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Chinese Cultural forms in “The Gourmet Club”

           The Gourmet Club by Junichiro Tanizaki is a story about a specific club called “the gourmet club.” In this club, a group of food-driven individuals get together at a mansion owned by a Count, and explore delicious food from other countries they have never had before. There are some Chinese cultural forms appear in this story. By introducing those Chinese forms, Junichiro Tanizaki wants to emphasis the theme of exoticism, and at the same time, creates an aesthetic atmosphere of this story.

            The first one appears when the Count cut through a narrow lane and found a Chinese restaurant. “Just then, the sound of a Chinese violin being played somewhere far off came drifting to his (The Count) ears –a sound with overtones and yearning in the night’s darkness.”(107-108) In this scene, Junichiro Tanizaki fully describes the characteristic of the sound of Chinese violin and this description gives readers a visual and audio feeling of what violin is. In China, the traditional Chinese violin is often used to make music that is for specific kind of occasions. The sound of Chinese violin always sounds mellow and expressive and it sometimes make audiences feel sad. In Tanizaki’s description, the sound that gets the Count’s attention also gets readers’ attention.

            The second one appears when the Count saw the sign of that Chinese restaurant and he recognizes that it is a Chechiang restaurant, which serves food from Chechiang province. “He recalled it as a mystic realm of science beauty on the banks of the Westlake, famed in the poetry of Po Lo-t’ien and Su Tung-p’o. And also the best place for Sungari sea bass and for pork belly cooked in soy a la Tung-p’o.”(112) In this scene, Tanizaki inserts some knowledge of Chinese geography. In China, Chechiang province is famous for its delicious Chinese food and due to its advantage of location; Chechiang province is also famous for its seafood. By describing Chechiang province, Tanizaki wants to show that the Count is really into Chinese culture and Chinese food therefore when he sees the name of the restaurant; he recognizes that this restaurant would probably have really good Chinese food.

            The third one Chinese form appears when the Count enters the Chinese restaurant and he sees “Others were sipping tea from cups made in Ching-te-chen.”(117) This description shows another characteristic of Chinese culture. In China, the traditional teacups made in Ching-te-chen are considered as high quality teacups and they are often used in good Chinese restaurants. Junichiro Tanizaki uses this detailed information about China because he wants to emphasize that the restaurant that the Count enters in is a good restaurant. Therefore, that restaurant might serve some really decent Chinese food. This Chinese form here plays an important role because it shows that the Count is very knowledgeable about exoticism of food.

            In conclusion, in The Gourmet Club, in order to fully describe the Count’s experience in exoticism food, Junichiro Tanizaki processes some elements of China. By using those elements, the entire story becomes more expressive and attractive.


The Variations of Momotarō’s story

          The story of Momotarō was a Japanese folktale from Edo period. Momotarō was a boy who was inside a giant peach and was found by an old lady. The old lady brought Momotarō home and raised him up with his husband. After Momotarō grew up, he asked to leave since he needed to go to the Ogres Island to save the inhabitants there and to get the taken treasure back. On his way to Ogres Island, Momotarō met a monkey, a dog and a pheasant. They became friends and those animals helped Momotarō beat ogres. Eventually, with the three animals’ assistance, Momotarō beat those ogres, took treasure back and made it home. The story of Momotarō depicted through different texts, films, animes, and illustrations. For example, Iwaya Sazanami did the rendition of the original one and Mitsuyo Seo made the film called Momotarō’s Sea Eagles, which was a Japanese animated propaganda film. Featuring the “peach boy” and his animal friends in the original story of Momotarō, both Iwaya Sazanami and Mitsuyo Seo’s works were aimed at children. Momotarō’s Sea Eagles was about the captain Momotarō and his animal friends got together, fight against the demons in the island of Onigashima. Comparing and contrasting the original Momotarō’s folktale, Iwaya Sazanami’s rendition and the animated film Momotarō’s Sea Eagles, Momotarō’s Sea Eagles had transformation on themes and characters, and had some subjects that were extracted from the original folktale. With these variations, Momotarō’s Sea Eagles obtained some elements from intertextuality, used film as a new medium, and conveyed a different story based on the traditional story of Momotarō.

