Author Archives: chantszsin

Meat And Westernization in My Year of Meats (Extra Credits)


          As mentioned at the beginning of the quarter, meat-eating was being promoted as one of the measures to develop Japan as a modernized nation during the Meiji Period. Yet, the relationship between eating meat and modernization or westernization did not only exist in the past, but also in the present days. My Year of Meats is a novel about the experience of Jane Takagi Little as the producer of “My American Wife ”, a TV cooking show which promotes American meat in Japan and this story points out how meat is related to the western cultures and “being modern”.


          Looking at the story of Akiko, one of the viewers of “My American Wife”, eating meat is one of the ways for her family to adapt a “modern” lifestyle. Akiko’s husband, Joichi requires her to learn to cook meat and calls his “modern name”, John (p.21). These changes in their lifestyles, no matter the habit of eating meat or the use of new name, are all closely related to western cultures. Western cultures have the habit of consuming meat for a long time, but not in the Japanese culture until the Meiji Period. Besides that, the new “modern” name that Joichi uses is also a western first name. These show Joichi’s admiration towards the western cultures and his desire of living in a western and modern way. In order to live in a “modern” way, the consumption of meat is essential for Joichi.


          Moreover, My Year of Meats points out the stereotypes that Japanese have on meat and western cultures. In the memo given to Jane for creating “My American Wife”, meat and especially beef is considered as a necessary element to represent the American culture (p.9-10). This shows that in Japanese’s mind, eating meat is an important part of the western cultures. Therefore, this stereotype helps explaining why Joichi consider eating meat as a way to show he is “modern”. 


          Apart from the relationship of meat-eating and being modern, My Year of Meats also explains how meat relates to a desirable life style. As stated in the researches done by the staff of “My American Wife”, Japanese wives do not receive much concern from their husbands (p.12) and they believe that American husbands are generous and docile (p.13). Due to these images of American husband in Japanese wives’ minds, the production team of “My American Wife” tries to relate meat-cooking with the image of an ideal partner (p.13). This shows that meat is not only a symbol of “being modern”, but more importantly, it also represents the desirable lifestyle.


          All in all, from My Year of Meats, a novel published in the late the 20th century, readers can see that the belief that meat-eating is closely related to “being modern” or a desirable lifestyle is still affecting the Japanese society.



Ozeki, Ruth. (1998). My Year of Meats. New York: Viking.



Communities In Different Momotaro Stories (5-Page-Paper)

          Momotaro is a very popular folklore in Japan about the adventure of Momotaro, a boy who is born from a peach, and his animal followers in conquering the Ogres’ Island. There are many versions of the story but most of them are created based on the aforementioned plot. Here, I am going to focus on the similarities and difference of the building of Momotaro’s community in different versions based on the Momotaro stories written Iwaya Sazanami and Arai Goro. The two texts will be compared from a formal perspective and reasons for the differences will be suggested. Besides that, the role of millet dumplings in story, namely the community building of Momotaro as both symbol and material object will also be discussed.


          To begin with, here are the similarities of the community building in the Momotaro stories and the first similarity is that the community is built around Momotaro and he is the leader of the group. The leading role and superior status of Momotaro can be seen from the use of languages from the stories. Looking at the titles used in Iwaya’s story, members of Momotaro’s community call themselves “servants” but call Momotaro “Lord Peach Boy” or “General Peach Boy”. On the other hand, Momotaro names himself “Lord Peach Boy” and describes the as “followers” or “servants”. Moreover, the conversations between Momotaro and the animals and their ways of speaking also reflect Momotaro’s higher rank in the group. Usually, Momotaro orders the animals but the animals talk to him in a humble and faithful way. For example, when Momotaro wants to recruit the pheasant to be his follower, he says “I now charge you to accompany me in the sane way as the dog and the monkey in my expedition to conquer Ogres’ Island, and see that you are faithful to me in all things.” (Iwaya, p. 31). Yet, the animals talk to Momotaro in a completely different manner. When the dog requests for becoming Momotaro’s follower, it behaves humbly and respectfully. It says “… if you will command me, your humble servant, to accompany you, I shall be grateful for my good fortune.” (Iwaya, p. 24). In another story written by Arai, the writer also describes that the animals are serving Momotaro (Arai). From the ways that Momotaro and the animals interact and communicate, the higher position of Momotaro in the community can be seen.


