Category Archives: Literary Analysis

Impact of Food in the Different Mediums of Momotaro

Momotaro is an iconic folk character in Japanese culture. Momotaro, literally meaning peach-boy, is a child hero who gathers a troupe of animals to defeat the Oni (ogres) and save Japan. Since the original folktale in the Edo period, the Momotaro stories have undergone several alterations in style and tone, depending on Japan’s social and political milieu at the time. This mishmash of elements makes this folk tale an open-source story. The definitive version of Momotaro was published in textbooks by Sazanami in the late 19th century, with the purpose of establishing a national identity during the Meiji period. In the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, an allegorical anime movie called “Momotaro’s Sea Eagle” was produced, pitting Momotaro and his animal troops against the demonized ogres who represented America and the Allied Powers of WWII. Momotaro also loosely influences the documentary “Minamata: The Victims and Their World” by Tsuchimoto. This essay will examine the role that food plays in restoring youth, forming communities, and characterizing Momotaro and the drunken soldiers across the different versions of the Momotaro stories.

First, food is symbolic of youth and longevity in the Momotaro story of the Edo period. In the original plotline, an infertile old woman with no children discovers a peach floating in the river and decides to eat it. Suddenly, she discovers that her beauty and youth have been rejuvenated afterwards, and she proceeds to share the fruit with her husband. They engage in sexual intercourse afterwards, and Momotaro is born as a consequence. Therefore, the peach was symbolic of fertility and youth in this version of the Japanese folk tale. Furthermore, since Momotaro later goes on to defeat the ogres, it is possible that the peach gives one the ability to fight evil creatures.

In the other two versions of the Momotaro story, the plot point in which the old couple makes love is omitted from the story, lessening the power of the peach symbolism. One must consider the historical context in which Sazanami’s story and “Momotaro’s Sea Eagle” took place.  Sazanami’s story was published during the Meiji Restoration, when the Japanese were attempting to embody Western ideals in order to become a modernized nation. This diffusion of Western ideas caused Japanese society to view topics related to sexuality to be taboo. Consequentially, they changed the story to have Momotaro magically appear out of the peach as the old couple was cutting into it. This fantastical element would also appeal to the children who would be reading the textbook. The peach symbolism is not relevant to “Momotaro’s Sea Eagles” since the film takes place presumably after his birth, when he’s already a fully developed leader of his animal troops.

In addition, food plays an impactful role in the formation of communities, particularly between Momotaro and his animals. In both the Edo period and Sazanami’s versions of the stories, Momotaro embarks on his journey to defeat the ogres and encounters 3 different animals: a dog, a monkey and a pheasant. The spotted dog threatens to kill him if Momotaro does not give him all of his food. Once Peach-boy convinces the dog to join his voyage, the dog asks for one of the “best millet dumplings in Japan.” However, Momotaro only gives the spotted dog half of a dumpling. By denying them a whole dumpling, Momotaro asserts power over his recruits and puts him on a higher level than the animals. The food in this instance is being used as a material good to pay for the animals’ services to fight the ogres. Momotaro goes through the same initiation with the monkey and the pheasant, using the half dumpling to bind them as his retainers. Their relationship is comparable to an employer paying wages to his employees. As a human, Momotaro is on a higher level in the social hierarchy than the animals. This similarity emphasizes Momotaro’s effective leadership ability. The sharing of the dumpling works to unify Momotaro and his animals on their voyage to Ogre’s Island. The dumplings symbolize the camaraderie they have established with one another in their unified quest to defeat the Oni.

The millet dumplings also play a significant role in “Momotaro’s Sea Eagles.” In the animated film, the tone of the film is more serious than in the textual versions, since Momotaro is presented as a war general figure who leads a force of animal troops to fight the demons at Onigashima. The purpose of the film was to serve as a propaganda piece to improve morale and unify Japan in fighting the Allies in World War II. Consequentially, there is less of a focus on food in the movie adaptation, but the dumplings do appear. For example, one of the monkeys in Momotaro’s forces refuses to take action unless he receives his millet dumplings. Much like the textual stories, these dumplings act as material compensation for the animals to work for Momotaro, and a source of strength and sustenance. Right before the animal troops strike, they all consume the dumplings, an act which unifies them as a national body to defeat the Americans.

Furthermore, food has the power to unify communities in the Tsuchimoto documentary “Minamata: The Victims and Their World.” However, in contrast to the bonds of camaraderie formed in the other versions of the Momotaro stories, the people of Minamata are unified in their suffering. The denizens of Minamata ingested fish that had been heavily corrupted by mercury, causing them to suffer from Minamata Disease, which is a sickness characterized by damage to the nervous system. The fish contained high levels of mercury as a result of the production of fertilizer by Chisso Factory. Tsuchimoto depicts the victims’ unified struggle to survive the disease and receive just compensation from Chisso for their suffering.