            One of the most apparent variations in Momotarō’s Sea Eagles was the character. In original Momotarō’s story and Iwaya Sazanami’s rendition, Momotarō only met a dog, a monkey and a pheasant while he was going to the Ogres Island. They became friends and at the same time Momotarō got his authority. The three animals helped Momotarō beat ogres. There weren’t any other animals in original story. However, in Momotarō’s Sea Eagles, there were groups of animals, such as monkey group, dog group, and bunny group. Compared to the original one, the rendition one, in this animated film, single animal turned into animal teams. The increasing number of animals showed that the relationship between Momotarō and animals had been developed, and Momotarō’s authority had been built up over time as well.Image

Monkey teams in Momotarō’s Sea Eagles

          The major themes in original Momotarō’s story and in Momotarō’s film were similar, but they had been slightly changed in the movie. In original Momotarō’s story and Iwaya Sazanami’s rendition, one of the major themes was Momotarō’s purpose to go to the Ogres Island. Knowing that those ogres did harm in Japan and took inhabitants, Momotarō decided to save this country and people living in this country. In Momotarō’s Sea Eagles, the naval unit, which included captain Momotarō and animals, attacked the demons at the island of Onigashima. Even though both the original story and the film focused on fighting together for a common goal, the film was based on a real historical event, attack on Pearl Harbor. That is to say, the onigashima represented America. On the contrary, the original story wasn’t a dramatization from other stories so the Ogres Island was not relevant to other places. 


Pearl Harbor in Mitsuyo Seo’s version 

           Other than the differences of main themes of each story, the time that each story took in were different. The time period when the film was made was wartime. Therefore, the film had a real life context. The movie Momotarō’s Sea Eagles and Tsuchimoto’s film Minamata have historical background (World War II) and both of them imply an antiwar message. They include the description of World War II time period since they want to inform that because of war, people lost their families and were suffering a lot. The purpose of having some real life contexts in the film was to get audiences’ attention and educate young generation about historical events. On the contrary, the time when the original story took place was a while a while ago, when there was nothing special happened. Under that circumstance, readers didn’t get the feeling that the story happened with a historical background that they were familiar with.

            Furthermore, the film Momotarō’s Sea Eagles obtained some elements that were from intertextuality. For instance, there was a rabbit semaphores scene. A rabbit used its ears to send semaphores information. In other stories, including the original story, animals also had specific skills that they could use during the battle. Besides, there was also a scene in which those monkeys were lined up and this showed that monkeys were agile. In other stories, monkeys always gave audience an impression that they were flexible and were good at jumping up.


This bunny uses its ears to send semaphores information


Monkeys line up to perform teamwork

             In the film Momotarō’s Sea Eagles, there were definitely some subjects that were extracted from the original folktales. For example, in original story, “team work” was expressed through the relationship between Momotarō and his animal friends and through the fight between them and ogres. When Momotarō first time met the dog, the dog was about to eat Momotarō’s food, but after knowing that Momotarō was travelling for the sake of this country, he decided to follow Momotarō and help him to fight demons. And then, Momotarō met monkey and pheasant in a similar situation and they built up a team. Until this point, all of them had a common goal, which is to conquer the Ogres Island. After Momotarō and his friends finally made to Ogres Island, “ogres though that the enemy consisted of a single pheasant, but when the other two animals came suddenly leaping in, the ogres fought desperately to drive them out.” (36) This description also showed that how Momotarō and three animals performed the teamwork. In the film, the “teamwork” was also considered as the very important subject. At the beginning of the movie, those animals were playing around. However, after receiving the captain (Momotarō)’s order, they got together and lined up immediately. Besides, during the battle, when Momotarō asked them to fire the bombs, they all did what they were asked to. This portrays how the idea of teamwork was expressed in the movie.

