In the novel My Year of Meats, written by Ruth Ozeki, it follows the lives of Jane Takagi-Little and Akiko Ueno as they experience a cultural clash with American culture through the reality TV show My American Wife. The novel follows the lives of the two women in different viewpoints; Jane’s life is seen in first person while Akiko’s is viewed in third person. By choosing to use different perspectives Ozeki allows us to see what occurs on both sides of the camera and the change of “Americanizing” Japan.
“Meat is the Message”, a simple quote from Jane’s pitch for My American Wife yet perfect in explaining the purpose behind the show; to raise the interest of meat in the Japanese public in hopes of increasing sales (8). The show is created in From following Jane’s journey with the filming crew, traveling across America to find a new housewife every week to film, we see Jane having conflicting feelings of how they are “bending the truth” for their show. How for the sake of the shows reputation they twist the truth to the point where it makes Jane “sick” (29). Although the story repeatedly tells us how Jane feels about lying, she is forced to keep doing it as part of her job because of her responsibilities towards BEEF-EX.
Ozeki uses Akiko as a way to represent the housewife target audience of the show My American Wife and shows us the “Americanization” through the changes in her life. For example, her husband Joichi is shown to be quite fond of anything having to be American as he changes his name to a name he considers more modern, “John”. By using Akiko and “John’s” relationship, Ozeki is showing us a representation of the cultural change from the older Japanese ideas to the more modern one today. How as Akiko, representing the older heritage of Japan, is struggling to deal with all of the new ideas and changes that her husband, representing the more modern American ideas, pushes on to her. From working on the show My American Wife “John” is shown to be becoming more American with each episode: he drinks Remy Martins instead of tea like his wife, he uses American quotes like “Kill two birds with one stone”, and he forces Akiko to use meat in all of her cooking. As the story progresses on Akiko is shown to be having increasing difficulty following “John’s” plans as she becomes weaker from being unable to properly ingest the meat “John” makes her cook. Akiko’s increased weakness with the stories progression is a symbolism of the old Japanese culture weakening, or even slowly dying out.
Ozeki portrayal of Akiko and her husband is a representation of how the new modern American ideas are replacing the old Japanese culture.
“My Year of Meats” by Ruth Ozeki follows three women—Jane, Akiko, and Suzie— through the production of My American Wife, a television documentary series. The show is sponsored by BEEF-EX and is designed to interest Japanese housewives in cooking with beef products. Jane is the strong-headed Japanese-American coordinator of the show, Akiko is the Japanese bulimic wife of the head producer, and Suzie is the American star of one of the episodes. Ozeki uses lists throughout the text to link the stories of these women and show the differences in their lifestyles.
2 kilograms American beef (rump roast)
1 can Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup
1 package Lipton’s Powdered Onion Soup
1.5 liters Coca-Cola (not Pepsi, please!) (19)
This is Suzie Flowers’ list of ingredients for the Rump Roast she is to make on her episode of My American Wife. The measurements are big and simple, 1 can of this and 1 package of that. The ingredients are also big and simple. “Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup” is one ingredient that can actually be broken down much farther into a compilation of ingredients. However if Campbell’s does not make the soup then Suzie’s recipe is no longer simple. This list demonstrates Suzie’s limited interpretation of things. Suzie says that before she discovered her husband’s affair she was “asleep”(26). She took things at face value and did not attempt to find the deeper meaning or interpret them farther.
This list also becomes Akiko’s grocery list for Saturday night dinner as instructed by her husband. Inspired by Shonagon, the author of a book full of lists and notes, Akiko writes a list entitled Squalid Things: “Darkness in a place that does not give the impression of being very clean / A rather unattractive women who looks after a large brood of children” (41). This is in reference to Suzie Flowers, the Coca-Cola Lady. Akiko, used to her complicated and small life, is disgusted by and slightly envious of the gluttony and simplicity inherent in American lifestyles. Both women are making the same dinner to appease their husbands and feed their families, but Akiko views it as squalid whereas Suzie has never questioned her lifestyle.
While at a strip club with Akiko’s husband Jane composes a list of things that categorize him:
Things That Give a Hot Feeling
Things That Give a Pathetic Impression
Things Without Merit
Things That are Unpleasant to See (46)
Both Jane and Akiko subscribe to Shonagon and find solace in writing lists about things they observe and experience. Jane is unabashed in her list describing Akiko’s husband using strong unrelenting words and speaking her mind freely. Akiko’s list however has qualifiers such as “rather” (41) and “impression” (41) that demonstrate her lack of confidence. If either Akiko or Suzie had the confidence that Jane has perhaps they would be able to repair their marriages or at least progress out of their respective stagnant states. The lists associated with each woman in this narrative not only provides insight into their personalities but links them together despite their obvious differences.