The climax of the documentary arguably occurs at the scene in which the victims who seek more compensation visit Osaka, the location of the Chisso stockholders’ meeting. The victims invoke Momotaro as a symbol to unify them together. Their struggle with big business corporations parallels Momotaro, the underdog hero, against the ogres. There is an explicit allusion to Momotaro’s story when one of the speakers states, “We have arrived in the land where red and blue ogres dwell.”  This moment contains a lot of power due to its intertextuality; moreover, by invoking the Momotaro story, Tsuchimoto is dramatizing the victims as good, and Chisso Factory as the evil Oni. Utilizing a national folkloric figure such as Momotaro strengthens their cause by allowing the audience to relate and understand their struggle.

Food plays a large role in the characterization of Momotaro, his parents, and the drunken soldiers.” In the folkloric and Sazanami versions, right before Momotaro departs for his quest, his parents prepare millet dumplings for him. The act of providing food and sustenance for Momotaro characterizes the old couple as loving and caring people who support Momotaro wholeheartedly. Momotaro’s gratitude towards them supports the notion that food can strengthen familial bonds. On the other hand, Momotaro’s relationship with his animal caretakers is fairly different. Momotaro acts very stingy with the amount of dumpling he gives each animal. The act of only giving half of a dumpling to each animal characterizes Momotaro as having the most power. He views himself as superior to them, and is able to violently order them around to do his bidding. In this case, food acts as a way to manipulate the animals to form a community of voyage with him to the Ogre’s Island.

Food is also used to characterize the characters in “Momotaro’s Sea Eagles”. There is a stark contrast between the millet dumpling rations of Momotaro’s naval fleet and the alcoholic beverages on the enemy ships. Since “Momotaro’s Sea Eagles” is an allegorical propaganda film about Pearl Harbor, Momotaro’s fleet represents the Japanese forces while the enemy represents the forces of the United States. Having the animal troops consume the millet dumplings indicates a nationalistic pride in Japanese cuisine. The dumplings have more sustenance to them when compared to the alcohol in the American ship. One of the sailors of the American ship resembles Bluto from Popeye, subliminally characterizing American troops as overweight drunkards who do not have the honor and ability that Japanese troops have. The animated film, targeted towards Japanese youth, masterfully uses the Momotaro myth to subtly cloak the political message of the movie, which is to unite the Japanese nation and encourage them to defeat the Allies in World War II. This film was released after the Battle of Midway, which was a crushing defeat for Japan. Perhaps one of the purposes of this film was to boost the morale of Japanese citizen and give them hope that the war could be won. This method of utilizing the Momotaro myth in political propaganda is also seen in “Minamata: The Victims and Their World.”

Therefore, the different elements of food in the Momotaro variants, such as the peach, millet dumplings, mercury infected fish and the alcoholic beverages work to symbolize youth and life, form communities, and characterize certain characters in the stories. It is clear that since this folk tale was told in the Edo period, it has immensely grown in popularity and is extremely iconic in Japanese culture. Inevitably, the story of Peach-boy will continually be used to unify groups of people who need to unify under a common goal, despite their differences.



Momotarō and Food: Unifiers of the Japanese

Although Momotarō originated as a simple folk hero in the early Edo period, he has transformed into a national symbol capable of creating strong bonds within the Japanese people. His portrayal has also changed with his evolution. The adult themes of the Edo period transformed to become more child-friendly before again morphing to a more militaristic attitude in war propaganda. However, the use of food in Momotarō stories has remained consistent: the establishing and strengthening of strong community bonds. Between media and through time, Momotarō is a national symbol and the use of food in his portrayals act as a way to cement community bonds.

In the original tale, Momotarō uses food to establish both camaraderie and loyalty among his vassals. The original story narrates how an old couple finds Momotarō in a large peach and raises him. “Peach Boy”, as Momotarō translates to, grows up and journeys to Oni Island to defeat the demons living there. On his voyage, he enlists the help of a dog, monkey, and pheasant using the millet dumplings his parents prepared for him. He returns from his expedition triumphant and laden with treasures. The food in the original version is instrumental in the story. The millet dumplings Momotarō gives to the animals wins him their loyalty. While winning their support, he also establishes dominance and leadership between him and his vassals. This is especially apparent when he “[places] himself between them [the dog and the monkey] and carrying in his hand and iron fan, according to the custom of all high military officials in those days […]” (28, Iwaya). Momotarō clearly establishes himself as a strong leader and the dominant figure of his vassals. He is seen as an assertive person to be looked up to and trusted. The comparison to a high military official furthers this idea s well as hints at Momotarō’s coming military might against the demons. His leadership is also apparent when he “pushed them [the dog and monkey] both apart […]” (26, Iwaya). He is responsible enough that he stops them from fighting and even has the foresight to recruit the monkey as another one of his vassals. The millet dumpling shared between the dog and monkey establishes camaraderie between the two. The food also binds the band together on their journey to Oni Island. Not only do they no longer argue, they fight alongside each other with loyalty and bravery. The millet dumplings convey the theme of camaraderie and loyalty on their journey.