            Other than that, the subject of “homeland” had been extracted as well. In the original story, an old lady and an old man raised Momotarō up. Though Momotarō didn’t have parents, for him, the old lady and old man were his parents. Therefore, when he decided to leave home and go to the Ogres Island, he promised that he would come back. As he promised, after he beat all ogres and got treasure back, he returned home. “The old man and old women had been waiting anxiously for Peach-Boy’s return, and their joy needs no description!”(39) This shows that in traditional Japanese folktale, the subject of “homeland” was always one of the main themes in story setting. In the movie, the elements of parents had been removed and Momotarō’s family background was not portrayed either. But, the subject of “homeland” was still able to seen in the movie. After Momotarō and his animal friends had finally beat demons from the island of onigashima, they started to get back home. In the audiences’ viewpoint, the homefront can be considered as the variation of home.

            One more important element that was extracted from the original Momotarō’s story was the consumption of food. In original Momotarō’s story, the millet dumplings played an important role. They connected three animals with Momotarō together. When Momotarō first met the dog, in the beginning, the dog wanted to grab the millet dumplings and threaten Momotarō away. However, after the dog felt the august of Momotarō, he started to be willing to follow Momotarō. Then, Momotarō gave the dog half of his millet dumpling. Later when Momotarō met other two animals, he gave them half of millet dumplings as well. In this story, the millet dumplings work as the unifier, which formed a community between Momotarō and three animals. The dumplings could be considered as payment that Momotarō offered three animals in exchange of their assistance. In the film Momotarō’s Sea Eagles, the millet dumplings appeared but for different uses. In the movie, when two animals were consuming the millet dumplings, food was portrayed as war rations. Differently, for the same element food, in Tsuchimoto’s film Minamata, the food wasn’t showed as a positive element. It was the tainted food that causes the Minamata disease. Food was portrayed as a negative element.


Food was portrayed as war rations.

         In Iwaya Sazanami’s rendition of Momotarō’s story, the film Momotarō’s Sea Eagles and some other films, texts and illustrations, some themes, elements that were similar. For example, how Momotarō got his authority, and how he developed his leadership. At the same time, there were some variations of themes and elements in different texts and medias such as the use of food, the time period, and the setting of each story. After the original Momotarō’s story had been depicted through different mediums, the different versions of Momotarō stories, used their own ways to convey variety of meanings, which make readers and audiences to think about.

The Gourmet Club and the Idea of “Exoticism”

            The Gourmet Club by Junichiro Tanizaki is a story about a specific club called “the gourmet club.” In this club, a group of food-driven individuals get together at a mansion owned by a Count, and explore delicious food from other countries they have never had before. In this story, Junichiro Tanizaki connects food with human being’s sense; uses confusion and conflation to dramatize the idea of “exoticism.”

            Junichiro Tanizaki uses the connection between Chinese food and the sense for Chinese music to describe the desire that the Count has for Chinese food. There is a scene about the Count hears the Chinese music and all of a sudden, the music reminds him of Chinese food. Junichiro describes, “When the music quickened, the strings emitting a harsh sound like a young girl singing at the top of her lungs, it made the Count think somehow of the bright red color and the sharp, strong flavor of dragon fish guts. And when suddenly the melody became full, rounded, and plaintive like a voice that is thick with tears, he thought of a rich broth of braised sea cucumbers, so full-flavored that each mouthful keeps permeating one’s taste buds to their very roots.” (109) In this scene, in order to describe Count’s desire of consuming exoticism food, Junichiro Tanizaki establishes the relationship between the sense of music and Chinese food. The Chinese music that the Count is listening to makes him to think about Chinese food he had before. When the music changes, the imagination about food that the Count has changes as well.  Junichiro Tanizaki connects the rhythm of music and the color of food such as “harsh sound” with “bright-colored dragonfish guts”; “full, round music” with “full-flavored sea cucumbers” to imply that at this moment, the Count wants to consume Chinese food even by listening to the music. In this scene, Tanizaki draws readers’ attention by connecting the sense people have for music and the experience people have for consuming food.

