Author Archives: jamesthefilipino

Contemporary Travails

Parallel through character development but different through personal struggles, Jane Takagi-Little and Akiko Ueno both experience a learning journey that alters the shape of their futures. Jane produces a Japanese cooking show—with hopes to locate America’s most winning wives—and Akiko watches the reality performance—with hopes to cook and consume delicious, beef dishes. Ruth Ozeki, author of My Year of Meats, presents a wide variety of serious, somber issues that delve into cultural relations. Plaguing modern society’s viewpoints and beliefs, she begins to question these particular conflicts: the relationships between women and men; the gender stereotypes surrounding women; and the undisclosed affairs conducted by the meat industry. Through a characterization comparison between Jane and Akiko, Ruth Ozeki tackles issues that contemporary individuals and couples face on a daily basis in My Year of Meats.

Jane and Akiko not only embody dazzling counterpoints, but they also symbolize astounding resemblances. Jane’s first-person account provides the novel with its comical/frank tone, and Akiko’s ultimate conquest offers the novel its didactic/wise tone. Ozeki first attacks the sometimes troubling, complex relationships that women have with men. Jane’s intimate affair with the mysterious saxophonist, Sloane, supplies readers with an interesting scope: how modern-day relationships can epitomize ambiguity and confusion. This allows Jane to realize that her emotions cannot stop her from permitting fear of intimacy to dismember her relationship. Comparably, Akiko continues to pursue her puzzling relationship with Joichi Ueno—executive producer of the show. At this point, Ozeki begins to explore the distressing issue of spousal abuse: “he gave Akiko one last violent shake… gouged Akiko right above the eye” (100). Ozeki then starts to analyze the intricacies of gender stereotypes that constantly hamper women. Due to mainstream media and a bashing husband, Akiko is led to believe that the ideal, American wife characterizes an “ample, robust, yet never tough or hard to digest” (1) woman. Ruth Ozeki plays with this idea of stereotypes to test the preconceptions and misconceptions that contemporary individuals have with gender and culture.

Nevertheless, My Year of Meats fully discusses the concern of food safety and the practice of hormones in the meat industry. Ruth Ozeki conducts a rough examination about the trace residues of such growth-enhancing drugs; blended in the industrial beef, Americans unknowingly eat harmful remains on a consistent basis. This information integrates itself into the story and begins to affect Jane’s well-being. Learning that she once was exposed to a DES hormone—which promotes growth in cows and prevents miscarriages in women—she heartbreakingly realizes that she now has reproductive problems. Such a large, social issue regarding the meat industry begins to resonate with the small, intimate portion of this woman’s life. Ozeki investigates one of the true evils of the world while reveling about the defective, flawed qualities of human nature.

In their own respects, each character traverses through differing obstacles and opposing conflicts. However, even though they both rise above any complications, Jane comprehends that happy endings only satisfy the emotions of a reader: “I don’t think I can change my future simply by writing a happy ending” (350). After all of the proposed issues in the novel, readers not only wonder about modern society’s belief system, but they also ponder about the efficacy of a desired outcome.

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Social Enrichment Through Food

Evoking sharp, sensory emotions; promoting marvelous, cognitive associations; and communicating traditional, symbolic expressions, food elicits a profound quality throughout many cultures: unification of people. The Momotaro stories particularly embrace the idea of “uniting others” with food—mainly through positive associations of camaraderie. In comparison, Noriaki Tsuchimoto’s documentary highlights community strengthening through food’s symbolic power; instead, however, the characters join together through negative connotations of suffering. Food’s function as a unifier can be analyzed between both literary texts and visual films. Represented through Iwaya Sazanami’s Momotaro = The Story of Peach-Boy and Tsuchimoto’s Minamata: The Victims and Their World, food operates as a figurative symbol and a material object that unifies estranged communities.

Iwaya Sazanami manipulates his writing to indirectly relate a smaller unification with a large-scale unification. In his Momotaro story, he describes an old couple who appears distraught over lack of children. However, once the old woman finds “a huge peach, big enough to fill her arms” (10 Iwaya), a little boy pops out of the fruit to explain his purpose: He intends to provide joy to the couple after “seeing that they are both so sad” (16 Iwaya). Sazanami develops a small, but significant community by employing a peach as a figurative, food symbol—an old woman and an old man become united with a child of their own. Comparably, this community development epitomizes the wide-ranging scale of unification that occurs in contemporary times: how ratatouille encapsulates the French; how pasta envelops the Italians; how lumpia bonds the Filipinos; and how ramēn/sushi unites the Japanese. In this case, the peach revitalizes a couple’s marriage, establishing a novel connection. Food not only has a physical attribute to forming happiness, but it also has a metaphorical element to uniting hopeless souls.