In Mitsuyo Seo’s 1943 film Momotarō’s Sea Eagles, Momotarō and the millet dumplings are used to mobilize the Japanese people for the war effort. In the film, Momotarō leads a “Japanese” army of dogs, monkeys, pheasants, and rabbits against the evil demons of Oni Island, representing the American and British enemies in World War II. The film’s main purpose is to promote World War II and rally the Japanese people; in contrast, the original tale is aimed to teach and entertain children. However, the propaganda film gains power from using Momotarō as a symbol because people already identify with the original folk hero as a good, strong leader. This idea is furthered with the utter defeat of the Western “demons” and the fact that the “Japanese” army is completely unharmed. This idealized view of war only serves the film’s purpose as propaganda. Millet dumplings also rally the Japanese people together. Strong community bonds and intense loyalty are the Japanese’s strengths and the key to winning the war, and the millet dumplings represent this. In the film, the food does not simply establish these bonds, but actually makes the animals physically stronger.

The monkey's muscles become visibly larger after eating the millet dumplings.

The monkey’s muscles become visibly larger after eating the millet dumplings.

The millet dumplings, and symbolically the camaraderie between the Japanese, give strength to Momotarō’s army. The food in the films not only encourages camaraderie but also distinguishes the good Japanese and the demonized Westerners.

The beer makes the demons drunk and cowardly

The beer makes the demons drunk and cowardly

In contrast to the strength the millet dumplings give to the Japanese, food and drink make the Westerners lazy and cowardly. This distinction further unites the Japanese. The biased portrayal dehumanizes the enemies and makes their total defeat more righteous, again typical of a propaganda film. Food in Sea Eagles helps promote enlistment in the war and draws power from the national symbol of Momotarō.

Momotarō is not used only in literature and film, but also as a real world rallying point. In Tsuchimoto’s 1971 documentary, Minamata: The Victims and their World, the citizens of Minamata suffer from mercury poisoning caused by polluted waters. A neighboring factory owned by the Chisso Corporation had been pollution the water for thirty-four years. The film documents the victims’ fight for justice. One scene portrays the march of the victims to the annual Chisso Corporation shareholder meeting in Osaka. In one particular moment, a victim alluded to Momotarō, and the folk hero becomes a rallying point. In fact, the speaker for the victims referenced the corporation as “blue and red ogres”, a clear reference to Momotarō’s Oni Island.

The speaker references Momotarõ as a way to gain sympathy from the strangers in Osaka.

The speaker references Momotarõ as a way to gain sympathy from the strangers in Osaka.

Momotarō’s popularity as a defender of good and a strong leader made him an ideal symbol for the victims. His story is well known; likening the corporation to the infamous ogres serves to unite the strangers in solidarity and bring the issue closer to home. The long journey and gathering of supporters is also a parallel to Momotarō’s journey and gathering of vassals, again around food. However, the poisoned food is a weapon of the enemy rather than something to encourage camaraderie.  The reference to the familiar character of Momotarō as a defender of good also elicits sympathy for the victims, and the strangers as well as the audience join and support their cause. The ability of the victims to garner that much attention using Momotarō is a testament to the folk hero’s power. From page to screen to the real world, Momotarō retains his popularity and power.

Despite moving between media, or even because of it, Momotarō is a national symbol with a lot of influence, and he serves as a rallying point for multiple causes. Food also connects the various genres and becomes a unifier for the people involved, whether through camaraderie, or sadly, suffering. While the goal of each media was different, the three portrayals of Momotarō all shared the folk hero and food as the banners under which people came together. People tend to rally around strong leaders, and Momotarō is the ideal unifier for the Japanese people, even across time periods and media.

Social Enrichment Through Food

Evoking sharp, sensory emotions; promoting marvelous, cognitive associations; and communicating traditional, symbolic expressions, food elicits a profound quality throughout many cultures: unification of people. The Momotaro stories particularly embrace the idea of “uniting others” with food—mainly through positive associations of camaraderie. In comparison, Noriaki Tsuchimoto’s documentary highlights community strengthening through food’s symbolic power; instead, however, the characters join together through negative connotations of suffering. Food’s function as a unifier can be analyzed between both literary texts and visual films. Represented through Iwaya Sazanami’s Momotaro = The Story of Peach-Boy and Tsuchimoto’s Minamata: The Victims and Their World, food operates as a figurative symbol and a material object that unifies estranged communities.

Iwaya Sazanami manipulates his writing to indirectly relate a smaller unification with a large-scale unification. In his Momotaro story, he describes an old couple who appears distraught over lack of children. However, once the old woman finds “a huge peach, big enough to fill her arms” (10 Iwaya), a little boy pops out of the fruit to explain his purpose: He intends to provide joy to the couple after “seeing that they are both so sad” (16 Iwaya). Sazanami develops a small, but significant community by employing a peach as a figurative, food symbol—an old woman and an old man become united with a child of their own. Comparably, this community development epitomizes the wide-ranging scale of unification that occurs in contemporary times: how ratatouille encapsulates the French; how pasta envelops the Italians; how lumpia bonds the Filipinos; and how ramēn/sushi unites the Japanese. In this case, the peach revitalizes a couple’s marriage, establishing a novel connection. Food not only has a physical attribute to forming happiness, but it also has a metaphorical element to uniting hopeless souls.

