Author Archives: Yujie J.

Chinese Cultural Forms in The Gourmet Club: Creating Curiosity and Pleasure From Unfamiliarity

By integrating Chinese cultural forms in the description of the exotic feeling that the Chinese cuisine gives in the story, Tanizaki Junichirō seemingly make the image of Chinese cultural images more vivid, but indeed not explaining the Chinese cultural images. This way, the sense of exoticism is amplified, and the hazy aesthetics of exoticism is created.

When Count G searches for the source of the good smell he detected on the street, “a whiff of shao-hsing rice wine reached his nostrils”. By specifically calling out shao-hsing rice wine instead of just some kind of Chinese rice wine, Tanizaki Junichiro creates the beauty of exoticism: it makes readers imagine how the wine smells like, and what makes it so interesting to Count G. Without further describing or introducing shao-hsing rice wine, a mysterious aesthetics is created. The shao-hsing rice wine is later mentioned again when Count G. was exploring inside of the CheChiang Hall, when he saw “one of the diners stood up and raised a cup of shao-hsing rice wine”. The repeated mention of shao-hsing rice wine intensifies its existence, drawing attention to it. However, Junichiro did not spend any words explaining the true identity of this mysterious supposedly delicious wine, and therefore creating a mysteriousness.

Similar methods are found throughout the passage. “Scenic beauty on the banks of Western Lake, framed in the poetry of Po Lo-t’ien and Su Tung-p’o” references to classical Chinese poets by their names without further explaining who they are or what their master works are. “Pork belly cooked in soy a la Tung-p’o” excites readers’ imagination on what “a la Tung-p’o” could possibly be, as it seems to be some kind of Chinese cooking sauce. “Tea from cups made in Ching-te-chen” reminds readers of some distinct mysterious Chinese town that makes fine china cups without visually giving readers an image to think about. All these mentions of classical Chinese cultural forms all together create a veil between readers and the Chinese culture, and therefore amplifying the sense of exoticism, creating a beauty of unfamiliarity .

Different from all other mentions of Chinese cultural forms, the mention of “Bok Choi” takes the aesthetics to another level. At first, the cabbages are falsely described as a woman’s fingers, then after erotic description of A.’s experience, the “fingers” are revealed to be Chinese cabbages. It’s not until even later that the traditional Chinese name for Chinese cabbage, “Bok Choi” is used to substitute the mere vocabulary of “Chinese cabbage”. By revealing the identity of Bok Choi gradually, the erotic pleasure of A. is intensified bit by bit, and by the time that the word “Bok Choi” is used, a vivid, eerie yet fantastic image of a normal Chinese cabbage has been established. By giving Bok Choi specifically a vivid image, Tanizaki Junichirō seemingly gives readers an insight of Chinese culture. However, since the actual taste of Bok Choi is still not described in the passage, the pleasure and aesthetics of exoticism is still achieved.

By integrating Chinese cultural forms in the story, Tanizaki Junichirō vaguely gives out Chinese culture images without further explanation.  This creates a beauty of unfamiliarity and exoticism, and thus evokes readers’ excitement and erotic pleasure resulted from the sense of unfamiliarity and exoticism.

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Works Directly And Indirectly Referencing The Story of Momotaro: How Folk Tales Are Manipulated For Achieving Different Goals

Momotaro, the Peach Boy, is a famous traditional teenage warrior figure in Japanese culture. His story depicts Momotaro, a divine creature who jumped out from a big peach found by an old lady, goes to fight the Ogres(Oni’s) with the help of his dog, monkey and pheasant fellows that he gathered along the way. In the end of the story, Momotaro returns with victory. The story of Momotaro is ubiquitously famous in Japan, and because of the popularity of Momotaro’s story, the image of Momotaro has been integrated, directly and indirectly, into various works. By comparing the animated film Momotaro’s Sea Eagles and the documentary film Minamata: The Victims and Their World to the national version of Momotaro’s story written by Iwaya Sazanami, we can understand how folk tales can be manipulated to serve different political purposes by making audiences gain empathy toward the issues in discussion, and therefore gaining support and agreement from the audiences. Specifically, The folkloric characteristics of the story of Momotaro, such as ambiguous time period,  ambiguous identity of characters, and inevitability of the presence of food and thus the impact of food, are important aspects for achieving this goal.

