of the characters representing Momotaro, and the wickedness portrayed in the enemy, ultimately providing for a moving documentary and prized animated propaganda cartoon.

Momotaro’s Game of War

As commander, Momotaro embodied the loyalty, strength and leadership for a successful mission.

Momotaro’s Sea Eagle was an animated propaganda film dramatizing the events of World War II. The film was designed to encourage viewers to celebrate Japan’s December 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor and aimed at helping the troops gain financial support from the Japanese nation. In the thirty-seven minute film, Momotaro was the military leader of a naval ship in command of a crew of loyal animals who take on the arduous mission of conquering Demon Island. Momotaro embodied the loyalty, strength and leadership that the Japanese community sought to emulate. His crew was composed of a team of rabbits, monkeys and dogs that together worked in unison to defeat the evil forces. The director, Seo Mitsuyo, strategically used animated propaganda and incorporated the popular Japanese legend of Momotaro to target children for his campaign. By contrasting the relationship between animals and humans in the film, Mistsuyo demonstrated how teamwork, humor and heroism are key elements used in Momotaro’s Sea Eagles to successfully make light of the seriousness of war and to communicate Japanese nationalism to the younger generations.

Cute and cuddly animals represented Japanese soldiers, contrasting significantly from the humanized forms of the American soldier depicted on the Island.

Teamwork was a critical component that helped the film appeal to the younger audiences and suggested that the Japanese were on the natural and “good” side of the war. Children are often able to emotionally relate to animals more so than to humans. Through the strength of teamwork expressed in the crew of animals, the Japanese army was not only viewed as superior over Americans, but also suggested that they were the “good guys” of the war. While Momotaro commanded the crew on their individual tasks, the rabbits used their large, floppy ears to direct the planes for take off and landing, and the dogs and monkeys acted as pilots and soldiers flying out to Demon Island to fulfill Momotaro’s task. Each member of the crew appeared approachable and were illustrated with a cute and cuddly, childlike aesthetic, in both appearance and mannerism. The friendship and teamwork displayed in the crew allowed the Japanese to emerge as “good.” In contrast, the central character that represented the American army was depicted as massive human-like figure, resembling Bluto, an American character from the Popeye cartoon series. The Popeye films had been highly popular and cherished by the community of Japanese children. By incorporating a Bluto look-alike to represents Americans, a child who had seen the Popeye series would have immediately recognized this character to be Popeye’s villain in the show. In addition, the American figure could be interpreted as the “bad guy” by his demonic accessories, such as a tail, horns on his head, and a beer bottle always at hand, implying excessive drinking.

The beer bottle, indicating excessive drinking, stereotyped American’s as the “bad guys”.

The monkey and dog play a game of Jenga on the plane ride to defeat their enemies.

Furthermore, through the use of humor incorporated through comedic relief, Mitsuyo allowed the severity of the events of World War II to be easily understood by viewers and made the war appear like a game, rather than a battle, to the children of Japan. Just to name a few, one instance of such comedy was in one of the opening scenes of the film where the dog and monkey characters playfully struggled to tie their hachimaki around their head. A second instance of humor appeared when the dog and monkey patiently awaited their arrival at Demon Island by laughing and relaxing while playing a game of Jenga to pass the time. In a third instance, while at war a group of monkeys used each other as a ladder to reach the plane hovering in the air above, resembling another childhood game called Monkeys in a Barrel. A final instance where humor was incorporated into the film appeared when a monkey jumped aboard a fired missile and dramatically steered the weapon in the correct direction. Many more instances of comedy were apparent in the film, however these four examples clearly dramatized war to be an enjoyable and carefree experience. Through the comparisons to children’s games and the exaggerated events that took place in these scenes, young viewers gained a sense that the entire entity of war was like a welcoming game begging to be played.

The third tactic used in Momotaro’s Sea Eagle to help sway the young Japanese audience to support the side of the Japanese forces was through the glorification of war and the exaggerated comparison of the animal crew as invincible heroes. Although highly unlikely in the realities of war, in the film not one individual was harmed and no casualties were witnessed in the animal army. In addition, bullets were never used to kill an opponent, rather a bullet was used to release a monkey who had trapped his tail in the door, and missiles and explosions were only employed to sink battle ships. Mistuyo diverged from death and focused solely on the victory of the Japanese fleet.  After defeating the enemies on Demon Island every member of the Japanese fleet made a safe journey back to Momotaro and the naval ship, with the exception of Torpedo Bomber No.3. This safe homecoming ensured the youth watching the film that a “happy ending” would be in store for them too if they one day decided to enlist in the military. Similar to how superheroes inspire American children with a sense of nationalism, Mistuyo used anime to effectively communicate Momotaro’s army to be extremely desirable to Japan’s younger generation.

The celebration of a safe journey home.

Mitsuyo’s integration of teamwork, humor and heroism in Momotaro’s Sea Eagle allowed the youth of Japan to envision and acknowledge the principles of Japanese national pride by exemplifying the ideas of patriotism and victory into the minds of Japan’s children.