The historical context of Momotaro sets him in the late 19th century, with the English translation coming in the pre-WWII era. He epitomizes the popular hero who remains entangled in Japanese folklore. His figure also appears in countless wartime films and cartoons that appeal to the Japanese citizens as propaganda. In these widespread media portrayals, Momotaro usually represents the Japanese government; the citizens signify the animals; and the United States characterizes the demonic figure. The food and treasure that Momotaro and his animals receive after defeating the demon reflect the lost glory of Japan’s empire. Food’s presence in these stories holds another symbolic meaning: Food represents the attachment between the Japanese government and its people—just like how a chemical bond connects two atoms. Nevertheless, the Momotaro stories utilize food to cultivate strong relationships and lasting communities.

Tokiyoshi Onoue's personal testimonial compares to the whole Minamata community's experience.

Tokiyoshi Onoue’s personal testimonial compares to the whole Minamata community’s experience.

In similar fashion, Tsuchimoto applies food to compare one man’s suffering with a whole community’s suffering. He uses Tokiyoshi Onoue’s testimonial to illuminate a population’s distressful unity. As the Minamata disease forms a resilient community through people’s suffering, the Momotaro stories arrange cohesive communities through people’s comradeship: the contrasting quality between Sazanami’s writing and Tsuchimoto’s media. In the film, Onoue reveals his pain and anguish that the poisoning fish produced. The food’s contamination forcefully disables any consumers—blinding vision, restricting sound, and damaging basic motor skills. Upon recognition of the disease, Onoue begins to lose a certain amount of respect and trust of food’s safety. This personal relationship symbolizes the overall relationship that Minamata residents have with their seafood. The local fishermen, the close families, the dying individuals all start to discount their association with food’s unifying demands. Food’s figurative role as a uniting symbol emerges through the depths of people’s suffering. Minamata’s community develops a strong connection through everyone’s discomfort and torture.

The historical framework of the Minamata disease places it during a post-WWII era—a close similarity with that of Momotaro’s propaganda setting. Minamata’s remote location also sets it apart from the Japanese mainstream culture. This sets the stage for Minamata to create its own society and community. Since the residents did not have plenty of outside interaction, they had to combine their efforts with one another. The poisoned food ultimately matures the population through a tormenting array of sorrow. Even though the citizens become hampered to produce everyday tasks, they still overcome such obstacles to unify. Nevertheless, food embodies the metaphorical epitome of industrializing a spirited community.

Now implemented as a material object through the Momotaro stories, Sazanami employs food as a physical unifier between characters. He uses millet dumplings to bond Momotaro and a dog: “he accepted the half-dumpling and having eaten it he went on with Peach-Boy” (25 Iwaya). He continues to use millet dumplings to connect Momotaro and a monkey: “I will give you half of one of the best millet dumplings in Japan, and you may follow me” (28 Iwaya). He finally unites another pairing between Momotaro and a bird: “I now charge you to accompany me in the same way as the dog and the money in my expedition” (31 Iwaya). Once again, this small community of a hero and his comrades exemplifies the larger picture—how a massive community between the Japanese government and its citizens ripens. Food’s function as a unifier travels beyond the scope of just forming a community; it reaches the extent of establishing companionships and relationships. Sazanami manipulates food to serve as his community development initiative. He implements food to directly institute a bonding association—since the monkey, dog, and bird openly accept the dumplings. This illuminates how food works to build communities through certain respects of camaraderie and materialism.

The comparison between “Momotaro and his companions” and “the Japanese government and its citizens” signifies Sazanami’s purpose to portray community progression. The millet dumplings operate as a food symbol in the story, and the food represents the Momotaro stories in reality. Since the dumplings form a community between the hero and his acquaintances, the Momotaro stories form a community between the government and its people. Together, both communities develop a passionate sense of unity and accord to battle worldly evils. In Momotaro’s case, they travel to defeat the ogres at Ogre Island; in Japan’s case, they journey to conquer the Unites States at Pearl Harbor. Food manages to characterize a potent unifier that continues to produce fervent societies.

Community outreach and development.

Community outreach and development.

Through another comparison, Tsuchimoto highlights how food can symbolize the basis of constructing a vehement community. He chronicles the Minamata residents as they band together to confront the death-providing Chisso Corporation—the instigator who polluted the Minamata waters with mercury compounds. Indirectly speaking, the diseased food connects the people of Minamata as a single neighborhood, fighting to voice their harrowing pain and traumatic anger. An example of this cohesive community can be described through the documentary’s dramatic climax: Tsuchimoto films the residents attending a Chisso biannual, shareholders meeting. They collectively demand that the company president accept full responsibility for Chisso’s offenses against the environment and humanity. Food resumes its constant duty to unify communities—with love in its intentions and conviction in its production.

