Author Archives: simplynicolex3

Red Meat: The Bond of the Typical American Family

Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats follows unemployed documentarian Jane Takagi-Little on her experience working as a producer for a Japanese TV show called My American Wife, which is sponsored by a Texas-based meat industry lobby organization called Beef-Ex. To continue the pattern of westernization in Japan, My American Wife features American wives demonstrating the steps to simple American recipes that contain red meat and can be performed at home for a family dinner. At the typical American family dinner table, red meat represents the main dish that unites each family member to bond with each other by sharing the dish. In order to establish a bond for the Japanese family during dinnertime, Jane Takagi-Little emphasizes the modern American tradition of serving red meat at the dinner table.

As the main purpose of the TV Show, red meat, instead of the American housewife, is the star of My American Wife. Sponsored by Beef-Ex, My American Wife wants Japanese housewives to “feel the hearty sense of warmth, of comfort, of hearth and home – the traditional family values symbolized by red meat in rural America” (Ozeki 8). Normally, the typical Japanese family indulges in light-tasting dishes, such as seafood, rice, soup, and vegetables. Although these dishes are light in flavor, the Japanese consider this cuisine as a commonplace in their culture. However, red meat, an “attractive, appealing, all-American dish,” gives the Japanese a sense of both westernization and modernization with the appeal of the American culture. As Japan becomes more of a Western-cultured civilization with the increase of American fast food places and red meat at the markets, it is reasonable for home-cooked meals to include the use of red meat as a main dish.

In order for the audience to gain interest in American red meat cuisine, Ruth Ozeki’s word choice to describe the purpose of the show creates a warm and persuasive tone. For example, the passage emphasizes how red meat brings the “hearty” sense of “warmth,” “comfort,” “hearth,” and “home.” (Ozeki 8) Instead of having the normal Japanese dinner, the Japanese should try something that would provides tons of flavor while producing the pleasant feeling of comfort while consuming the dish made of red meat. Ozeki wants to appeal to the Japanese housewives so their family members can intensify the feeling of comfort at home while enjoying their meal as a family. By intensifying this comfortable feeling, this allows family members to endure in bonding with sharing the amiability of their main dish of hearty red meat.

By emphasizing the value of bonding as a family as well as the use of red meat at the dinner table, the American tradition of the culinary concoction of red meat allows the Japanese housewife and her family to experience the ways at the dinner table of the modern American family.  As a rising country in the westernization of cuisine, utilizing red meat in home-cooked meals allows the typical Japanese family to meet the modern expectations of the modern westernized Japanese culture.

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The Cove: Animal Cruelty to Consumption

Louie Psihoyos’ The Cove is a 2009 Academy Award-winning documentary film that illustrates the horrifying act of dolphin hunting in Taiji, Japan.  Although Taiji may seem like a typical coastal Japanese town that adores dolphins, fishermen and policemen keep the acts of dolphin slaughters hidden from citizens and tourists of the town with warnings of the forbidden areas.  By rebelling against the authority, Psihoyos and his documentary team join activist and former dolphin trainer Ric O’Barry on a mission to go behind the scenes of the tragic captures and slaughters of innocent dolphins. Their efforts led to the exposure of a bloody massacre of dolphins that were not “show material.” While dolphins are often caught for the purpose to provide performers for marine park shows, a major cause of this gruesome act is to provide a cheaper substitute for whale meat at fish markets.

Similar to the process other animals go through before they are slaughtered for their meat, greedy fishermen abuse dolphins physically and mentally. Approximately 23,000 dolphins are killed every year in Taiji, Japan. If the dolphins do not meet the requirements to become show dolphins, they are sent to “the cove,” which is the location of dolphin massacres led by fishermen. At the cove, fishermen stab many dolphins with their spears until the dolphins have trouble swimming and slowly reach a tragic death. As the fishermen spear many dolphins to their death, the remaining dolphins experience distress and terror witnessing the loss of their parent or sibling. Just like humans, dolphins are able to express their own emotions. Dolphins are not meant for human consumption due to their wild, not domestic lifestyle.

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Citizens of Tokyo are unaware of the consumption and abuse of dolphins.

The people of Taiji regard the consumption of dolphin meat as a long-lived tradition in Japan. However, the inhabitants of Japan’s major cities, such as Japan, are unaware of the ingesting of dolphin meat as well as the mistreatment the dolphins go through in the process of preparation. Through a series of interviews in Tokyo about the consumption of dolphin meat, the documentary crew discovered that many citizens were confused since they have never heard of the practice. During each interview, the facial expressions and tone of voice of each of the interviewees displayed an element of shock and confusion because they saw dolphins as show or wild animals instead of animals used for meat. No one believed that people actually ate dolphin meat.  The purpose of this scene is to show how the meat industry disconnects ordinary Japanese citizens to the cruel actions of the meat preparation, especially in the case of dolphin meat. In accordance to this intention, the citizens would also be clueless to the horrific abuse done to dolphins in the process.