          Secondly, Momotaro’s community is built on the same purpose in both versions, which is fighting against the ogres. At the beginning of the two Momotaro stories, Momotaro’s goal of defeating the ogres is clearly stated before he leaves home and starts his journey. In Iwaya’s version, after hearing about Momotaro’s intention of conquering the Ogres’ island, the dog, the monkey and pheasant voluntarily become Momotaro’s followers. Similarly, in Arai’s story, the animals also show willingness to help Momotaro to fight against the ogres.


          Another similarity in Momotaro’s community building is the involvement of millet dumplings. The millet dumplings are made by Momotaro’s parents and given to Momotaro for his journey to Ogres’ island. More importantly, these millet dumplings carry special meanings in the creation of bonds among Momotaro’s community as both material objects and symbols. No matter in Iwaya’s story or Arai’s story, Momotaro gives the animals millet dumplings to affirm their memberships in the group and bring them together. Thus, looking at the millet dumplings from the materialistic perspective, they are the benefits given by Momotaro to attract the animals. As stated in Arai’s story, the animals decide to follow Momotaro and help him to fight against the ogres after receiving the millet dumplings. This shows that receiving millet dumplings is one of the main reasons for the animals to join Momotaro’s community. And in Iwaya’s story, the millet dumplings also serve similar functions. Whenever Momotaro has a new member in his group, he gives half of a millet dumpling to it. In this situation, the millet dumplings are similar to the rewards paid by the lord, Momotaro, to the subordinates for their hard work. Apart from the materialistic implications of the millet dumplings, they are also symbols of bonding and recognition. The millet dumplings are food prepared by Momotaro’s parents for Momotaro’s journey and they contain the love and care of his parents. However, Momotaro is willing to share these valuable millet dumplings with the animals and this shows the importance of the animals to Momotaro. Furthermore, Momotaro’s act of giving the animals millet dumplings when they join his community in Iwaya’s story represents Momotaro’s recognitions to the new members. So, millet dumplings are the symbols of Momotaro’s community and the confirmation ones’ positions in the group.


           In spite of the mutual intentions and similar structure of Momotaro’s community in the two stories, the ways Momotaro uses to gather his followers are quite different. Momotaro employs more violent ways to build his community in Iwaya’s verion than in the one written by Arai. In Iwaya’s story, Momotaro’s community is largely built through intimidation or by force. For example, Momotaro browbeats to the dog that “If you [the dog] try to hinder me in any way, there will be no mercy for you; I, myself, will cut you in half from your head downwards.” (Iwaya, p.24). He also menaces the bird to be his follower or he will order the dog to “twist [the bird’s] head off [the bird’s] neck” (Iwaya, p.30). However, in Arai’s story, Momotaro does not use any violence and his community is developed in a much more peaceful way. He gathers his followers solely by “[sharing] his millet dumplings with a monkey, a dog and a pheasant” (Arai).


          After looking into the similarities and difference of Momotaro’s community in the two stories, now come to the discussion on the factors leading to the difference. The different target readers is the first possible reason. Comparing the writing style of the two stories, Arai’s is written in a relatively simple way and lots of drawings are included in the story. Yet, the writing style of Iwaya’s version is more complicated and there are fewer pictures. Such differences in writing style suggest that the target readers of Arai are younger children and Iwaya is targeting at the older group. Therefore, the violent contents are avoided in Arai’s version.


          Furthermore, the historical background is another factor that leads to the differences in how Momotaro builds his community. Iwaya created the story in 1938, a year before the outbreak of the Second World War. During that time, militarism and imperialism were spreading widely and Japan also had the desire to expand its power in Asia. Thus, Momotaro’s way to build his community is reflecting Japan’s military expansion to a certain extent. Yet, Arai’s Momotaro story was published in 1999. Entering the late 20th century, the world started to concentrate more on cooperation and the development of peace. Influenced by such global atmosphere, the building of Momotaro’s community is also carried out in a peaceful way through sharing of dumplings.


          All in all, even though Momotaro has a standard story line about his birth and journey to defeat the ogres, details of the story sometimes vary in different versions due to the social environment and the target readers. 




Reference List:

Iwaya, Sazanami. (1938). Momotaro

Arai, Goro. (1999). Momotaro. National Diet Library Picture Book.