The historical context of Momotaro sets him in the late 19th century, with the English translation coming in the pre-WWII era. He epitomizes the popular hero who remains entangled in Japanese folklore. His figure also appears in countless wartime films and cartoons that appeal to the Japanese citizens as propaganda. In these widespread media portrayals, Momotaro usually represents the Japanese government; the citizens signify the animals; and the United States characterizes the demonic figure. The food and treasure that Momotaro and his animals receive after defeating the demon reflect the lost glory of Japan’s empire. Food’s presence in these stories holds another symbolic meaning: Food represents the attachment between the Japanese government and its people—just like how a chemical bond connects two atoms. Nevertheless, the Momotaro stories utilize food to cultivate strong relationships and lasting communities.

Tokiyoshi Onoue's personal testimonial compares to the whole Minamata community's experience.

Tokiyoshi Onoue’s personal testimonial compares to the whole Minamata community’s experience.

In similar fashion, Tsuchimoto applies food to compare one man’s suffering with a whole community’s suffering. He uses Tokiyoshi Onoue’s testimonial to illuminate a population’s distressful unity. As the Minamata disease forms a resilient community through people’s suffering, the Momotaro stories arrange cohesive communities through people’s comradeship: the contrasting quality between Sazanami’s writing and Tsuchimoto’s media. In the film, Onoue reveals his pain and anguish that the poisoning fish produced. The food’s contamination forcefully disables any consumers—blinding vision, restricting sound, and damaging basic motor skills. Upon recognition of the disease, Onoue begins to lose a certain amount of respect and trust of food’s safety. This personal relationship symbolizes the overall relationship that Minamata residents have with their seafood. The local fishermen, the close families, the dying individuals all start to discount their association with food’s unifying demands. Food’s figurative role as a uniting symbol emerges through the depths of people’s suffering. Minamata’s community develops a strong connection through everyone’s discomfort and torture.

The historical framework of the Minamata disease places it during a post-WWII era—a close similarity with that of Momotaro’s propaganda setting. Minamata’s remote location also sets it apart from the Japanese mainstream culture. This sets the stage for Minamata to create its own society and community. Since the residents did not have plenty of outside interaction, they had to combine their efforts with one another. The poisoned food ultimately matures the population through a tormenting array of sorrow. Even though the citizens become hampered to produce everyday tasks, they still overcome such obstacles to unify. Nevertheless, food embodies the metaphorical epitome of industrializing a spirited community.

Now implemented as a material object through the Momotaro stories, Sazanami employs food as a physical unifier between characters. He uses millet dumplings to bond Momotaro and a dog: “he accepted the half-dumpling and having eaten it he went on with Peach-Boy” (25 Iwaya). He continues to use millet dumplings to connect Momotaro and a monkey: “I will give you half of one of the best millet dumplings in Japan, and you may follow me” (28 Iwaya). He finally unites another pairing between Momotaro and a bird: “I now charge you to accompany me in the same way as the dog and the money in my expedition” (31 Iwaya). Once again, this small community of a hero and his comrades exemplifies the larger picture—how a massive community between the Japanese government and its citizens ripens. Food’s function as a unifier travels beyond the scope of just forming a community; it reaches the extent of establishing companionships and relationships. Sazanami manipulates food to serve as his community development initiative. He implements food to directly institute a bonding association—since the monkey, dog, and bird openly accept the dumplings. This illuminates how food works to build communities through certain respects of camaraderie and materialism.

The comparison between “Momotaro and his companions” and “the Japanese government and its citizens” signifies Sazanami’s purpose to portray community progression. The millet dumplings operate as a food symbol in the story, and the food represents the Momotaro stories in reality. Since the dumplings form a community between the hero and his acquaintances, the Momotaro stories form a community between the government and its people. Together, both communities develop a passionate sense of unity and accord to battle worldly evils. In Momotaro’s case, they travel to defeat the ogres at Ogre Island; in Japan’s case, they journey to conquer the Unites States at Pearl Harbor. Food manages to characterize a potent unifier that continues to produce fervent societies.

