Author Archives: rkato712

Momotaro: Food and its Role as a Unifier

The story of Momotaro has always been a popular folklore in Japan and dates back to the Edo period. The story of Momotaro has been told throughout the generations of young Japanese kids and will continue to be told. There are many variations to the story of Momotaro such as the ones made during World War II as propaganda and other modernized versions of the historic folklore. However, they all share a common symbol, food. Throughout all of the Momotaro tales, food serves as a source of unification forming bonds and tight-nit communities. There are very few foods in Momotaro, only a peach and some millet dumplings, but these two serves great purpose in the stories. The story of Momotaro can also be related to one of Tsuchimoto’s films, Minamata: The Victims and their World.

First of all, the peach is an important food in Momotaro. In Japan and other Asian countries in the area, the peach is associated with youth and immortality and is used as a symbol in many old stories. The peach seems to be of less importance in the Momotaro stories but is actually an important part of the story. In most of the recent Momotaro stories, it is stated that Peach Boy jumps out of the peach when the old man and old woman tried to cut the peach for eating. However, it is said that in the original stories, Momotaro didn’t actually come out of the peach and that he was actually the old man and woman’s child. After the old man and woman ate the peach, which is associated with youth, their body regained youth and so did their sexual desires. In Chinese mythology, the peach is often associated with the symbol of immortality and youth. It is a very common idea in China and appears in many fables, paintings, and other forms of art. The old man and woman, after eating the peach which gives them youth once again, eventually ended up getting a child and that was how Momotaro was born. It is said that the story was changed in order to make it more appropriate for the children. As time passes, much folklore undergo revisions that make it appropriate for that time period. Momotaro is even undergoing some revisions today. Some extremists believe that the superior attitude of Momotaro and the way he uses the animals as subordinates are not appropriate for their kids and therefore, are trying to make it so that Momotaro and the other animals are friends, working together to defeat the oni. The time may soon come where Momotaro doesn’t even defeat the oni anymore and just persuades them through words since some people may deem fighting inappropriate.

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Momotaro is with his retainers and can be seen holding millet dumplings

In Momotaro, the millet dumplings serve to unify Momotaro and the animals. The millet dumplings were prepared by the old man and old woman for Momotaro’s journey to go and defeat the oni. In Japan, Momotaro is said to originate from the Okayama prefecture where millet dumplings are made. During the folklore, few to no descriptions are given about the millet dumplings. Momotaro mentions once that the millet dumplings are the “best dumplings in Japan” but no further descriptions are given. Momotaro might have mentioned this to the animals to further show that he was the one in charge and that he was superior over the others by having something that was the “best in Japan.” While Momotaro is on his journey, he hands the millet dumplings out to the animal he meets in order to make them his retainers. The milled dumplings serve to unify Momotaro, the dog, the monkey, and the pheasant together. The sharing of the dumplings is like an initiation or rite of passage similar to something one would experience when joining an organization or an army. By eating the millet dumplings, the animals are saying that they pledge to follow Momotaro and are making a contract. The manner in which Momomotaro gives out the millet dumplings is also significant in determining the relationship of the animals and Momotaro. Momotaro only gives out half of a dumpling to each animal, showing that he is the one in charge of the group and that the animals do not have a say as to what they can do. The animals can either take what they are given or leave the group. By taking the millet dumpling from Momotaro, they are swearing loyalty to him. The handing out of the dumplings is a symbol of gesture and serves as a reward to the animals for joining Momotaro on his journey. It also reinforces Momotaro as a symbol of power and how he is a hero or a leader.

