Tampopo, a 1985 Japanese comedy film by director Juzo Itami, featuring a Japanese widow, Tampopo, struggling and making great effort in improving her rāmen shop. Though the main focus of Tampopo is the emphasis on careful preparation and enjoyment of a traditional humble dish of Japanese rāmen, the film also has various scenes that reflect on so-called “Western” food culture. Aside from entertaining the audience, the comedy has also played an important role in symbolizing the era during which Japan made effort in modeling Western culture.
Perhaps the most significant scene in the film is the Western dining etiquette instruction. The scene starts off with a well-dressed, confident, middle-aged woman giving a course on Western dining etiquette to a group of young ladies. A white man interrupts the instruction unconsciously by slurping out loud while eating his pasta. The group of young ladies then decide to follow the white man’s dining habit regardless of what they have learned previously.
One may be humored by the young ladies’ outrageous movements of eating spaghetti, but there is a deeper meaning behind the scene. First of all, the middle-age woman making sure that the spaghetti is consumed in an extremely careful and respectful attitude presents the image of Western restaurants as high-end, similar to how it is often viewed in real life. A group of young ladies learning Western dining etiquette also shows the “feminization of western food consumption” as Western food becomes more popular in the upper-class female social context (Farrer, 11). But on the other hand, the scene also shows the characters’ misunderstanding of another culture. Given the impression of “Japanese slurp while eating noodles to show appreciation”, the Caucasian man emphasis the action on purpose. The Japanese ladies then believes that slurping is the correct Western dining etiquette and decide to imitate the white man. Both groups end up performing the incorrect dining etiquette for the opposite culture. In addition, the act of the Japanese ladies copying exactly what the white man does, reflects on the history of Japan during the late 19th century which the country adopts Western-style dining for formal occasion and models the Western countries to impress them with Japan’s ability to become “civilized” (Cwiertka, 14; 22).
Although Tampopo is a comedy film made in the late 20th century, it definitely has historical references to the 19th-century Japan. The importance of the Western dining etiquette scene is not just about playing its role of entertaining the audience, but more importantly, it relates closely to both Japan’s act of modeling Western culture in the late 19th century and the modern day impression of Western as “high-end” and a more “civilized” culture.
Farrer, James. Eating the West and Beating the Rest: Culinary Occidentalism and Urban Soft Power in Asia’s Global Food Cities.
Cwiertka, Katarzyna. Western Food, Politics, and Fashion.