Community outreach and development.

Community outreach and development.

Through another comparison, Tsuchimoto highlights how food can symbolize the basis of constructing a vehement community. He chronicles the Minamata residents as they band together to confront the death-providing Chisso Corporation—the instigator who polluted the Minamata waters with mercury compounds. Indirectly speaking, the diseased food connects the people of Minamata as a single neighborhood, fighting to voice their harrowing pain and traumatic anger. An example of this cohesive community can be described through the documentary’s dramatic climax: Tsuchimoto films the residents attending a Chisso biannual, shareholders meeting. They collectively demand that the company president accept full responsibility for Chisso’s offenses against the environment and humanity. Food resumes its constant duty to unify communities—with love in its intentions and conviction in its production.

The story of Minamata’s fight for justice not only suggests historical importance, but it also reveals the determined spirit that a group of people is willing to deliver. This community struggle holds the potential to inspire other communities who also suffer from the hands of an indifferent bureaucracy. Although each family and individual embrace their own personal account of sorrow, they all combine their efforts and tales to form a community of simple, conscientious people. Tsuchimoto’s filming tactics fully epitomize the meaning of how food brings people into unison.

While Tsuchimoto and Sazanami develop contrasting works of art, they both succinctly illustrate the same, basic message: Food not only functions as a figurative symbol to unify communities, but it also works as a material object to unite others. Whether a situation expounds anguish, happiness, friendship, or violence, people always find a way to become intertwined through food’s bitter taste; food’s sweet taste; food’s rare taste; or food’s repulsive taste. Food grasps that special power to unify communities under the best conditions, or the worst conditions. It remains as a symbol that refers to any aspect of a culture’s or individual’s history and identity.

Nourishment to Fraility

Eyes that cannot see, hands that cannot grasp, minds that cannot process, the senses of Minamata victims remain diminished after a severe intoxication of mercury poisoning. Noriaki Tsuchimoto—director and editor of Minamata: The Victims and Their World—depicts the current condition and distressing plight borne by affected families. He not only portrays the impassive Chisso Corporation and the delayed government reaction, but he also highlights the neglect and insolence that society inflicts upon the victims. He chronicles food as a disease that forces a struggle between casualties and polluters. Through a practice of dramatic, poetic shots and rhythmic, intense soundtracks, Tsuchimoto illustrates the corrupted relationship between Minamata’s humanity and food: transforming food’s role from a symbol of nourishment to a source of fatality.

Contact with the disease

Contact with the disease

The opening sequence devotes priceless seconds to understanding the lifestyles and close connections among Minamata residents. Representing an array of close-up and long-range shots of the sea, fish, and boats, Tsuchimoto examines the intimate interactions and relations that Minamata citizens have with their environment. This close-up scene exemplifies Tsuchimoto’s goal to portray the bond between nature and man: Even though he knows about the fish’s toxicity, he still remains in contact with the sea creature. At the time of water pollution, food acts as a symbol of sustenance and support in the town of Minamata; the community depends on its fisheries and seafood as a foundation of economic stability and basic survival. Food epitomizes the producer of life in such a remote location—it feeds the children, it supplies the livestock, it develops the ecosystem. Food’s positive allure starts to transform into a negative appeal: If a person consumes seafood, then he/she might acquire severe consequences. This unfortunately strains the indirect association between food’s objective and the people’s trust.

Grief in expression

Grief in expression

Since the documentary presents a low-budget cost, money becomes difficult to attribute to each aspect of the film—including sound. The lack of synch between soundtracks and images bestows an unorthodox film quality: generating an interesting dilemma to considering Tsuchimoto’s message. The emotionally distressing stories that Tsuchimoto’s characters describe are paired with an assortment of images picturing the dead, their families, and unappetizing food. The unparalleled synch between sound/image compels the audience to listen to the words more intently and to analyze the speaker’s face more cautiously. It becomes apparent that the infected fish and food have fully digressed from an archetype of positive nutrition to a symbol of deplorable death. Through the suffering voices and hopeless faces, Tsuchimoto represents the pain that Minamata residents feel. He innovatively manipulates the soundtracks to demonstrate how the polluted food causes calamitous disruption in these peoples’ lives: the citizens express their testimonials with sadness in their vocals and gloominess in their grimaces. Food’s blissful intentions diminish into nothingness.