Dolphin meat is often mislabeled as whale meat at markets.

Dolphin meat is often mislabeled as whale meat at markets.

Although rarely anyone consumes dolphin meat in Japan, Japanese fish markets often mislabel the meat of thousands of dolphins slaughtered every as expensive whale meat. Scott Baker, the DNA specialist of Psihoyos’ team, conducted a lab on whale meat sold at these markets and discovered that a portion of the whale meat samples is actually dolphin meat. Since dolphin meat is exceedingly low in demand and cost due to dolphins’ reputation as show or wild animals, the fishermen market dolphin meat as whale meat to earn more profit from the sale. Due to the similarities in physical traits and exoticism, the average consumer would not have noticed the mislabeling of the meat. Anyone could be eating dolphin meat without any notice.

Dolphin meat is extremely high in mercury content.

Dolphin meat is extremely high in mercury content.

Just like any other type of seafood, dolphin meat contains mercury. Representatives of the International Whaling Commission believe that there is no product in the market that exceeds their standards. However, dolphin meat contains 2000 ppm of mercury per serving, which is enormously greater than Japan’s daily recommended serving of 0.4 ppm. In extremely large amounts, mercury proves to be highly toxic to humans. With a considerable dose of this toxic substance, mercury is poisoning consumers of dolphin meat leading them to the risks of brain, kidney, and lung damage.

Due to the production of Louie Psihoyos’ The Cove, viewers around the world are now aware of the gruesome massacre of dolphins in Taiji, Japan. Dolphin slaughtering and the consumption of dolphin meat were not widely known until this documentary was released. From its extremely high mercury content to its horrible abuse to dolphins, dolphin meat should not be sold in fish markets for human consumption.

Momotaro: Uniting the Community Through Food and Leadership

In Japan, as well as the rest of the world, communities often create strong bonds amongst themselves through social and physical interactions. While the most common way to bond is by verbal communication, sharing and providing food, a common worldwide staple, to one another takes community building to a whole different level. In the tale of the legendary Japanese folklore hero, Momotaro, also known as the Peach Boy, the symbolization of food establishes companionships amongst the characters throughout the story. In addition, Momotaro displays leadership in his community through his heroic acts in order to maintain the bonds instituted. Due to its popularity within the Japanese culture and the historic origins from the Edo era, many variations of Momotaro were made from folktales to movies to children’s books. Despite the variations of the folklore, Momotaro kept its foundations within each version.  Although the legend of the Momotaro was portrayed in many literary and visual variants, the basis of the story persists through the representation of food and leadership to unify and strengthen community relations.

Published in 1894, Iwaya Sazanami’s Momotaro =: The Story of Peach-Boy follows a traditional and definitive approach to the folk legend of Momotaro. Traditionally, an elderly couple found the character of Momotaro inside a giant peach; hence, the name, Peach Boy. The elderly couple rejoiced Momotaro and raised him to become strong and enterprising. Prior to the giant peach, the elderly man and woman were depicted as “both so sad” due to their lack of offspring (Sazanami 16). The celebration of the giant peach represents the power of food through strengthening bonds and enlightening emotions. Since the elderly couple is finally able to raise a child as a result of the peach, the joy of the upbringing of Momotaro will strengthen their bond and bring them pleasure since they are now obligated to raise him to his full potential.

After Momotaro receives millet dumplings from his father, he encounters a monkey, a dog, and a pheasant, his potential animal comrades. During his encounter with the monkey, Momotaro offers “half of one of the best millet dumplings in Japan” in exchange for the monkey’s loyalty and camaraderie (Sazanami 28).  Similarly, Momotaro also presents the dog and the pheasant with half of a millet dumpling in order to join him in his quest to defeat the enemy. The offering of the millet dumpling symbolizes camaraderie between Momotaro and his animal comrades since Momotaro traded with the animals in order to accompany him through loyalty and companionship during this journey. Instead of using paper currency, the millet dumpling was a type of payment and allowance Momotaro’s father gave him. As a form of currency, Momotaro was able to use the millet dumplings to acquire whatever he desires. Also, the millet dumpling represents unity with a universal staple although Momotaro and the animals are from different backgrounds. No matter where someone comes from, food will always unite a community together since it is essential to life.