As a folkloric story, Momotaro doesn’t happen at a specific historical time; instead it is presented to happen merely “very, very long ago”. Even though this lack of specific time was certainly unintentional when the story was created, however, thanks to this ambiguity in time, later works can fit the Momotaro motif into any time period. In Momotaro’s Sea Eagles, the story of Momotaro is fitted into the time period of World War II – more specifically, the Pearl Harbor Attack. By fitting in the Momotaro figure straightly into the animation, audience is tricked to think that since the battle of Momotaro is a glorious battle, then the battle in the animation, directly featuring Momotaro as the leader of the army, is also a glorious battle. The ambiguous identity of characters also play a role, enabling the anime makers to transform the small army into a large national army, while changing Momotaro’s image from a chunky, friendly boy to a solemn political leader. Because of the ambiguity of the characters’ identity in the original folk story, nobody would question the new enforced identities presented in the animation. Though the identity of the enemies, or the Oni’s, remain obscure, there are bold images and descriptions that indicate the enemy to be United States. For example, the enemy’s flag consists of stripes and stars on the left upper corner, which is incredibly similar to the national flag of United States; the enemy soldiers are all white figures, resembling Caucasian race; even the image of the island and the battleships are strikingly similar to Pearl Harbor and the ships there. What’s more, there are lines, such as “Blue demon, red demon, chase them all”, describing the American soldiers as the evil Oni’s, while

Scene in which the background music sings the line "Blue demon, red demon, chase them all".

Scene in which the background music sings the line “Blue demon, red demon, chase them all”.

promoting how righteous Momotaro and his army are. By directly putting Momotaro’s story in the World War II setting, Momotaro’s Sea Eagles serves as a propaganda, educating Japanese citizens that the attack of Japan on Pearl Harbor is a righteous act.

Minamata the documentary movie, on the other side, fits the Momotaro motif indirectly into the time period in which Minamata disease wreaked havoc. In the movie, though none of the explicit Momotaro figure, the dog, monkey and pheasant soldiers are present, the spirit of the Momotaro story is subtly integrated, as the victims of Minamata gathers and goes on a quest fighting against the Chisso Corporation, the company whose factory mercury release contaminated food. The united victims resemble Momotaro and his army, and the Chisso Corporation resembles the Oni’s. A part of the movie records how victims go on a march to where Chisso Corporation locates, protesting and fighting for a responsible solution. This march represents the journey Momotaro has, and his fighting against the Oni’s in Sazanami’s Momotaro story. In fact, the Chisso Corporation is directly associated with the Oni’s, as one speaker during the march announces: “We have arrived in the land where the blue and red ogres dwell”. However, in Minamata, the allusion to Momotaro is not a filming technique, nor a technique for creating political propaganda, but a real-life application of the story since the film is a documentary. By making allusion to Momotaro’s story, the victims of the Minamata gain tremendous empathy and support from bystanders who are of course very familiar with the story of Momotaro, and these bystanders then join the march, or the “army of Momotaro”, to keep on fighting. In conclusion, by fitting the motif of Momotaro into different historical time periods and onto different characters and persons, different goals can be achieved, depending on the issue in discussion.

Other than the ambiguity in time and identity of characters, the ubiquitous presence of food in stories also show how folk stories, the story of Momotaro in this case, can be manipulated. First of all, food exists in every story. No matter if it’s a folk tale, a prose, or any other genre, as long as there is a storyline, there exists food. The ubiquitous existence of food makes the impact of food tremendously important in all stories. In this case, food serves as a power that unites people in all three stories.

Food in both Sazanami’s Momotaro story and the Momotaro’s Sea Eagles unite people by giving them strength, faith and making them loyal to Momotaro. In both stories, the millet dumplings are the food Momotaro gives to his animal fellows. In Sazanami’s Momotaro story, by sharing millet dumplings, Momotaro makes friends with dog, monkey and pheasant, and he resolves conflicts between them using millet dumplings as well. By using millet dumplings, Momotaro is able to create his small army, with his fellows respecting and admiring him, willing to fight for him. In Momotaro’s Sea Eagles, millet dumplings also serve similar purpose, uniting the army together as Momotaro’s soldiers.

However, the detailed indication of food is different between the Sazanami’s Momotaro story and the Momotaro’s Sea Eagles. In Sazanami’s Momotaro story, millet dumplings build a rather intimate connection – friendship, and loyalty due to admiration and respect. The monkey, the dog, and the pheasant and Momotaro are more like brothers than merely a political leader and followers, in the sense that they develop intimate relationship with each other, and the animals all respect Momotaro. Millet dumplings also resemble kinship in Sazanami’s story: when Momotaro is leaving home, the Old Man and the Old Woman, who take care of Momotaro as parents, carefully prepare the millet dumplings for Momotaro.This symbolistically indicates that the millet dumplings contain the power of love, and that’s why the millet dumplings can have such a cohesive force that binds the fellows together. With the power of love and kinship coming from the millet dumplings, Momotaro and the animal fellows become brothers and fight together. This brother-like relationship between the dog, the monkey and the pheasant is carried on in Momotaro’s Sea Eagle, however with a new layer of meaning and indication, as the millet dumplings also posses a new layer of meaning. In Momotaro’s Sea Eagle, the soldiers are also united by the millet dumplings like brothers, but not brothers in an intimate way, but rather in the sense that they are all sons of Japan, the motherland, and they all fight for their motherland patriotically. Instead of showing kinship and friendship, the millet dumplings in the animation represents nationalism, which is the power that ties all the soldiers of the army