Tokiyoshi Onoue enhances the sympathetic appeal

Tokiyoshi Onoue enhances the sympathetic appeal

To emphasize this heartbreaking tragedy further, Tsuchimoto illuminates an individual account of Minamata’s disease—Tokiyoshi Onoue’s experience. Tsuchimoto utilizes Tokiyoshi as a representation of Minamata as a whole. While Tokiyoshi explains his personal affliction by the disease, Tsuchimoto films the resident’s everyday fishing and eating routine. This allows the audience to gradually sympathize with the storyteller; acknowledge how much anguish and pain he feels; and identify the role of food in an altered environment. Upon recognition of the disease, Tokiyoshi—and the other fishermen, families, and residents—established a perception of trust with the sea and its inhabitants. However, the fishes’ attainment of mercury poisoning damages that trust between Minamata’s people and food’s safety. The positive role of food continues to dwindle and disappear.

Seen through a historical lens, the Minamata disease affects a handful of Japanese people—set within a remote location, the town becomes isolated from mainstream Japanese society and culture. Emerging from the industrial wastewater produced by Chisso Corporation’s chemical factory, the disease starts to affect the fish and shellfish since they begin to accumulate toxic chemicals. Tsuchimoto begins to chronicle the struggles of families who attempt to obtain reparations from Chisso. Factually represented, the victims’ loved ones join together in song to voice their misery over death. They conclusively storm the representatives of the corporation to demand proper compensation for afflicted pain.

During the 1950s in Japan, a heavy concentration of industrial facilities in populated areas began to cause environmental pollution—large-scale industrialization develops because of the substantial damage suffered from World War II. This detail explains the abrupt consummation of Chisso’s growth. Tsuchimoto uses this historical fact to represent the quality of life issues, population densities, environmental pollution, and quality of housing as a problem in Japanese society.

Tsuchimoto offers emotional anecdotes, passionate shots, and powerful soundtracks to emphasize the affect of Chisso’s wrongdoing and the transition of food’s function. Food first acts as a life-giver, delivering the citizens a mode of basic subsistence and financial profitability. Because of unforeseen circumstances, food then evolves into a death-provider—forcing the citizens to live with sickness and disabilities. Tsuchimoto not only defines food as health and wellness, but he also expresses food as duplicitous and deceitful.

Charm of the Unfamiliar

Introducing a cultural influence in novel works of art and literature, exoticism evokes an atmosphere of curiosity about unfamiliar worlds and unusual conditions. “The Gourmet Club” represents a story about five, food-motivated individuals, led by the informal president, Count G. This exclusive club quickly develops a tale of increased consumption—not only of food, but also of character personality. As eccentric items begin to emerge on the menus, the consumers start to cultivate a sense of obsession and an element of lunacy. Through a plethora of sensory and visual descriptions, Junichiro Tanizaki employs a quest motif to dramatize the idea of food and exoticism in “The Gourmet Club.”

The Count—an outlandish figure who prides himself over his search for fine foods—fosters an intense desire to search for inventive, gourmet meals and new, delicate tastes. He signifies the most ambitious individual of the group as “he only sees dreams of food” (104): “food whose flavors would make the flesh melt…” (104) and “food like music that would make men dance madly” (104). Nevertheless, the Count’s search epitomizes the foundation of Tanizaki’s quest motif: a tenacious pursuit of atypical, alluring worlds. This persistent yearning of a fantasy world empowers the Count to illustrate his utmost cravings. In the passage, food metaphorically signifies an exotic environment of a far-off land or a serene realm. The Count imagines food as an angel who “raises the soul to heaven” and as music that entertains the ears of humanity. In reality, food captures taste buds and fills hunger, but in exotic fantasy, food heals damaged lives and breathes inspiration. The obsession to find new, luscious foods not only appears strange and unfamiliar, but also intrigued and peculiar—qualities of exoticism.

