Author Archives: YinghuCui

Kobe Beef, Meat That “Milt-In-Mouth”

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Tajima Cattle

People may have heard the term “Kobe Beef” over and over times, and some may even have tasted it already, but what is “Kobe Beef”? “Kobe Beef” is the beef cut from cattles that are primarily raised in Hyogo Prefecture, Japan. The “Kobe Beef” as known in today are mainly refers to beef that is cut from Tajima cattle, a breed of black Japanese cattle.

There are many stories regard to the discovery of “Kobe Beef”, but this one is fairly reasonable. In late Tokugawa Shogunate, killing cattle was once prohibited in Japan as an order directly from the Emperor. Along with the prohibition and addition to eat beef was not a cultural thing for Japanese people, “Kobe Beef” was not renowned by Japanese people. As the decadence of Tokugawa Shogunate in late 19 century, many foreign merchants entered Japan, and as their culture that beef is one of their main diet, they squeezed under the law and discovered the taste of “Kobe Beef” was terrific. After that, the beef with its trademark “Kobe” becomes distinguished from other beef brands and renowned to the world.

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“Kobe Beef” barbeque
(caption from koubegyu.net)

In United States, it’s not hard to find a restaurant that has “Kobe Beef” in their menu. However, according to USDA, between 2010 and 2012, “Kobe Beef” was banned from import to United States due to concern of certain diseases that may in the meat. If the restaurants input names in menus as Wagyu, it’s definitely fine because the U.S. has imported and domestically raised Wagyu for years. Wagyu, by its word to word definition, it means Japanese cattle. And importantly, there is no equal sign between Wagyu and “Kobe Beef”. “Kobe Beef”, by its significances, follows several strict rules, such as the beef must be processed in slaughterhouses that in designated locations in Japan and the meat quality must score above 4 and etcetera. The trademark is authorized only to the beef that fulfills all required conditions. Thus, there can’t be any authentic “Kobe Beef” used in restaurants in restricted time period in United States.

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A5 class “Kobe Beef” sirloin steak
(caption from koubegyu.net)

Unlike other beef, “Kobe Beef” has a low melting point, and this leads to whoever has tasted it describes it as “melt-in-mouth”. The farming techniques that use to raise Tajima cattle somehow is a myth; mostly spread is that the farmers feed the cattle with beer and give them massage by human hand. And the selection of cattle that are going to send to the slaughterhouse must be virgin cattle, the reason behind this is to avoid milk stink in beef. Despites of myths around farming strategies, most of people agree the beef does “milt-in-mouth” if it’s cooked properly and does taste way better than other beefs. The demand for “Kobe Beef” is growing, however, the supply from Japan can’t equilibrate with the global demand. Because of shortage in supply, the price of the beef has increased extremely high; according to a domestic Japanese online market, a 200g (about 7oz.) sirloin “Kobe Beef” costs 7,350 yen with tax (about 73 dollars). “Kobe Beef” is certainly becomes superior, upscale and must-try meat for meat lovers.

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The Cove: Call It a “Culture”

This is a documentary film that documents dolphin slaughtering in Taiji, Japan. The main starring of this documentary is Ric O’Barry, a former Sea Shepherd member and former dolphin trainer. The documentary opens with the filming crew members are being kept out from the “private area”. After the director Louie Psihoyos comes up with idea of hiding cameras in rocks, the moment gets proceed again. With the idea and direction, the team soon groups up people who has talent in certain fields, like scientist and divers. Before going further, the film introduces some historical backgrounds and mercury poisoning. After everything is been well prepared, the crew goes out in real action. In first attempt, they place a sound receiver into the water and run away from the guards. As the zoon is seen to be extremely important to the town people, the crews are questioned by the town’s governors. In the second action, they place several rock cameras onto the positions and await the slaughter happens. They finally capture the evidence of the dolphin slaughtering in Taiji, and Ric O’Barry even bring it to the IWC (International Whaling Commission) meeting. In the end, the whole action has brought out some positive results such as dolphin meat is removed from Taiji school lunch menu.

First, the documentary film is from an ocean conservationist’s point of view, so the idea of the film is more negative from a neutral standard point of view towards the event. Most of ideas and concept in the documentary are from Ric O’Barry’s personal opinions. Ric O’Barry, who used to be a dolphin trainer and participated in a famous television show called “Flipper”, quit his old job after his two dolphins died. He thinks dolphin is sensitive, communicable and has individuality just like human. He thinks his second dolphin is suicide, which the term rarely uses to animals.