A monkey soldier happily eats a millet dumpling ration

A monkey soldier happily eats a millet dumpling ration

together. What’s more, the millet dumplings shows great literal dietary support, contrasting with the terrible diets of the enemy: the army of Momotaro is energetic, passionate and brave eating the millet dumplings, while the enemies, drinking alcohol, are sluggish and cowardly, only able to run away. In one scene, a monkey soldier becomes ultra-muscular after eating millet dumplings – the allusion of Popeye the Sailor here is integrated to exaggerate the literal dietary power of millet dumplings. Meanwhile, one captain from the enemy side is

A drunk, fat enemy general struggling on the ground, but unable to get up and run. There are alcohol bottles scattering around him on the ground.

A drunk, fat enemy general struggling on the ground, but unable to get up and run. There are alcohol bottles scattering around him on the ground.

presented to be obese and drunk, unable to get up from the floor, with several alcohol bottles lying by him, indicating his drunkenness, and thus reflecting on the terrible diets of the enemy’s army. By giving a contrast between the diets of the two sides, Momotaro’s Sea Eagle advocates Japan as the righteous side while bashing the Oni’s – United States, in this case.

While food positively unite people together in both stories that directly reference to Momotaro, food, or contaminated food in specific, unites people negatively in Minamata: The Victims and Their World: victims suffered from Minamata disease the contaminated food unite to fight against Chisso Corporation. Even though food in Minamata is a negative factor, it still unites the protagonists in the story just like millet dumplings unite protagonists in the other two stories, and the protagonists go on a quest fighting against the “evil Ogres”.

With the national version of Momotaro’s story by Iwaya Sazanami as an original story to refer to, the animated video Momotaro’s Sea Eagles, and the documentary film Minamata: The Victims and Their World both manipulates the story of Momotaro by playing with the ambiguity of time and characters, and inevitability of the presence of food and thus the impact of food as a uniting power. By playing with these characteristics of the story of Momotaro, folk tales – not just the story of Momotaro, but all folk tales in general – can be manipulated to serve different purposes by making audiences gain empathy toward the issues in discussion, and therefore gaining support and agreement from the audiences.

Spirited Away: Different sides of Food

In Spirited Away, Chihiro, a ten-year-old girl, learns to grow up while working in the Bath House in the spiritual world after her parents turn into pigs. There, Chihiro survives the materialism, and helps kind-hearted dragon called Haku and an identity-less creature called No-face to gain salvation. In the end, Chihiro saves her parents and returns to the normal world. In this movie, the literal image of food are taken deeper with symbolic meanings to imply growing up, materialism with negative effects, and salvation. These presentations of food, all together, shows that normal things like food, have different sides.

Chihiro eating Onigiri that Haku gives her rapidly, while she begins to cry.

Chihiro eating Onigiri that Haku gives her rapidly, while she begins to cry.

First of all, food implies growing up and adaption into new environment. As Haku said before to the workers of the Bath House, Chihiro’s human smell will go away in three days as long as she eats the food in this world. This symbolizes Chihiro’s acclimation to the new world. This implication is later presented in detail, as Chihiro eats the Onigiri from Haku. At first Chihiro was afraid to eat the Onigiri, symbolizing her unwillingness to grow up. Under the encouragement of Haku, Chihiro then takes a small bite, symbolizing her first try on becoming braver. After that Chihiro speeds up and chews big bites while crying because she now realizes that she’s on her own now, without parents to rely on. Through eating the Onigiri, Chihiro realizes that she is the one who needs to take the responsibility to save her parents and to help herself return home, and thus Chihiro becomes a more independent person.

No-face, swelled because of the excess food he intakes, leans forward toward Chihiro, trying to get attention and care from her. At the same time, Chihiro remains calm and seated, unwilling to take anything that No-face offers.

No-face, swelled because of the excess food he intakes, leans forward toward Chihiro, trying to get attention and care from her. At the same time, Chihiro remains calm and seated, unwilling to take anything that No-face offers.