The story of Minamata’s fight for justice not only suggests historical importance, but it also reveals the determined spirit that a group of people is willing to deliver. This community struggle holds the potential to inspire other communities who also suffer from the hands of an indifferent bureaucracy. Although each family and individual embrace their own personal account of sorrow, they all combine their efforts and tales to form a community of simple, conscientious people. Tsuchimoto’s filming tactics fully epitomize the meaning of how food brings people into unison.

While Tsuchimoto and Sazanami develop contrasting works of art, they both succinctly illustrate the same, basic message: Food not only functions as a figurative symbol to unify communities, but it also works as a material object to unite others. Whether a situation expounds anguish, happiness, friendship, or violence, people always find a way to become intertwined through food’s bitter taste; food’s sweet taste; food’s rare taste; or food’s repulsive taste. Food grasps that special power to unify communities under the best conditions, or the worst conditions. It remains as a symbol that refers to any aspect of a culture’s or individual’s history and identity.

Superficiality and Exoticism in The Gourmet Club

Tanizaki Junichiro’s The Gourmet Club follows the journey of Count G, the leader of a group of Japanese men whose main aspiration in life is to experience culinary pleasures, as he attempts to discover the next experience that will titillate their palettes. In a scene where Count G is taken into a room used for smoking opium, Tanizaki’s use of contrasting diction reveals an awareness of the superficiality of this culinary experience, providing a subtle criticism of culinary exoticism.

The language that the Count uses to describe the hall upon his initial encounter with has positive connotations, indicating how enticing he finds the idea of the cuisine promised by the hall. Count G envisions it as “a place where a purely Chinese style of life prevailed,” a description which points towards how he essentializes what “Chinese” life is (Tanizaki 112). The cuisine promised by the hall tempts Count G because it promises authenticity—something “purely Chinese.” Tanizaki’s word choice here indicates the Count’s positive impression of the hall. It is “flooded with light” (113), the interior furnishings shine “brightly” (114). By choosing these descriptions, Tanizaki indicates that the hall is a place that the Count regards highly. Thus what Count G finds in the hall’s resplendence is this “Chinese style of life,” the promise of something authentically “Chinese” and exotic which will sate his weary palette.

In contrast to the diction used to describe the restaurant initially, there is a shift in Tanizaki’s word choice when Count G enters the room used for smoking opium, with the negative connotation of the language serving to indicate the superficiality of Count G’s desire for Chinese cuisine. In direct opposition with the light-filled first impression of the hall, this room has a “shadowy interior,” a deliberate comparison which goes to show how there is a shift in understanding on a narrative level (127). To underline this general feeling of unease and negativity, the room has “dim light” and is furnished with “tired-looking couches” (127). As Count G enters this room, the reader slowly comes to realize how the temptations offered by the restaurant are only one level of significance to the culinary establishment of the hall and to Count G’s desires.

What Count G sees initially on the surface level of the hall is the glamor—he commodifies this glamor as the “purely Chinese” experience that he seeks, marveling at the exoticism of the unfamiliar sights, sounds, and tastes. However, this is only a superficial understanding of what is “Chinese,” and the narrative points this out by showing the less desirable side to the hall. Tanizaki now describes Count G’s guide, who had previously been “tall,” “good-looking,” and “honest-looking” (122), as “unpleasant” and “lifeless,” with “the look of a ruined race” (127). While the Count is enticed by the culinary pleasures of the hall, he ignores the complexities and nuances of actual life in China, only seeking a superficial exotic experience through what is specifically desirable to him. Thus in establishing this disparity, Tanizaki shows an awareness of how shallow Count G’s culinary exoticism is.

Exotic Senses and Food

The characters in Tanizaki Jun’ichirō’s short story “The Gourmet Club” absolutely adore and crave food, but apparently not so much as the idea of something different. They have become bored to death of the food that once excited them greatly, complaining “No matter what we eat, it’s all the same – no improvement” (p. 103). This dissatisfaction with existing foods that they thought they loved so well shows that it is really not food they love, it is the exoticism associated with foreign foods that entices them. “The Gourmet Club” depicts the concept of exoticism initially through this club of foodies’ love of foreign food before expanding to exotic senses, ways of eating, and unearthly methods of presentation that change “exotic” from being foreign to being surrealistically enthralling.

Before setting out on his quest to find new foods, the Count dreams about a giant mouth eating and salivating highly detailed food. In the dream sequence, the focus is on the look of the food and how appetizing and delicious the appearance of food cooking and being prepared is. “Odd-looking wrinkles began to appear on the surface of that viscous white substance. At first they were like the wrinkles on a dried plum; then gradually they got deeper, until finally the entire mollusk became hard, like a piece of paper that has been chewed on and spat out”(p. 105). The senses appealed to are initially scent and sight, but the latter quickly rises to prominence. This paints food as being appetizing through its appearance and the salivating that comes from seeing a familiar food and remember its taste and scent.