The Factory Ship: Humans Or Tools

          The Factory Ship is a novel about the struggle of the workers on a crab factory ship, which catches crabs and produces canned crabmeat. Apart from the difficult lives of the workers, food is also a major part in the story. More importantly, food has a significant role in dramatizing the presentation of the theme of the “thingification” of humans. Here, I am going to discuss how people in The Factory Ship are “thingified” in a dramatized way by looking into food as the key element in directing the story and how food is used as a metaphor.


           As the story stages in a factory ship that produces canned crabmeat, food items, especially crabs have key roles in directing the story and thus reflect the low status of workers. Looking closely into the story, it is not difficult to see that crabs are superior to the workers and the workers are just tools for catching crabs and producing canned crabmeat. Workers do not receive any respects and they can be abandoned anytime if they are not able to contribute to the production. Asakawa, the superintendent, only concentrates on boosting the productivity and he does not concern about the workers. In order to maximize the productivity, he forces the sick workers to work (p.22) and punishes the workers with hot tongs (p.38). If the workers die of illnesses, he just puts their dead bodies into the hemp sacks and through them into the sea (p.62). Through describing the production process of canned crabmeat, the inhuman treatments of the workers can be clearly brought out and shows that workers are “thingified” as tools in the production rather than being treated as human beings.


           Other than “thingifying” the characters in The Factory Ship through the canned crabmeat production, “thingification” of humans can be seen from the rhetorical perspective. In the text, food is often used as the metaphor to describe people. When talking about the poor living condition on the ship in winter, the writer describes the workers as “salmon and shook with the cold” (p.14) and their hands as “raw and red as crab claws” (p.11). Besides that, in the chapter about the urbanization of Hokkaido, dead bodies of workers are portrayed as “filets of fish” that used to fortify the walls of the mines (p.40). By relating human beings to food items, the value of humans as living individuals is reduced. In stead, humans in the story are portrayed as objects and utensils for development or production.


          All in all, The Factory Ship points out that humans are very trivial and almost worthless in the process of modernization and industrial production. They are only some of the tools in the whole production process. In order to present the theme of the “thingificantion” of humans under the capitalist society in a dramatized way, the writer makes use of the production of canned crabmeat to reflect the unfair treatments received by the workers and employs food as the metaphor to describe people.


Reference List:

Kobayashi, Takiji. The Factory Ship

Immersing In The Materialistic World (Spirited Away)

          Spirited Away is a Japanese animated film about the adventure of a girl called Chihiro in the spiritual world. Despite the adventurous nature of the story, food plays an important role and different kinds of food carry specific meanings. Here, I am going to focus on the implications of food as attractions in the materialistic world. Besides that, I will discuss how food helps to present the themes of people immersing and losing identity in the materialistic world from the formal perspective.


Caption: Chihiro’s father and mother are eating food prepared for gods in the spiritual world.


          The first screenshot shows Chihiro’s parents eating the food prepared for the gods of the spiritual world. Looking at the camera angle and composition of this shot, medium shot is employed and it shows the back of Chihiro’s parents. The shot is composed of Chihiro’s parents, who are sitting in a restaurant with a wide range of food items placing above their eyelevel. Using medium shot can provide the viewers with some ideas about the surrounding environment of the scene. So, viewers can see Chihiro’s parents are deeply attracted by the food and concentrating fully on getting it. As food relates to materialism in the movie, this reflects that humans focus too much on the attractions in the materialistic world. Also, putting food above Chihiro’s parents can create a feeling that they are buried by the food, thus implies humans are submerged in the materialistic world.


          The sound also helps presenting the theme. While Chihiro’s parents are eating, Chihiro keeps shouting at her parents. She urges them to stop eating and leave the place immediately. Yet, her parents completely ignore her and continue to eat. This reflects a phenomenon in 21st century well developed Japanese society. With the affluent resources, people have a greater demand for higher living standard. However, they often put too much emphasis on the materialistic world and put its importance above other things in their lives like their families.


          Moreover, looking into the content, the theme of losing self-identity in the materialistic world can be seen clearly. After eating the food prepared for gods, Chihiro’s parents are turned into pigs. This shows the danger of losing self if an individual blindly pursues materialism.



Caption: Kaonashi is taking a bath and enjoying the cuisines in Aburaya.