After rigorous trials and barriers of attaining his ultimate goal, the Count grimly manages to hold his quest tightly—never losing focus of eating and consuming the freshest foods. Furthermore, Tanizaki manipulates food as a necessary requirement for basic survival. He uses the Count as a medium to describe food’s superior power—describing the Count as someone who “would gladly have been more insistent still, adopting the wheedling tones of a beggar” (120). Tanizaki diminishes the Count’s dominant prowess down to a beggar, suggesting the bizarre control that food commands over the leader. The quest motif expands further when the Count “could hardly leave the place without at least a spoonful or two” (120) after catching sight of “an amber-colored soup that gave off puffs of steam” (120). Illuminated in a beautiful, pristine manner, the bowls of soup seizes all modes of attention. It becomes something that must be obtained. As the quest to eat the soup enthralls the Count, Tanizaki continues to sensationalize the effects of food on exoticism. The food in this passage indicates an opulent fantasy: an unattainable, sensual, and illusory setting. This exotic situation leads the Count towards a mysterious direction of unknown unfamiliarity, where he is forced to watch others adore the succulent food that he cannot consume.

Rhythmic and inexplicable, “The Gourmet Club” offers a dignified, passionate embrace of all things in a quest. Tanizaki redefines the pursuit of a rare, aesthetic world through a series of exotic descriptions about food—all represented in disturbing, sensual, and unconventional details. He generates boundless examples of the strikingly bizarre actions that an individual undertakes to consume the most appealing foods. Tanizaki’s writing elucidates a cultural echo of exoticism’s unending emphasis on unfamiliar and mysterious conditions.

Work Cited

Tanizaki, Jun’ichiro. “The Gourmet Club.” The Gourmet Club: A Sextet, trans. Ed. Anthony H. Chambers and Paul McCarthy. Tokyo; London: Kodansha, 2001. 99-140. Print.

A Woman’s Worth

A satiric comedy surrounding noodles, a cultural message uplifting rāmen, a simplistic medium appreciating food, Juzo Itami’s Tampopo explores a traditional topic of Japanese compassion towards food. The movie cultivates an ingenious experience for audience members—involving scenes of food adoration and food promiscuity. The main story involves a sagacious truck driver helping to stimulate an unqualified business: Tampopo’s rāmen shop. Woven into this principal storyline, a variety of vignettes highlights a deeper understanding of food, love, and relationships.

During the 1980s—the movie completion time—Japan not only absorbed a foundation of economic prosperity and financial affluence, but it also developed an increased involvement with aspects of international affairs and cultures. Because of Japan’s participation in globalization, it began to insert the trending dogma of a feministic revolution: a movement and ideology that establishes equal, social rights for women. Nevertheless, the transformation of Tampopo’s social status exemplifies the conversion of Japan’s social hierarchy—where women begin to assert their prominence as succeeding members of society. Itami generates Tampopo as a symbol for the feministic rise in Japanese culture.

Tampopo pleads her case.

Tampopo pleads her case.

First expressing women as dependent and vulnerable, Tampopo manipulates Tampopo as the conventional stereotype of Japanese women: unimportant and fragile. Thus, the most important scene in the movie involves Tampopo recognizing her need for an instructor—someone who nourishes her ability to become an effective, independent woman. She starts to profess, almost to beg, her desire for a rāmen master. In comparison to Japanese women holding a low social standing, Tampopo literally remains below Goro—the truck driving, rāmen teacher—to plead her hunger for success. Her hidden appearance behind the truck door indirectly resembles the hidden potential that Japanese women carry. The moment when Tampopo begs Goro for his lessons epitomizes the realism of how women were viewed in Japan: Men asserted their power and strength while women were perceived weaker and helpless. The position of each character gives more insight into the Japanese hierarchy—Goro sits higher, looking down, to signify man’s superiority over all others; Tampopo stands below, staring up, to suggest woman’s struggle to insert distinction and influence. However, Tampopo sheds a small light of hope: With an abundance of aspiration and determination, Japanese women have full control and vigor to equalize Japanese men. She clutches a yearning to thrive in Japanese society, giving her a leading position in the social, feministic revolution.

Tampopo revels her newfound success.

Tampopo revels her newfound success.

After a series of learning experiences and growing pains, Tampopo matures into the independent, efficacious woman that surrounds her potential. Just as it took time for her to obtain respect, it also took time for Japanese women to gain reverence in their respective culture. This represents the most important scene because it illustrates the burning will that Tampopo—a symbol for ambitious, Japanese women—embraces: She craves parity. She wants a rāmen shop that envelops customers’ hearts and taste buds. Her progress and maturity sets the movie in motion, developing an atmosphere of fortitude. This whole scene lays the foundation of not only a feministic, growth movement, but also Tampopo’s character development.