However, gradually the story reveals that the characters’ love of food is really a love of exoticism. The count becomes interested in the Chinese club because he smells rich Chinese food. This interest turns to lust and hunger when he sees the exclusivity and unearthly nature of the foods. For example, they serve “unborn piglet, boiled whole” (p. 116). This delicacy “preserved the original form of the animal, but what emerged from beneath the skin was … quite unlike cooked pork” (p. 116). The food is not normal or even apparently natural at all. Of the men eating the food, the Count reflected that “he had never yet known the grand satisfaction that was evident on [their] faces” (p. 117). Despite all that the Count had eaten in his life, he had yet to be that content.

When the Count brings his newfound Chinese food preparation to the Gourmet Club, the meals are given plain and common name, but their presentation is anything but. Instead of appealing to sight and smell like the Count’s dream, of the look and aromas of the food, they are served with no visual pretense at all. One meal is presented as a “wonderfully hot broth – thick [and] opaque” (p. 129) where the taste is not actually from the broth but from the belch it produces in the eater. The bok choi is presented in a pitch black room as what appears to be a dainty woman’s fingers in the patron’s mouth. The feast, and this meal in particular, plays upon the familiarity of the taste of food, but unfamiliarity of presentation that associates food with exoticism and sates the club’s seemingly endless appetite.

The Pursuit for Pleasure

In The Gourmet Club, Junichio Tanizaki reveals the lifestyle of a true “foodie” through the experiences of a group of “gastronomers” with taste buds always on the pursuit for pleasure. The club consisted of five members who were truly devout connoisseurs of food, always searching and spending their earnings on new flavors. The day finally came when “eventually their tongues lost all the taste for the usual ‘fine cuisine’; lick and slurp as they might, they could no longer discover the excitement and joy in eating that they demanded” (102).  And so began the quest for “a kind of orchestral cuisine” (103) where the “unbearably delicious flavors would entwine themselves around the tongue until at last one’s stomach bust open” (104). Count G., the leader of the club, “often dream[ed] of food” (104). He was the most ambitious of the group and prided himself on his delectable taste buds. Upon his quest for the ultimate dining experience, Count G. encountered a Chinese banqueting hall where dining was an artistic extravaganza and not only the mouth, but the entire body, became part of the experience. Tanizaki used embellished language to metaphorically compare eating to eroticism emphasizing the sense of exoticism and blending the worlds of literature, culture and artistry to create a truly exotic culinary experience.

Exoticism, by definition, is the charm of the unfamiliar. Tanizaki’s portrayal of exoticism is vividly illustrated in the “Bok Choi Fingers” scene.  At the Chinese dining hall, entrées such as Pigeon-Egg Hot Springs, Phlegm-and Spittle Liquid Jade and Butterfly Broth were on the menu ready to be served. By the name of these dishes alone each entrée offered a bizarre vibe, quite unfamiliar to traditional Japanese, Western and Chinese cuisine accustomed to in Japan.  In this scene, an anonymous individual by the name of “A.” encountered a full body dining experience, figuratively and literally, when served his Bok Choi dish. The lights were dimmed to darkness and a young woman artistically presented the dish as A. “concentrated his sense of taste still more fully in the tip of his tongue and kept licking and sucking persistently at those fingers. Strangely, the more pressure he applied with his tongue, the tenderer the fingers became […] Suddenly, A. discovered that what had unmistakably been a human hand had somehow changed into the stem of a Chinese cabbage” (135). Tanizaki’s use of sensual figurative language metaphorically relates the bok choi, a mere Chinese vegetable, to human body parts, adding a sense of sexual pleasure to the Chinese dining experience and demonstrating the narrators appeal to incorporate eroticism in his writing style. Typically food is used as a energy source of fuel, but in an exotic world, food is capable of empowering the imagination of the mind, blurring the distinction between what is and is not reality.  This entrée left A. “feeling as though they’d been bewitched by a fox” (138), masterfully exemplifying the use of exoticism by bringing the consumer into a fantasy dream where a peculiar taste could be experienced from taste buds to the toes. Never again would the tongues of the Gormet Club lose its taste while eating a meal.

The exotic Bok Choi Fingers scene offers a bizarre example of how Count G.’s quest for the ultimate dining experience was achieved by combining the pleasure of eating and eroticism.  This entrée successfully stimulated all senses of the body and created addictive desires to always leave the consumer wanting to come back for more. Each bite offered something truly unique, unusual and exquisite, thoroughly embodying the main notions of exoticism.

The Factory Ship: “Thingnification” of Food

The Factory Ship, a pro proletarian novel is written by Japanese writer Kobayashi Takiji and published in 1929. The novel starts with the fishermen’ suffering from poor living condition and dehumanized treatment in the ship, and the suffering finally leads to a strike and rebellion that against the superintendent and furthermore, the current social status of Japan. Although the rebellion is collapsed and fallen apart easily in first time, Kobayashi intensively concludes the novel as the pursuing of righteousness, fairness and liberal is never going to stop.