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Ric and his dolphin

From the image above we can see that Ric’s smile to his dolphin is genuine, bosom and full of love. It is not possible for a randomly picked person to do what he has done for dolphins. His love to dolphins is so passionate, and it may has become his “culture”, It is this passion encouraged the old man to do everything he can to save dolphins anywhere around the world; and this time it was in Taiji, Japan.

Taiji is a little town in Japan, but it is the primary supplier for worldwide dolphin entertainment industry.

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Dolphin supplement map

 

The town’s fishermen capture and sell dolphins for profit. Trainers from all different aquariums come to this place and choose their equipment, and the leftovers are killed by those Japanese. According to the film, each dolphin worth $150,000 and 23,000 dolphins are killed in Japan every year. Killed dolphins are manufactured as dolphin meat sold in Taiji’s supermarket and as fake expensive whale meat in other cities.

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Dolphin blood and devils

The above scene is where the slaughter takes place. Those Japanese kill too many dolphins at the same time that the seawater even turned into scarlet red by dolphin blood. They use spear to kill dolphins and salve the bodies to boat after they die. Such a massacre happens every year but ironically most of Japanese people live in metropolitan don’t know about it. Although the film doesn’t point out directly, it is clear that the Japanese government is the one behind the inhumane slaughter. They know already that dolphin meat contains very high portion of mercury through food chain, and selling dolphin meat to its civilian and even using dolphin meat for children’s lunch meal can dramatically increase the chance of getting Minamata disease. Japan is significantly a country that has suffered from mercury poisoning. And the cause of getting the situation worse during the Minamata incident was because of Japanese government’s slow action. Now the government even gets worse; controls the media and covers up the whole thing. The townspeople are saying it is their culture to kill dolphins. Maybe they’re right; it is the Japanese government’s culture to harm its own civilian and ignore their pains because it gets benefits from their suffering.

Regardless of whether there is law that sets number for dolphin’s predation on fish in Japan, but the law itself is made by us and it should only be enforced to human but no other creatures. We have no right to destruct the entire nature for our own good, but now we are slowly digging our own graves. Wisdom is a gift that given to us to develop technology and civilization, but it’s also a wall that separates us from nature. Perhaps after all creations and civilizations, we find destruction is ours the most primitive culture.

A Mighty Figure and its link – Millet Dumplings

Momotaro story, as a well-known Japanese folklore, is being positioned in such state when people use to refer characteristic like leadership, camaraderie and loyalty. There has numerous folklores are been passed by from older generation to younger generation throughout the history of Japan. For instance, the story of Yuki-onna, the story of Kaguya- hime and the story of Urashima Taro and the Ryugu-jo.  Unlike the other Japanese folklore stories, the story of Momotaro tends to be more portraying on family warmness, loyalty of bushido and advocating righteousness. Moreover, the protagonist of this story, Momotaro, also represents heroic characteristic like brave, kindness and adamancy Food is placed in significantly important role in the story. Whilst Momotaro, or Peach-Boy, is named after his birth from a giant peach, however, the keystone food that links Momotaro with his family, and relationship between Momotaro and his three animal followers is millet dumplings.

The story opens up with background of how is the Old Man and the Old Woman’s life before they find that giant peach. Here is a hidden flag that neither the Old Man or the Old Woman is being bothered by Oni, or in other word Ogre, which Momotaro is going to conquer later in the story. The husband and wife have lived peacefully in a certain place for about 60 years. One day, the Old Woman finds a giant peach which flows down with the river. She plans to give it to her husband as a surprise gift in his 60-year-old birthday. When they try to cut the peach in half to feast for the birthday, a voice comes out from inside of the peach, and Momotaro appears to them as the peach is divided into half by itself. Momotaro tells the two that he is sent by god of the Heaven to them as to be their son. The husband and wife have not yet gotten any children, so they are extremely happy and appreciate to god for the gift. Many years pass by and Momotaro has grown up to a fifteen old young man. He recalls his quest promises his family will be return to them after he conquer the Oni island. With tears and cares, the Old Man and Old Woman have prepared millet dumplings for Momotaro upon his departure for his journey. In his way to Oni Island, Momotaro is able to meet and make the Spotted Dog, the Monkey and the Pheasant become his servants. When he makes these animals be his servants, he gives out half of a millet dumpling to each of them. In end of the story, Momotaro and his servants conquer the Oni Island and bring out all the treasures the Ogres have hidden; as Momotaro has promised, he returns to the Old Man and the Old Woman at very end of the story.