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A monkey hands the dog millet dumplings for army rations before his flight.

As a unique tactic to dramatize the attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II, Seo Mitsuyo directed a Japanese propaganda anime version of Momotaro called Momotaro’s Sea Eagles in 1943. Unlike Iwaya Sazanami’s version of Momotaro, Mitsuyo adds a twist on the traditional story and uses the folklore’s main ideas to create a foundation in order to focus on the aspects of war propaganda. On the standpoint of food, the millet dumpling also symbolizes the bonds within a community in this version of Momotaro. Before a dog takes off with his airplane, a monkey supplies him with a bag of millet dumplings, which embodies army rations. During World War II, soldiers were often given rations for food, energy, and nutrition while on the battlefield. The handing of millet dumplings from the monkey to the dog just right before the flight symbolizes care and friendship between the two animals. A caring friend will typically give a gift to a friend who is leaving on a long or dangerous journey. On the aspect of the nutritional value of the millet dumpling, the Japanese soldiers were chowing down a healthy treat during their mission while the Americans were drinking alcohol. This shows that the Japanese value their health during times of war in order to become successful in their attacks instead of just enjoying sinful practices, such as drinking alcohol.

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Momotaro shares his millet dumplings with a monkey, a dog, and a pheasant.

Goro Arai and Koyosha Shuppan’s children’s picture book adaptation of Momotaro provides a simplistic and artistic account of the traditional folktale.  Similar to Sazanami’s Momotaro =: The Story of Peach-Boy, Momotaro shared his millet dumplings with a monkey, a dog, and a pheasant in the picture book version. Unlike the traditional folklore version, the millet dumplings are not clearly connected to bribing the animals into helping Momotaro with his quest. On pages five and six of the picture book, the dog and the monkey eagerly wait for Momotaro to open his bag of millet dumplings while the pheasant’s yearning facial expression indicates that he wants to a share of millet dumplings from Momotaro. From the look of Momotaro’s facial expression, he seems upset over the fact that the animals wanted a portion of his millet dumplings, but Momotaro decides to share the millet dumplings anyway due to his heroic nature. The sharing of millet dumplings represents a formation of an alliance between Momotaro and the animals since the animals are willing to accompany Momotaro after they eat the millet dumplings. The presence of Momotaro’s bag of millet dumplings drew the animals to ask for a share of the treat and form a companionship with Momotaro.

Since the traditional folktale and Momotaro’s Sea Eagles focus on different settings and time periods, the characterization of Momotaro differs between the two versions of the story. In the traditional folktale of Momotaro, Momotaro is characterized as a traditional Japanese boy who was “sent down to [Japan] by the command of the god of Heaven” (Sazanaki 14). Due to his divine nature, the citizens of Japan were brought together as a community to praise Momotaro for his inherent leadership and heroic abilities in order to defeat the ogres. To receive help with fighting the ogres, Momotaro bribes his animal companions with half of a millet dumpling to obtain their loyalty and camaraderie. This denotes the authority and inherent dominance of Momotaro’s leadership amongst his community; his community must obey his commands.

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Momotaro prepares the animal soldiers for the attack on Ogre Island.

On the other hand, Momotaro in Momotaro’s Sea Eagles embodies a determined captain of the Japanese animal soldiers during the period of World War II. In contrast to the traditional folklore Momotaro actually fighting against the enemy himself, the war captain Momotaro advises his soldiers to attack Ogre Island, which represents Pearl Harbor and the Americans. Instead of actually participating in the attacks, Momotaro distances himself from the lower-ranked soldiers and thrives in his hierarchy as a war captain. However, his leadership and commands bring the militants together to successfully defeat the enemy at Ogre Island.

Retaining the theme of the representation of food and leadership within the community, the three different versions Momotaro maintain the foundation of the story within their compositions. The three variations of the legend of Momotaro represent the power of food in establishing and strengthening bonds with one another. Although food may be viewed as just a common everyday staple, the power and worth of food is ideal in uniting the community through strong bonds and companionships.

The Reputation and Commonplace of Authentic Chinese Dining

Jun’ichiro Tanizaki’s The Gourmet Club, a striking food-driven short story featured in The Gourmet Club: A Sextet, follows a group of five gluttonous Japanese men and their indulgence in bizarre delicacies. While fleeing from their banquet of typical Chinese dishes, the Count, the head of the Gourmet Club, discovered an unfamiliar Chinese restaurant called Chechiang Hall. To adhere to the audience’s senses and familiarity of the dishes, word choice and figurative language heightens the experience of the Count’s visit at Chechiang Hall in order to exemplify the exoticism found in this eccentric Chinese cuisine.