Food in the movie implies money, or materialism: No-face originally has no identity, and he learns from things happening around him. In other words, No-face is just a mirror that reflects the society, or the Bath House specifically. While he is in the Bath House, No-face learns materialism from the workers in the Bath House, and begins to get attention using “gold”. At this stage, food to No-face is like money to the workers at Bath House, and it symbolizes materialism in the Bath House. Just like workers at Bath House has no limit of their greed toward gold, No-face grows to become extremely greedy for food. He gulps tons of dishes, and even workers of the Bath House, but his appetite can’t be satisfied. This is not because No-face really has infinite appetite for food, but because his true intention cannot be recognized and satisfied. In the end, what No-face really wants is just love and care – he even yells out “I feel lonely” when he faces Chihiro. This is also why No-face gets so angry when Chihiro refuses to take gold from No-face: Chihiro, the only one who truly cared about No-face, denied No-face’s material success. This implies that materialism cannot bring the true happiness. All the temporary satisfaction that materialism brings will vanish, since materials can only give superficial pleasure but cannot enrich people’s inner-self. This implication is revealed in the movie later, as No-face throws up all the food he engulfed, while the “gold” he gave to the workers all turns into dirt.

Chihiro forces the magical cake into Haku's mouth, trying to save his life.

Chihiro forces the magical cake into Haku’s mouth, trying to save his life.

Another aspect of food presented in the movie is salvation. This aspect is presented with the magic cake. Chihiro uses half of the magic cake to save Haku’s life. Haku doesn’t just tamely accept the magic cake, instead he is forced by Chihiro to open up his mouth and swallow the cake. This shows that salvation doesn’t come without struggles. By eating the magic cake, Haku doesn’t only come back to life from the curse of Seniba, but even breaks free from Yubaba’s spell that imprisons him from leaving her or disobeying her. The salvation Haku really gains isn’t his life, but rather his freedom – he is now finally free from Yubaba’s control, and he is free from the sins he unintentionally committed under Yubaba’s control. On the other hand, Chihiro uses the other half of the magic cake to save No-face from the greed and materialism he learned in the Bath House. As No-face throws up the filthy content in his body, his mind and heart is cleaned up as well. No-face gains salvation from the materialistic contamination in his heart.

In Spirited Away, food, a very normal everyday type of object, is presented to imply growing up, materialism, and salvation. Taking all parts together, Miyazaki shows to audience that even normal objects like food also have both positive and negative sides.

The New Tampopo Ramen Shop: Symbol of The Spirit of Japanese Reform

In my opinion, the scene in which Tampopo’s new ramen shop opens up is the most important scene in the whole movie, not only because it presents the achievement of Tampopo with the help of Goro and his friends, but also because it implies the spirit of Japanese reform under Western influence: accepting the Western culture, but keeping the Japanese essential, and developing Japan’s own unique hybrid culture.

The scene starts with a low-angle shot of Tampopo’s Ramen shop’s building, with a dandelion painted on the white wall. The Ramen shop is in fact just a two-story or three-story bungalow, however the long-angle shot makes it appear larger like a mansion, which indicates the new status of the ramen shop – it’s no longer just a run-down restaurant, but a new unique shop that will attract customers.

Then the camera shifts to Goro and his friends who helped Tampopo, being fascinated by the new appearance of the shop. The low-angle close-up here depicts their expression very well, and shows how incredible the new building looks to them as their mouths open, making “wow” sounds.

Tampopo in her new restaurant

Tampopo in her new restaurant

The fellows cheer and enter the shop, and Tampopo, the heroine in the movie, becomes the center of attention. As the screenshot shows, aside from Tampopo’s new attire, the entire shop is refurnished into a western style. The wall is now white, with clear glass skylight. All the bowls and plates are changed into white, and the counter and chairs are changed to a modern western style. A clear glass jar with fresh flowers and a modern-styled telephone are put on the modern counter. Pots and pans are now hanged orderly at back wall, and even the seasoning jars are switched to modern-styled glass ones. Together with Tampopo’s master chef attire, the new Tampopo Ramen shop looks like – instead of a traditional cheap Japanese ramen shop – an high-class and expensive Italian Restaurant.

And this is where the spirit of Japanese reform comes in. Tampopo has accepted the new changes that makes her shop better, including making the shop modern and western-styled. However, the essential of the restaurant is still ramen, the old, “ordinary” Japanese food. This spirit is expressed more explicitly as Tampopo goes out of the restaurant and hangs her old “RAMEN” label onto the white western-styled front door.

In the first half of the scene as the fellows are visiting Tampopo before the shop opens, an elegant waltz melody is played in the background, which creates a cheerful and light-hearted atmosphere. Then as customers begin to flow inside, the melody changes to a somewhat symphony-like style then variates into the theme melody of the movie, which shows that the goal of the story has been accomplished, and this is the happy finale of the story. As Goro steps out of the restaurant, he sees a line forming for the restaurant, and the line consists of people from different class: students, office workers, foreign businessmen, builders… This mise-en-scene not only shows the success of Tampopo’s restaurant, but also represents the success of Japanese reform: creating their own hybrid culture, and making it attractive and accessible to people from all parts of the society around the world.