The novel symbolically refers the Hokkaido workers as octopuses and the “thingnificantly” importance of crabs as great profits toward the rich. The two metaphors are both food materials but referring to “thingnificantly” different thing. By using octopuses as a metaphor to workers in Hokkaido, or basically refers to all grassroots workers in Japan at that time, it precisely analogizes their condition of living is alike octopuses “since, to keep itself alive, the octopus will eat its own tentacles, if it must.” (Pg. 39) This description in its implied meaning is saying that even the grassroots workers are already undertaking heavy and overloaded works, the return is never going to fulfill their disbursements. The result of this condition is straightforward, which the poor have to sacrifice their health even more to keep their living, but it’s no different to deathward ongoing. Kobayashi directly indicates this point in content which says “what difference was there basically between the workers and this sea creature”. (Pg. 39)

As the original title of this novel in Japanese also mentions crab, crab as a metaphor of profit to the rich is intuitively given to the readers. The indication is appeared in a conversation where the Shibaura man gives his idea to his fellow workers, he says “All right, then, let’s assume that a ship has been built on money put up by the rich… With this one ship they stand to make a clear net profit of between four and five hundred thousand yen… it doesn’t just grow out of nothing…The money to buy the ship and equipment and to hire the men was earned with the blood of other laborers and with ours!” (Pg. 71-72) This conversation is a direct and powerful criticism towards the rich and capitalism, and the unbalanced benefit relationship is the main pathogen in the society that Kobayashi is trying to reveal and against.

The rebellion is caused by poor food supply along with inhumane treatment. It’s a significant movement that ship crews stand up against oppression; however, the crews do not clearly understand situation by that time and where the “thingnification” of those crabs’ benefit truly goes into, therefore their first rebellion ends in failure. Most of workers think the omnipotent figure, protector of Japanese people, which the emperor should be on their side, but representative of the empire takes the other side and repressed their rebellion. At the end, the remaining crews repent and summarize the failure, and prepare for next rebellion instead of giving it up. Kobayashi affirmatively indicates a sense of hope and his resistance towards capitalism.

Exoticism with Gourmet Club

 Exoticism with Gourmet Club

Tanizaki Junichiro’s “The Gourmet Club” has exoticism, so he expresses his feelings and ideal by using character that has exoticism.  The story is about the gourmet club who are tired of the Japanese food, so they crave for some kind of exotic food.   Count, the leader of gourmet club, just walks around the road to find the food that he never tried, and finds the Chanchiang Hall, the private Chinese hall, that is full of actual Chinese food.  In the hall, he met and experienced his exotic experience- the genuine Chinese food.  Count understands the real meaning of exoticism from the hall, so he treats his exotic food to the gourmet members. Then they realize their exoticism.

     In the story, the author dramatizes food with the idea of exoticism.    Exoticism is an ideology that people who are unsatisfied with their reality go with this ideology because they long for any culture of another country’s longing and romance.  In other words, Count longs for exotic food like Chinese food in the story.  “Cooking was an art” (99) and “we need a kind of orchestral cuisine!” (103) are simple example about the author’s dramatizing technique.  In those simple scenes, the author uses hyperbole technique to dramatize food with exoticism.  Even though the author can express about food normally, he uses the hyperbole technique in those scenes because he can appeal the character’s expression and his intention well by dramatizing food.

     One of the best scenes with exoticism is the impression of A who is one of the member of gourmet club of “Bok Choi Fingers.”  For example, “A. thought the matter over even as he licked away at the fingers similar to the smell of the ham used in Chinese cooking” (135).  In this scene, A. is just waiting for the food to be served in the dim room, but suddenly he receives a woman’s massage.  However, that woman’s fingers are actually the food with Bok Choi.  Although the gourmet members who are really tired of foreign food made in semi-Japanese style, they have some taste in exotic Chinese food like the above mentioned Bok Choi.  That is, they realize the exoticism’s real meaning.  By using the hyperbole technique, the readers can feel the member’s feelings well even though the readers do not eat the food in real life.  Also, the readers can realize the member’s attitude is changed.

     In Count’s next meeting’s menu, all food’s names are dramatized such as “Pigeon-Egg Hot Springs, Fountain of Grapes, Phlegm-and-Spittle Liquid Jade” (139) and so on. He named all food by using dramatizing technique, so it makes the foods seem exotic even though those are semi-Japanese style food.  By using hyperbole technique to express the food, people can realize more exoticism from normal food and get a strong impression.  Therefore, the author dramatizes food with the idea of exoticism to convey his feeling and ideal through the book well.