The Pursuit for Pleasure

In The Gourmet Club, Junichio Tanizaki reveals the lifestyle of a true “foodie” through the experiences of a group of “gastronomers” with taste buds always on the pursuit for pleasure. The club consisted of five members who were truly devout connoisseurs of food, always searching and spending their earnings on new flavors. The day finally came when “eventually their tongues lost all the taste for the usual ‘fine cuisine’; lick and slurp as they might, they could no longer discover the excitement and joy in eating that they demanded” (102).  And so began the quest for “a kind of orchestral cuisine” (103) where the “unbearably delicious flavors would entwine themselves around the tongue until at last one’s stomach bust open” (104). Count G., the leader of the club, “often dream[ed] of food” (104). He was the most ambitious of the group and prided himself on his delectable taste buds. Upon his quest for the ultimate dining experience, Count G. encountered a Chinese banqueting hall where dining was an artistic extravaganza and not only the mouth, but the entire body, became part of the experience. Tanizaki used embellished language to metaphorically compare eating to eroticism emphasizing the sense of exoticism and blending the worlds of literature, culture and artistry to create a truly exotic culinary experience.

Exoticism, by definition, is the charm of the unfamiliar. Tanizaki’s portrayal of exoticism is vividly illustrated in the “Bok Choi Fingers” scene.  At the Chinese dining hall, entrées such as Pigeon-Egg Hot Springs, Phlegm-and Spittle Liquid Jade and Butterfly Broth were on the menu ready to be served. By the name of these dishes alone each entrée offered a bizarre vibe, quite unfamiliar to traditional Japanese, Western and Chinese cuisine accustomed to in Japan.  In this scene, an anonymous individual by the name of “A.” encountered a full body dining experience, figuratively and literally, when served his Bok Choi dish. The lights were dimmed to darkness and a young woman artistically presented the dish as A. “concentrated his sense of taste still more fully in the tip of his tongue and kept licking and sucking persistently at those fingers. Strangely, the more pressure he applied with his tongue, the tenderer the fingers became […] Suddenly, A. discovered that what had unmistakably been a human hand had somehow changed into the stem of a Chinese cabbage” (135). Tanizaki’s use of sensual figurative language metaphorically relates the bok choi, a mere Chinese vegetable, to human body parts, adding a sense of sexual pleasure to the Chinese dining experience and demonstrating the narrators appeal to incorporate eroticism in his writing style. Typically food is used as a energy source of fuel, but in an exotic world, food is capable of empowering the imagination of the mind, blurring the distinction between what is and is not reality.  This entrée left A. “feeling as though they’d been bewitched by a fox” (138), masterfully exemplifying the use of exoticism by bringing the consumer into a fantasy dream where a peculiar taste could be experienced from taste buds to the toes. Never again would the tongues of the Gormet Club lose its taste while eating a meal.

The exotic Bok Choi Fingers scene offers a bizarre example of how Count G.’s quest for the ultimate dining experience was achieved by combining the pleasure of eating and eroticism.  This entrée successfully stimulated all senses of the body and created addictive desires to always leave the consumer wanting to come back for more. Each bite offered something truly unique, unusual and exquisite, thoroughly embodying the main notions of exoticism.

Ramen-tic Artistry: Tradition and Artistry in Every Bite

The Japanese comedy, Tampopo, is a ramen western film with multiple intertwining plots occurring simultaneously. Although the most prominent of the plots focuses on the story of Tampopo, a cook and owner of a small ramen shop, who is determined to master the perfect Japanese noodle recipe, the director, Juzo Itami, strategically incorporates additional scenes to enhance the importance food plays in Japanese culture. One scene in particular that exemplified the tradition ramen played in Japanese culture is the scene of an elderly food guru who teaches a young gentleman a valuable lesson on how to appreciate the artistry in a simple bowl of ramen soup.

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A food guru teaches a young man the traditional way to eat ramen soup (two-shot camera method).

 In this particular scene, the elderly man satirically demonstrates to his apprentice the traditional step by step process of eating ramen noodles. The aesthetic of Japanese cuisine is a true form of art.  From the elegantly placed shinachiku roots and chopped spring onions to the delicately prepared shimmering broth, every minor detail is prepared to absolute perfection.

In the setting, the young man and food master causally sit on counter stools at a ramen shop with full bowls of steaming ramen in front of each individual. Itami utilized symmetry and a two-shot, eye-level, medium distance camera set up to display the equality between the ramen consumers. Despite the generation gap between the two men, as the elder is dressed in traditional wear and the young man is dressed in a westernized Hawaiian shirt, the contents of the ramen dish remain identical.  Thus, symbolizing that ramen is a Japanese national dish meant to be eaten by all members of the community, not determinant by age or class. When the young man dives in to his bowl to begin devouring his noodles, the teacher lingers a bit to carefully examine and appreciate the work that went into creating the ramen meal. This comedic point in the film humorously serves to juxtapose the traditional Japanese cuisine culture with more western views on cuisine culture. This provides a prominent example emphasizing how highly respected the Japanese culture has for their traditional cuisine.

As the ceremonial gestures begin to take play, the mise-en-scene shifts to individual close-up shots of the food master and the ingredients of the actual ramen bowl. The food master further tells the young man that he must apologize and caress the pieces of pork. These demands give meat human characteristics. Though these demands seem somewhat outrageous, since meat was considered a sacred delicacy the food master is implying that one must treat their food with the same affection that they would to a lover.  Rather than using food as simply a source of fuel, it is more important to appreciate the journey each ingredient took to get mixed into the ramen dish displayed on the table and enjoy the quality in every tasteful bite.

This scene essentially acts as a foundation foreshadowing Tampopo’s story to greatness in the ramen making industry. The success in her creation of the most delicious ramen stems from embodying tradition and appreciation for the tasteful artistry in Japanese cuisine.