            Then, Junichiro Tanizaki connects the food flavor with one part of human bodies to describe the experience about consuming food that a man called A. has. There is a scene about a woman sticks her finger to A.’s mouth and it makes A. feel like he is experiencing food. Junichiro describes, “Yes, it definitely tastes like bam-and in particular, Chinese-style bam. To confirm this judgment, A. concentrated his sense of taste still more fully in the tip of his tongue and kept on licking and sucking persistently at those fingers.” (135) In this scene, in order to describe A.’s experience of consuming exoticism food, Junichiro Tanizaki makes the connection between The Chinese food and the taste of fingers in A.’s mouth. In this scene, the comparison between eating and feeling for human bodies that have been implied more directly and it gives readers a very detailed experience of eating Chinese food and the exact feeling of having exoticism food. Here, Junichiro Tanizaki uses another example of confusion and conflation to dramatize the idea of “exoticism”

            In the Gourmet Club, Junichiro Tanizaki tells a story about a group people experience the food they have never had before, uses visual techniques to describe Chinese food, connects the Chinese food and the sense that from human bodies, and inserts the confusion and conflation to imply the experience of exoticism.


Junichiro Tanisaki (1919). The Gourmet Club.

The Relationship between Food and People

            Spirited away, a Japanese animated film, is written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki in 2001. It is about a ten-year-old girl Chihiro, who goes travel with her parents, but accidentally enters in a magical world where Chihiro’s parents insist going. In this magical world, Chihiro’s parents turn into pigs after eating the food there and Chiriho is trapped in this magical world. In order to save her parents and go back to her regular life, Chiriho decides to begin her own adventure. She starts to work in a bathhouse and gets to know other workers who are monsters, witches and animals. In Spirited away, one of the main themes is the relationship between those main characters, and, the distribution of food plays an important role in how relationships are formed and maintained.


Caption: When Chihiro’s father enters in the magical world, he is starving and when he sees the food in front of him, he starts to eat all of them without listening to Chihiro’s advice. After that, both him and his wife turn into glutton pigs.

            Argument: In this scene, the delicious food that Chihiro’s parents are eating symbolizes temptation people would meet in their lives. Chihiro’s parents fall into temptation and not be able to take any advice shows the fact that in real lives, people often pay attention to those things they are interested in but ignore other people’s thoughts and ideas. In this movie, when Chihiro and her parents enter in this magical world, Chihiro suspicious of everything around includes the food. She tells her parents not to eat but her parents refuse to take Chihiro’s suggestion. At that point, Chihiro’s parents are falling into their temptation, which is the delicious food. If Chihiro’s parents could listen to Chihiro’s advice and not eating the food, they would not have become pigs. In this caption, food represents people’s desires and hope. In real world, during the process to fulfill their needs and desires, people sometimes neglect other people’s opinions and ideas and because of this, they might make mistakes.


Caption: People who works at bathhouse are falling over themselves to serve No-face since No face has plenty of gold to buy food. They provide different kinds of food and all of them look very well cooked.

           Argument: In this scene, the expression on those bathhouse workers shows that they seek for gold from No-face. In order to reach their goals, they are willing to give No-face the best food and the best service. At the same time, in order to get good food, No-face uses money to attract bathhouse workers. The relationship between bathhouse workers and No-face reflects one kind of relationship in real lives, which is people sometimes take advantage of other people in order to get what they want and need. The food in this scene can be seen as either the dreams that people pursue or the method that people use to get what they want.


Caption: Haku takes Chihiro to see her parents who have already turned into two pigs, and then he gives Chihiro magical onigiri (Japanese rice ball) to make sure that Chihiro won’t disappear in spirit world. Thinking about those things that have happened to her, Chihiro starts to cry.