Sexualization and Feminization of Food

Jun’ichirō Tanizaki uses the sexualization of women and the feminization of food as a means of dramatizing the notion of exoticism in The Gourmet Club. In the first sentence of the story, Tanizaki describes the members of the Gourmet Club and how they “…loved the pleasures of the table not a whit less than they loved those of the bedroom” (99).  Here, there is an immediate connection between sexual pleasure and food, a pattern adopted by the author throughout the story to emphasize the dynamic theme of exoticism.

The story introduces the members of the Gourmet Club as men who seek to find new fine foods and flavors. When the men “…discovered some novel flavor, they took as much pride and pleasure in it as if they’d found a beautiful woman for themselves” (99). The sexualization of food in this example shows that the driving force of these men when finding new flavors is to reach an ultimate goal that involves a feeling of pleasure. The feeling of discovering a new flavor of food is akin to that of finding a beautiful woman, as both are “novel”, and provide the opportunity to learn, or “discover” new things about their subject. This relationship between sex and food is an unfamiliar one. In this way Tanizaki is able to draw an analogy between exploring food and a beautiful woman for the first time.

Toward the end of The Gourmet Club, Tanizaki describes a scene to the reader in which the members of the club are taking a look at a menu for the evening. Tanizaki weaves an erotic scene as he writes, “…it takes no great imagination to picture the excitement it aroused when the members of the club discovered [Deep-fried Woman, Korean Style] on that evening’s menu” (138). There is an explicit and immediate relationship between food and sex as the men become “aroused” at the thought of a dish that consists of “…the flesh of a woman, deep-fried as tempura” (138). Tanizaki is feminizing the dish through personifying it as a woman. He creates an image of a woman as an item on the menu waiting to be devoured by the men, should they choose to order her. As in the previous example, there is a sexual relationship formed between the men and their feelings toward food. Food satisfies physical hunger, while sex can satisfy a different sort of physical or even emotional hunger. Tanizaki makes this hunger one and the same. It is an extreme relationship that is key to the story as a whole. The men have an ultimate goal of finding new exotic flavors and the feeling that overcomes them once they accomplish this goal is one of sexual pleasure and arousal.

A common facet of exoticism is tying together the unfamiliar and, in this case, erotic. These examples of the reoccurring relationship between food, sex, and women, embody this aspect of exoticism. One wouldn’t necessarily expect food to be compared to beautiful women. One also wouldn’t expect food to have the ability to induce sexual pleasure and arousal in men. Tanizaki is able to connect food to exoticism through the sexualization and feminization of different foods. This makes this relationship all the more powerful, therefore dramatizing the idea of exoticism throughout The Gourmet Club.

Euphoria: An Analysis of Exoticism in The Gourmet Club

Exotic is strictly defined as something originating in or characteristic of a distant foreign country. However, to be truly exotic is not simply to have a foreign pattern or single flavor; rather, it is a symphony of different experiences and emotions evoked by the item in question. This idea of a complete exotic experience is dramatized in Tanizaki Junichirō’s The Gourmet Club through the use of food.

Many people have said that the true value of something is not in the destination, but the journey; this idea is also prevalent in The Gourmet Club. The five men in the club ceaselessly search for delicious food, wandering the streets of Tokyo in search of that special, exotic meal. “They scoured all the eateries of Tokyo […] like curio collectors rummaging about in dubious secondhand shops on the off chance of making an unusual find” (102). Their quest emphasizes the importance of what they are searching for: food. To them, food is not simply something to survive; it is their reason for living. The comparison to curio collectors also suggests an exotic element to their search and implies a sort of discovery. Both the mystery and the discovery contribute to the idea of exoticism.

Another element of exoticism is the emphasis on beauty and the euphoria of experiencing it. This is exactly what the Count encounters at Chechiang Hall. Even before entering the place, he is thrown into an ethereal reality where his senses of taste and sound combine: “[…] 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). Junichirō’s use of synesthesia links the deep emotions of the music to the complexity of a delicious meal; food becomes an emotional experience for both the Count and the reader. The fact that the music alone is enough to evoke such a reaction from the Count is only a prelude to the exoticism he encounters in the Hall itself. There he finds dishes he never encountered or dreamed of before. These dishes serve as inspiration for his exotic meals that can only be truly savored using the entire body: “[…]They did not merely taste the cuisine with their tongues: they had to taste it with their eyes, their noses, their ears, and at times with their skin. […] every part of them had to become a tongue” (131). Not only are the meals exotic, but also the way the men enjoy their food is completely novel. Mind and body must become completely immersed in the dining experience to fully savor the meal, suggesting euphoria in the act of eating. The emphasis on experiencing the food, rather than simply eating it, furthers the theme of exoticism. The ecstasy of food clearly demonstrates exoticism throughout The Gourmet Club.

The complete experience of food, both leading up to and the physical act of eating, dramatizes exoticism in The Gourmet Club. Junishirō demonstrates through emphasizing exoticism, that for the members of the club, food is something alluring, something to be coveted. He proves that food can be more than simple sustenance; it can be a euphoric, exotic experience.