By describing the atmosphere of the banquet at Chechiang Hall, the use of word choice enhances the written words in order to emphasize the reputable reputation of the exotic dishes served. At one of the tables at the banquet, the main dish served was situated in a “great big beauty of a bowl.” (Tanizaki 116) By utilizing a series of rudimentary words to define the bowl, the bowl is used as a prop to house the amazing dish contained in its deep interior. To illustrate the consumption of the main dish, the author uses powerful words such as “assault” and “thrusting” to describe how the bowl of food was consumed fiercely and rapidly due to its delicious and admirable nature. (Tanizaki 116) When a popular appetizing dish is served in front of a large group of people, the contents tend to diminish quickly since everyone would want a hefty serving of it on their plate.

Although the Chinese dishes served at Chechiang Hall seem foreign to the Japanese, Tanizaki uses figurative language to compare the texture of the exotic dishes to common food from Japan.  During the banquet, the Count laid his eyes one of the exotic dishes served at the table, a thick and heavy soup with a boiled unborn piglet. Beneath the skin of the boiled unborn piglet, the author describes the texture as “something soft and spongy, rather like boiled fishcake and quite unlike cooked pork.” (Tanizaki 116) Fishcake and pork are common staples of popular Japanese dishes, such as ramen and udon. Even though this delicacy remains unusual to the typical Japanese consumer, the familiarity of the texture of the meal provides a sense of commonplace. Furthermore, the skin and the contents of the piglet were described as being “as soft as jelly.” (Tanizaki 116) From eating it as a snack to adding it to a dessert, jelly remains as a widespread foodstuff across Japan. The soft, semisolid consistency is well known to the average Japanese person; therefore, the texture of the piglet’s skin and contents are considered to be recognizable.

From the meticulous choice of words to the comparative use of figurative language, Jun’ichiro Tanizaki displays the high regard and commonplace of the exotic cuisine served at Chechiang Hall. With the use of these devices, the ambiance of exoticism in Chinese cuisine comes to life for the audience with experience and regard to Japanese cuisine.

Tampopo: The Art of Eating Ramen

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A close-up view on the ramen master’s bowl of ramen.

Jûzô Itami’s Tampopo, a classic ramen western with a comedic twist, follows a young ramen chef named Tampopo in her quest to create the perfect bowl of ramen. In addition to the main plot, random sequences revolving around food emphasize the value and appreciation of Japanese cuisine. As an introduction to the foundation of Tampopo, the most significant scene in this movie features a ramen master teaching Gun about the artistic philosophy of consuming a bowl of delectable ramen.

At the beginning of Tampopo, Gun journeys to a local ramen restaurant with an old man who teaches naïve Gun the correct way to eat a bowl of ramen based on his knowledge from studying noodles for 40 years. Although Gun believes that eating ramen is as simple as eating the soup or noodles first, the ramen master educates Gun otherwise with the artistic value and significance of the bowl’s components. While the ramen master discusses the appraisal of consuming ramen, a close-up camera shot on the bowl of ramen clearly details each component of the soup. By pretentiously describing the soup, shinachiku roots, seaweed, onions, and pork slicing, the ramen master shows Gun how the appreciation of concentrating on the characteristics of the bowl is more than just savoring the flavor. The form and quality of the contents of the soup as a whole shows the chef’s effort of the work put into this cultural dish.

Throughout most of the scene, a medium camera shot of both Gun and the ramen master specifies their facial expressions and body language while eating the Japanese delicacy. Gun exposes his naivety by highly focusing on the bowl of soup. His dialogue shows curiosity and interest as the ramen master shows the proper way to eat this dish. On the other hand, the ramen master dictates in wisdom and confidence by displaying a poised position and informative dialogue. While the average ramen customer consumes the ramen the second the server sets the bowl down on the table, the ramen master displays his expertise by observing the bowl and appreciating its contents. Even though this scene takes place at a casual ramen joint, the elegant background music playing as the ramen master describes the soup transforms the bowl of ramen into a sophisticated dish.

By introducing the film’s central themes of Tampopo’s quest to build the best bowl of ramen, the appreciation of food, and the importance of food in Japanese culture, this scene is crucial in understanding the purpose and plot of Tampopo. With the ramen master’s description of the bowl of ramen, the audience can get an idea of what Tampopo is striving for in creating the perfect bowl of ramen. From displaying the expertise of food and the proper method of consuming a dish, this scene connects itself to the western style dining scene and the spaghetti dining scene later on in the movie. Without this significant scene in the movie, the audience will not see the purpose of the plot and the connections within Tampopo.