Author Archives: touminnn

Literary Analysis: Thingification with food

In the Factory Ship by Kobayashi Takiji, the ship hands, fishermen and all the workers are all dehumanized to work like machines and tools. They all struggle to survive with the terrible treatment and living conditions, and the torment and verbal/physical abuse mainly from Asakawa. The story uses a lot of sensory details and metaphors to describe how the condition is to help us understand or maybe even feel how the situation at each scene was, mainly with food.

            The way food was used most commonly was in scenes where they were describing particular smells and visuals. Oyster’s slimy and bouncy surface was used to describe an ill fisherman’s bleated eyes. A Crab’s bright red color was used to describe the men’s freezing hands and face. By using these types of similes to describe the men, the men are also somewhat reduced to objects for the use of the executives, emperor, and company for their own benefits and profits. Their labor, lives, energy, and hard work are drained by how they work nonstop, only to be consumed as a resource to be taken advantage of. Since they are described with food, they themselves are might as well be considered food eaten by the authorities.

            Not just by how they are use similes within the story, they are also described octopuses because of their conditions of how they would “eat their own limbs (if they could) in order to survive”. This describes Japan from the current period very well because of all the workers (including farmers, miners, etc…) and their struggles to get money, which are stripped from the higher-ups. A little different from how the ship workers are described, Asakawa also directly addresses everyone on the ship as pigs.

And though the factory ship was a ship to capture and fish a lot of crabs for profit, there was only little talk of crabs. The only times crabs were mentioned were when there were empty broken shells on the deck, when they were canned to be shipped, or the juices that splashed on the men everyday, causing their stench and body odor to get worse by the day. Which leads to the lice and the fleas. Instead of the crabs being the stock (for food), it is almost as if the men are treated as livestock for profit on a farm. The situation where they are only allowed to bathe twice a month and for them to live with fleas and lice also hints animal qualities at a farm.

By the hints and treatment like animals within the story, Takiji shows how the men are considered possessions for whom they work. Not human workers, but they are “thingified” to be livestock, and their resources to be consumed and eaten by their owners as food. Maybe even worse than livestock since they are not even fed properly, but to be used as machines that work without rest, and not cared for (or abused) when ill or injured.

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Screen Shot: The apprentice and The perfect housewife

Itami Juzou’s ”Tampopo” has various scenes within the main scenario of Tampopo working on her restaurant with Goro.  It first might be hard to tell which scene is the most important in the movie because there are many varieties of scenes, each with their own importance that Itami included for the sake of symbolizing Japan and its current events.

For me, this scene is where Tampopo asks Goro to make her his apprentice is the most important for various reasons such as gender neutralizing, main plot, and showing how ramen is a big deal. Despite how it’s status was falling during the time.

I would also like to note that Tampopo says she would like to be Goros “apprentice” or 弟子 (deshi).  The official translation in the movie says that she would like Goro to teach her instead, which I found there was an important aspect lost within the language barrier. It’s very rare to find a woman who is willing to work as an apprentice since it’s the norm for a woman to be a housewife. Tampopo herself says “Meeting you two made me want to make the ramen shop serious (direct translation)”.

This does not mean she was taking her husband’s job as a joke, but she wanted to turn it into a success and with high quality and standards. While doing this, Itami also pushes the complexity of ramen, to say it is not just a low level street food.  Usually apprenticeship is common in high quality, pure foods like sushi or even tofu. Sword making, dying, kimono making, tea, and pottery can also be put at the same level in terms of respected jobs where there are experts called “職人(shokunin)”. Itami was giving the work of making ramen a high status where there is an expert, which also says that these skills cannot be obtained without practice and diligence. It’s interesting also when Goro checks Tampopo for the first time and he mentions all these details like looking at the customers and checking their actions (seeing the soup is hot, their condition at the time, hunger). These details he mentions at the time can help the watchers notice that even ramen is complex or profound. (? -> 奥が深い)

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Whilst all this serious business and asking for apprenticeship to Goro, Tampopo also shows a womanly side by saying that she will have her pickles ready for them when ever they desire. Shows how much of a perfect housewife she is doesn’t it? It’s customary in Japan, in a societal sense, where woman should have food warm and ready for their husband when they come home. In a sense it becomes a man’s status/dream to have a loving wife with food and bath ready after a day’s hard work, though this is very stereotypical. But this scene shows all in once, the womanly housewife, a serious woman willing to become an apprentice for ramen (ramen is also pretty masculine),  a man that succumbs to the desire of warm good food made by a woman(Can also consider the aspect of “taste of mother “or お袋の味), while also raising the status of ramen and showing it’s complexity.