Ruth Ozeki’s fictional novel, “My Year of Meats,” tells the story of two Japanese women, Jane and Akiko. Jane, a Japanese American woman, works to create an American television show called “My American Wife” which instills American values into its Japanese viewers. Jane eventually encounters Akiko, a Japanese housewife, who we later find is abused. Using alternating perspectives, Ozeki reveals the “modernization” or “westernization” of Japanese culture through the lives of Jane and Akiko.
Ruth Ozeki demonstrates the influence of American culture in Japanese society through the events which take place in Akiko’s life as a housewife. Her husband Joichi, in particular, exemplifies the introduction of American ideals in their lives as Japanese citizens. For instance, Joichi reveals his interest in American culture when he changes his name to “John” and begins to use common American verbal phrases such as “kill two birds with one stone.” This subtle transition of their lives from an older Japanese traditional lifestyle, devoid of any foreign influence, to a more “modern” or American lifestyle becomes more starkly evident when Joichi or “John” forces his wife to cook beef in a similar method used in the American television show. Joichi feels that they can become more modern if they consume the same meals as American citizens. In essence, John becomes more civilized and a more modern Japanese citizen by using food to embrace American ideas.
In addition to events which take place in Akiko’s life, plot events from Jane’s perspective also reveal the modernization of Japanese culture. For instance, as Ozeki continues to narrate through Jane’s viewpoint, Jane quotes, “I was hired by Kato to be a coordinator for My American Wife, the TV series that would bring the “heartland of America into the homes of Japan.” This passage from the novel demonstrates how there is a demand in Japan for a more American influenced media and basically anything “American.” The consumption of beef is made out to be symbolic of one’s complete adoption of a modern lifestyle when the show attempts to persuade its Japanese audience to change their traditional diet to a more beef laden American diet. Furthermore, a memo sent to Jane from the Tokyo Office includes , “***MOST IMPORTANT THING IS VALUES, WHICH MUST BE ALL-AMERICAN.” This is a blatant attempt by an office surrounded by Japanese culture, to change the culture of the Japanese American citizens. While this may seem almost hypocritical, it only makes more apparent the tendency of Japan to make its people become more modern by adopting the American values.
In conclusion, through the incorporation of various perspectives on the events which take place in “My Year of Meats,” Ruth Ozeki is able to portray the “moderization” of Japan or the “westernization” of the Japanese people. Through Akiko’s and Jane’s viewpoints, Ozeki successfully demonstrates how the Japanese view beef consumption and anything of American influence as “modern.”