          The second screenshot shows that Kaonashi is bathing in Aburaya and the staff in Aburaya keeps serving him with different cuisines. For the camera angle and composition of this shot, long shot is used and Kaonashi appears in the middle of the shot and surrounded by lots of food. The use of long shot here can show the viewers clearly how Kaonashi interacts with the surroundings, which he is steeping in the cuisines. This portrays the lives of many people that they are immersing in the materialistic world.


          For the sound in this shot, the dialogues between Kaonashi and the staff in Aburaya also help to present the themes. Kaonashi keeps saying he is very hungry and ordering the staff to offer him more food. In reply, the staff encourages him to eat more. Kaonashi’s dialogues show people’s greed and desire towards the attractions in the materialistic world and the replies of the staff in Aburaya illustrate the temptations of the materialism.


Caption: Atama keeps eating nonstop after turned into Bo by Zeniiba.

          In the last screenshot, Atama keeps eating after being turned into Bo. Medium shot is used and the shot shows Atama is surrounded by mountains of beautifully packed snacks. This composition again shows people are immersed into the materialistic world. More importantly, the nicely packed snacks imply that lures in the materialistic world often appear to be attractive.


          Other than that, the sound created while Atama is eating shows that he is eating in a very rude manner. He tries to put all the food into his stomach. With reference to the changes in the appearance of Atama, this shots presents the idea that materialistic lifestyle is often a way for many people to escape from the reality and fill up their spiritual barren.


          All in all, food has an important role in Spirited Away as it is the representation of the attractions in the materialistic world and reflecting the people’s lifestyles in the modern society. By giving food a key role in the movie, it allows viewers to rethink the role materialism should play in their lives. 

The Superiority Of Western Culture In Japanese Eyes

           In Tampopo, the above scene plays a significant role in the movie since it presents an important theme about the struggle of Japanese in taking up western culture, which they believe to be superior. Here I am going to explain this theme with the formal elements in the shot and discuss why Japanese view western culture as superior through modern history.


          For the formal elements, looking at the composition of the screenshot and the camera angle, this shot composes of most of the members of the etiquette class with the background of a high-class French restaurant. Long shot is also used to show how the women eat pasta. Instead of the proper way, they eat pasta in ways like eating ramen. This creates a great contrast with the French restaurant background and their westernized dressings. The way of eating pasta shows that even the women try very best to act in westernized ways, it is hard for them to give up their cultures and fully adapt to the western lifestyle.


          Moreover, the sound helps strengthening the theme. While the women are eating pasta in ways like eating ramen, they create very loud noises. As mentioned by the tutor of the etiquette class in advance, pasta has to be consumed quietly according to the western manner. Yet, eating ramen loudly is acceptable in Japanese culture. This again demonstrates the differences between the dinning habits of Japan and western countries and the hardship of Japanese in getting used to the western dinning manners.


          With the difficulties in adapting to the western culture, why are Japanese so desirous of taking up western lifestyle? In fact, answer can be found in modern Japanese history. After Perry Expedition in late Tokugawa period, Japanese realized the great power of western countries. So, during Meiji Restoration, westernization became an important policy to increase Japan’s national power. (Kniola, 2011, April 8). Since then, the idea that the West is superior has deep rooted in Japanese mind and thus they are eager about picking up western lifestyle. The main reason is that western lifestyle is believed to be related to high social status and this can be seen from the westernized dressing of the women in the screenshot from Tampopo.


          Another historical factor is the Datsu-A Ron suggested by Fukuzawa Yukichi. Datsu-A Ron suggests that Japan should give up the decayed Asian cultures and turn itself into a superpower through westernization. (Kwok, 2009) To prove Japan as a member of the European great powers and it is superior to the other Asian countries, Japanese are keen on living in the westernized way. The etiquette class about western table manner shown in the screenshot is a good example to show Japanese eagerness to take up the western lifestyle.


          To conclude, the above screenshot is very important in illustrating the difficulties Japanese have in the process of westernization. With reference to the historical background, a better understanding on the reasons Japanese view western culture as superior and their desirous of taking up western lifestyle can be gained.




















Reference List:

Kniola, Ben. (2011, April 8). Opinion: The Significance Of The Meiji Restoration. [blog comment]. Retrieved from


Kwok, Dwight Tat Wai. (2009). A Translation of Datsu-A Ron: Decoding A Prewar  Japanese Nationalist Theory. Graduate Department of East Asian Studies, University of Toronto. Retrieved form



Caption: Women in the etiquette class are eating pasta in ways like eating ramen.