Momotaro’s intension to conquer the Oni Island is somehow differs from other stories. First, neither he or the Old Man or Old Woman are lived under threat from Oni. Usually a hero in a folklore builds up his heroism through steps like first undergoes difficulty that relates to its regional life, then as story proceeds, the hero overcomes his weakness and finally his enemies, and at end his story becomes an epic that is remembered by others. Notwithstanding Momotaro’s heroism is not built in steps as above process, by conquering the Oni Island and eliminating the threat to people, his heroism is represented even more superior than ordinary heroism. It’s because, first, Momotaro is not been forced to conquer the Oni Island. He has had choice not accept this task at beginning since neither him or his family are threatened by the Oni. He accepts this quest for not beneficial to him nor his family, but to all people that live under threatening. It implies that Momotaro is actually transfigured as a Godlike character in the story. In combat with the Oni, the story describes the Pheasant, the Monkey and the Spotted Dog are fighting hard in the battlefield, except that no word on Momotaro’s action in battlefield from the content. In the movie Momotaro’s Sea Eagle, it also reflects the idea of Momotaro has become a mighty figure in the film.

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Mighty figure

This scene is where Momotaro gives out conclusive speech of the campaign and announces the survival of lost comrades is being confirmed. Mighty figure, in respect to the meaning in Bible, it automatically makes people think of similarity with Jesus. Likewise Jesus has told his servants that the bread is his body and wine is his blood, and offers bread and wine to his servant; in Momotaro’s story, there is also a food that similarly connects the Mighty and its servants.

Millet dumplings, as a farewell gift received from his parents, has an inestimable effort on relation between Momotaro and his servants. As prove of master-servant relation, each animal has given half piece of a millet dumplings. Millet dumplings links Momotaro, “the great General”, with his servant as their loyalty to Momotaro as “obeyed Peach-Boy’s commands, heart and soul.” (Pg32) There is a discussable point where Momotaro only gives out half of a millet to his servant. Momotaro has told the Spotted Dog that “these… are the best millet dumplings in Japan. I cannot give you a whole one, I will give you half-a-one.” Literally, it seems be to clearly explained that the reason Momotaro gives out only half a millet dumplings is because he think the dumpling is the best in Japan, so he can only give out half of one piece. However, millet dumpling is given to the Spotted Dog in response to its request, but neither the Monkey nor the Pheasant have asked for the dumplings. Therefore, it’s oblivious that dumplings offer to the Monkey and the Pheasant is from Momotaro his own will. And by giving out only a half, it is considerable that the purpose of it is not only for faireness, but Momotaro himself wants to establish a connection with those servants.

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Monkey is holding his millet dumpling in the film

In the film, it also indicates the importance of millet dumplings to those servants, like the scene above. After all, millet dumplings in its original role, have fed Momotaro and his servants from starvation as food, a material object. In addition, it also symbolizes as attestation of honor and loyalty, and as a role of unifier to the Mighty Momotaro and his loyal servants.

At last, the whole story is linearly well-organized and content of story can give positive influence to young children. In addition, albeit the literary text and visual text versions are mostly in common, but the ending of these two versions are different. In literary text, Momotaro and his servants carry those treasures that are seized from Oni Island is being used by Momotaro themselves. As the ending indicates that “they with Peach-Boy, had more and more power, and they lived happily ever after, in the midst of their ever-increasing dependents and retainers.” In contrast to the other version, it indicates that “they took the ogres’ hidden treasures and piled them on a cart to give them back to their rightful owners.” As folklore’s essence, those stories are being told and spread over hundreds of years, specific contents may have been changed into many different versions. In respect to the literary version, it can possibly think that the background of that age is in Daimyo period, which Momotaro himself is likely acting like a daimyo. As of the visual version, may consider to be closer to the original folklore.

The Factory Ship: “Thingnification” of Food

The Factory Ship, a pro proletarian novel is written by Japanese writer Kobayashi Takiji and published in 1929. The novel starts with the fishermen’ suffering from poor living condition and dehumanized treatment in the ship, and the suffering finally leads to a strike and rebellion that against the superintendent and furthermore, the current social status of Japan. Although the rebellion is collapsed and fallen apart easily in first time, Kobayashi intensively concludes the novel as the pursuing of righteousness, fairness and liberal is never going to stop.