            The movie Momotaro’s Sea Eagles also shows the theme of unification although the concept of food is not as obvious. Momotaro’s sea eagles was a propaganda film created in Japan during World War II aimed at uplifting the fighting spirits of Japanese kids and adults. In the film, Momotaro is depicted as the general in an army that is out to defeat the oni on the demon island. The demon island is a symbol for Pearl Harbor and the film is based off of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Although the peach does not have a very significant part in the film, the millet dumplings show up once again in the film. The millet dumplings are given out to the soldiers just like how Momotaro handed them out to the animals in the original story when making them his retainers. The millet dumplings serve as a source of strength and energy to the soldiers. When the soldiers such as the monkey were getting ready to go and fight, he ate a millet dumpling to get ready. When the monkey ate the dumplings, the monkey turned toward the camera and flexed, showing off his muscle and showing that the millet dumplings strengthened him. The millet dumplings show up again in Momotaro’s Sea Eagles. When the monkey seas the crying baby bird, he pulls out a toy plane out of a bag labeled “millet dumplings.” With the toy, he calms down the bird and later, the bird ends up saving them. This shows the significance of the millet dumplings in the film and how it is a symbol of strength and power.

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The monkey eats millet dumplings before the battle

       Momotaro’s ideas can be tied into Tsuchimoto Noriaki’s film Minamata: The Victims and their World. The social hierarchy that existed in Minamata oppressed the majority of the people in Minamata. When the people of Minamata started realizing the existence of the Minamata-byo, they requested to the higher-ups to start doing something to improve the living conditions and do something about the disease. However, the higher-ups, not being affected by the disease, did nothing to help out those in need. The people of Minamata united, working together to try and help those affected by the Minamata disease and to make sure no more people got affected by it. The people of Minamata decide to go and protest at the shareholder’s meeting. Similar to Momotaro, the people unite and journey to their enemy, in this case, the people at the shareholder’s meeting. It is a journey for them from the station to the shareholder’s meeting. They are concerned with uniting the people and communities to fight the suffering and resist against the oppressors. In Momotaro, he and the animals group together in order to go and defeat the oni at the demon island. Similar to Momotaro’s clan, the people of Minamata group together, united by their goal to make Minamata a better place and help out those affected by the Minamata disease.

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The people of Minamata journey to the shareholder’s meeting

 

In the Momotaro folklores foods such as the peach and millet dumplings serve as important symbols. The peach is a symbol of youth and immortality while the millet dumplings serve as a source of strength and unification. The themes and plot of Momotaro could also be related to Tsuchimoto’s film, Minamata: The Victims and their World. Food is used in all variations of Momotaro including the World War II propaganda film Momotaro’s Sea Eagles. Although food may not be one of the most prevalent things in the Japanese folklore Momotaro, it still takes its own unique part in the story and helps to convey the theme of the story to its readers throughout the ages.

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Spirited Away: The Power of Food

The Power of Food in Spirited Away

            Food is a recurring theme in many of Miyazaki’s films and is utilized in Spirited Away to depict the importance of food in culture and life. People should be thankful for the food that they get to eat and should not become too greedy. Food also has the power to tie people and cultures together and food can provide comfort and suppress the evil in people.

Food and greed are important motifs in Spirited Away. At the beginning of the story, food sets the whole story into motion by inviting Chihiro and her parents to the food stand. Eating the sacred food ends up turning Chihiro’s parents into pigs. This scene gives the idea that people should be always thankful of the food they get to eat and should not eat needlessly just for the sake of eating. It is a habit widely forgotten by many of the developed countries as food has become abundant in recent years. In Japan, people say itadakimasu before a meal and gochisosama after a meal in order to show their appreciation for the meals that they eat. However in recent years, some people have forgotten about the true meaning behind the words and say them only for the sake of saying them. Through food, Miyazaki attempts to convey the message that people should be thankful for the things that they have and should not become greedy.

 

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Chihiro’s dad gorging himself with food

In Spirited Away food is an important component that ties people and cultures together. As Chihiro was starting to disappear in the spiritual world, Haku fed her food from the spiritual world in order to tie her to the spiritual world and keep her from disappearing. Every culture around the world has its own unique types of food and the type of food that a culture has can be used to identify it. I believe that by learning about the food of a certain place, you are also assimilating into its culture. Therefore, when Chihiro, a foreigner, was starting to fade away, Haku gave her food from the spiritual world to help her become a part of the spirit world. Later, when the workers at the bath house were complaining about Chihiro’s human smell, Haku explains to them that if she eats their food for a few days, she would soon lose that smell, indicating that she will lose her human identity and gain her spiritual identity as Sen. This line supports my idea that eating the food of a certain culture makes you a part of that culture in a way. Food forms bonds between people and cultures.