            Argument: In this scene, Haku is comforting Chihiro by giving her home-style food, onigiri. Knowing that Chihiro is helpless and despairing, Haku uses food to calm her down and to cheer her up. Onigiri is very popular in Japan and is available from any convenience store. Onigiri represents a kind of comfort food and this becomes one of the reasons that Haku chooses to give Chiriho onigiris because Haku wants to make Chihiro feel like she is at home. The relationship between Haku and Chihiro is simple but very touching. Haku wants to help Chihiro and Chihiro accepts Haku’s kindness. This kind of relationship also reflects one of the most common relationships in real world. It shows the fact that people can’t live without other people’s help. In this scene, food becomes a tool that connects Haku and Chihiro. In real world, people do need tools to communicate with each other and to express their feelings.

            In Spirited away, those monsters, witches, and animals live together and interact with each other in this small magical world. The magical world can be seen as the miniature of society. Those different relationships, which are shown in this magical world, can also reflect relationships that people have in real world. In real world, people help each other and rely on each other, however, sometimes, for their own sake, people ignore someone who really cares about them, and sometimes people take advantage of others. By using different kinds of food, Hayao Miyazaki interprets different kinds of relationships and how they are formed and maintained.

Do you know the right way to eat Ramen?

Tampopo, a Japanese movie directed by Juzo Itami, is about a single mother tampopo who runs a ramen restaurant but is struggling with its business. One day, tampopo meets a guy called Goro, and Goro figures out that the reason why tampopo’s ramen isn’t very popular is because the taste of ramen is bad. With Goro’s help, tampopo starts to learn how to make decent ramen in order to gain her customers back. In this movie, Juzo Itami uses food as the main theme, as well as uses lots of characters with different personalities, talks about the relationship between food and people. Other than that, he also wants the audience to pay attention to Japanese food customs in this movie. Therefore, Juzo Itami inserts some little details about ramen eating customs and uses those details to show that Japan is a country that emphasizes on keeping their good customs.


In the beginning of this movie, there is a scene which is hilarious but catches everyone’s eyes. A guy is reading a book and the book is about how to eat ramen.  The “right way” to eat ramen almost makes everyone laugh. Even though the “right way” to eat ramen sounds silly, it not only reflects the Japanese eating custom, but also reflects one of the Japanese traditions, which is to show respect to the food and to the people whoever cook the food. According to some other Japanese eating customs, for example, before Japanese eat their meals, they always say “いただきます” (I am about to eat the food in front of me) to show the gratitude for the food they about to eat and after they are done, they say “ごちそうさまでした”(It was a feast), which is another phrase of appreciation, means that it has been a feast whether the food was really a feast or not matters little.



In this scene, those people are doing the same thing, drinking up their ramen soup. When Japanese people eat ramen, they usually finish their soup because they they think that the soup represents the best part of ramen. Furthermore, they want to show respect to people who make their ramen and this action also shows that they don’t waste food.

Other than the specific ramen eating style, in Japanese tea ceremony and Japanese art of flower arrangement, both of two activities have specific ways to performance. In Japanese tea ceremony, the aim is to forget all disturbing thoughts and respect the relationship between the hosts and the guests.  During the processes of both Japanese tea ceremony and flower arrangement, each action looks simple but when people connect a series of actions together, these actions seem long and complicated, but they also represents that Japanese never give up keeping their good customs and aim to spread good customs all over the world. Besides, they also want their young generations to know more about Japanese customs, traditions, and cultures through different kinds of activities.

Tampopo is not only a comedy, but also teaches people certain kinds of things about food as well as food customs. The director Juzo Itami wants everyone who has watched this movie to know more about Japan, Japanese people and Japanese traditions. By introducing the way to eat ramen, Juzo Itami also wants to tell people that Japan is a country that never stops working on keeping good customs.