The novel symbolically refers the Hokkaido workers as octopuses and the “thingnificantly” importance of crabs as great profits toward the rich. The two metaphors are both food materials but referring to “thingnificantly” different thing. By using octopuses as a metaphor to workers in Hokkaido, or basically refers to all grassroots workers in Japan at that time, it precisely analogizes their condition of living is alike octopuses “since, to keep itself alive, the octopus will eat its own tentacles, if it must.” (Pg. 39) This description in its implied meaning is saying that even the grassroots workers are already undertaking heavy and overloaded works, the return is never going to fulfill their disbursements. The result of this condition is straightforward, which the poor have to sacrifice their health even more to keep their living, but it’s no different to deathward ongoing. Kobayashi directly indicates this point in content which says “what difference was there basically between the workers and this sea creature”. (Pg. 39)

As the original title of this novel in Japanese also mentions crab, crab as a metaphor of profit to the rich is intuitively given to the readers. The indication is appeared in a conversation where the Shibaura man gives his idea to his fellow workers, he says “All right, then, let’s assume that a ship has been built on money put up by the rich… With this one ship they stand to make a clear net profit of between four and five hundred thousand yen… it doesn’t just grow out of nothing…The money to buy the ship and equipment and to hire the men was earned with the blood of other laborers and with ours!” (Pg. 71-72) This conversation is a direct and powerful criticism towards the rich and capitalism, and the unbalanced benefit relationship is the main pathogen in the society that Kobayashi is trying to reveal and against.

The rebellion is caused by poor food supply along with inhumane treatment. It’s a significant movement that ship crews stand up against oppression; however, the crews do not clearly understand situation by that time and where the “thingnification” of those crabs’ benefit truly goes into, therefore their first rebellion ends in failure. Most of workers think the omnipotent figure, protector of Japanese people, which the emperor should be on their side, but representative of the empire takes the other side and repressed their rebellion. At the end, the remaining crews repent and summarize the failure, and prepare for next rebellion instead of giving it up. Kobayashi affirmatively indicates a sense of hope and his resistance towards capitalism.

Tampopo: represents more than just a person

Tampopo is a film directed by Japanese director Itami Juzo and showed in theater in 1985. The film screened a story of a widow, who solely runs a leave over ramen restaurant from her husband, overcomes several difficulties and finally achieved her goal at the end. Generally, this film follows a common procedure of storyline which the protagonist, Tampopo, at the beginning, finds herself in a predicament situation and as a sense of revolt develops in her mind, she begins pursuing for her dream and a new form of life, then at the end she accomplishes her dream and ushers in her new life. Although there is no highlight in general storyline, director Itami shows several unique ways of storytelling to his audiences to draw their attentions as well as to express his believes about food and his country at that time.

Egg passing

Egg passing

For example, most of audiences would find this scene has no obvious relation to the main story, and conclude it as an odd sex scene. However, ponder the role position in this film, it somehow seems the females are in position of representing learners, pillars of family and further more may represent Japan itself at that time, as the males are representing mentors, pillars of society and Western cultures. In this scene, the female is urgently longing for the egg, and they have passed back and forth many times to each other’s mouth until the lady broke the yolk, then she swallows the juice. The implied meaning of this scene can be Japan, as in its late postwar period, is in state of well- absorption of western culture and creating its own. Many scenes have demonstrated this idea very straightforward. Examples are like, in a scene where a group of females are learning how to eat spaghetti, likewise in the previous scene where the young man is pretty knowledgeable about French food.

The foreigner

The foreigner that eats
spagetti out loud

In addition, director Itami specially contrast appropriate way of eating ramen with eating spaghetti. He put this ironic foreigner in this scene to illuminate his believe of modern Japanese culture as it has transformed through mixture of original Japanese culture and western culture, and became a unique one.

Dying woman cooked the last meal for her family

Dying woman cooked the last meal for her family

There is also an obscure idea that director Itami integrate in this film. He portrays women in the film as they are pillars of their family. This image is clearly shown in characters like Tampopo, the choked old man’s daughter and the dying woman. This is a medium shot so it shows much better setting overall than a close- up setting. In here, director put the dying woman in the middle and makers her whole family centralize at her, which gives a strong visual perception to the audiences. It’s a very unacceptable idea to traditional Japanese culture that woman can be in greater position than man in any family. But in this scene, director deliberately illustrates the dying woman’s unshakable position in her family through the dinner; and when she dies, it seems the whole family is falling apart. This can be the most profound shot in the film.

Recognition, joy, satisfaction, blessing and respect

Recognition, joy, satisfaction, blessing and respect

Overall, director Itami uses food as keystone to link each scene and his perspectives throughout the film. Because of this, the film doesn’t feel like broken in parts even though some scenes have no direct connections to the main story. Moreover, Tampopo, by director’s intention, becomes no more than just a character representing a role in the film, the character has also transformed into a symbol of evolution, and good wish by the director to this newborn Japanese culture. At the end where all five of them give positive response toward Tampopo’s ramen can be a good illustration of that.