Haku giving Chihiro onigiris in the garden with the soft, tender background music

Haku gives rice balls to Chihiro to cheer her up

Food is a source of comfort to many people. Food can calm people and also suppress inner anger and evil. The magical cake given to Chihiro by the river spirit is an example of how food can remove maliciousness from a person. The cake is special in that it makes whoever that ate the cake throw up whatever evil was inside them. Chihiro uses this on Haku and no-face to have them throw up the bad things that were dwelling inside them. Haku throws up the gold seal he stole from Zeniba and the slug that Yubaba was using to control him. After eating the cake, No-Face throws up the evil force and anger that was inside him, stopping his rampage. The cake shows how food has the power to suppress anger and comfort people. Miyazaki is trying to convey the point that food has the ability to remove evil and malicious feelings from a person and cleanse them. Food also provides comfort to Chihiro on many occasions. When Chihiro was starting to fade away on her first night, Haku gives her some food from the spiritual world to help her maintain her form. The next day when Chihiro was going through an emotional breakdown, Haku gives her rice balls in order to cheer her up. Food is a positive force that suppresses evil and brings comfort to people.

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No-Face, angered by Chihiro’s refusal, starts to eat everything he sees

Overall, food is an important theme in Spirited Away and is used by Miyazaki to convey the importance of food in Japanese culture and how food is comfort. Food is a recurring motif in many of Miyazaki’s films and is used to convey the themes within his films.

Tampopo: The Art Within Japanese Food

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The teacher drinking his ramen soup

       While Goro and Gun are driving through the rain in the first scene of the movie, Gun reads a book where a young man is learning how to eat a ramen from a ramen enthusiast. In this picture, we can see the elder teacher drinking the soup of the ramen. However, he can’t just drink the soup. He must drink it exactly three times for him to correctly enjoy the ramen. The young man first asks whether he should eat the noodles first or go for the soup first. However, the teacher tells him that he must first enjoy the scent and the aesthetics of the ramen first before he even touches it. In this picture, we can see the elder teacher drinking the soup of the ramen. However, he can’t just drink the soup. He must drink it exactly three times for him to correctly enjoy the ramen. This scene shows that to the people in Japan, food is not just something you eat, but is a form of art. With Japanese food, the taste is not the only thing you enjoy. There is also its smell, appearance, and the many textures that one could enjoy with Japanese food.

I found this scene to bethe most important in the movie because I felt that this scene provided a background for the Japanese food culture and the feelings and attitudes the Japanese people have for food. To them, food is not just a necessity in life but it is a delicacy and something to enjoy. The scene provides a basic platform for the rest of the movie since not everyone watching the movie may know about Japanese food culture. Although the scene somewhat exaggerates the food culture, it helps the viewer ease into the setting of the story.

When the time finally comes to start eating, the teacher tells the young man to move the pork to the side of the bowl and to leave it for later.Not only do you have to enjoy the aesthetics of the ramen, you also have a specific order in which to eat the toppings of the ramen. The old teacher also starts talking to the pork and caressing it with his chopsticks. While a person who sees this in real life may break out in laughter from such silly actions, the scene is very serious and the young man listens to his teacher’s words with care. This action utilizes hyperbole, going far beyond what a normal person would do when eating a ramen. However, the scene captures the general idea of Japanese food culture.

The movie as a whole tends to use hyperbole quite often when conveying the Japanese food culture and Japan’s other aspects. In the scene with the businessman, hyperbole is used once again to delineate the social hierarchy of Japan. While the higher-ups all order the same exact thing from the menu and even have mismatching orders, the young, scrawny business man knows exactly what to order and what food goes with what. He even orders wine at the end while everyone else ordered a Heineken beer at an expensive French restaurant.

All in all, this opening scene to the movie serves to transition the viewers into the setting of the movie. It teaches the viewers how the Japanese people appreciate their food culture and also adds humor into the scene when conveying it.