Category Archives: Ruth Ozeki

Japan: A Nation of Lost Identity (My Year of Meats Extra Credit)

In order to survive in this planet of ever-growing changes, shifts and changes are often made, leading to the discarding of past values and tradition. In Ruth Ozeki’s novel, My Year of Meats, Ozeki indicates a shift in Japan as a country, as a result of influences in capitalism, consumerism, and overall American Culture. Ozeki makes it increasingly evident that Japan is losing its identity amongst nations as Japan seeks to conform with societies which have been deemed successful and prosperous. Japan is shown to seek adaptations of cultural lifestyles with a change to a diet richer in meats and shift towards desires of the “American Dream.”

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Modernization of Japan into a Meat Culture

Clear resentment is presented towards past Japan through Akiko’s husband, John, who displays a growing loss of interest in his wife due to her small figure and infertility, which he views to be due to a meat-deficient diet. The remedy in such situation is concluded to be a change to a more American lifestyle, one that incorporates large consumption of meat. In such way, Ozeki utilizes meat as a linkage to American consumerism and culture, displaying shifting tides in Japan, as Japan becomes further accustomed to meat consumption through the cooking show, My American Wife, that Jane (the Protagonist) helps to produce. Ozeki essentially hints to the failure of infrastructure in Japan as a whole, as Japanese culture has caused its people to pale in comparison to American people.

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Large Portions of Meat (Symbolizing American Culture & Consumerism)

The Protagonist Jane can be seen as the bridge between Japan and the America, as she is of Japanese and Caucasian decent. In presenting this duality, Ozeki is able to further the idea of American health and stature through both the successes of Jane with her TV show and Jane’s figure itself. John who comes into contact with Jane, in one passage, commends Jane on her height and intelligence, which he attributes to her Caucasian side. This sort of American favoritism that Ozeki incorporates into her novel, creates a sense of a dying Japanese culture that people seek to abandon for something of greater nourishment and prosperity. In My Year of Meats, this nourishment comes in the form of the meat that is cooked on the show and the meat that is sold to the Japanese people through BEEF-EX. The early Meiji Era values of 19th century Japan, values that include buddhist ideals of being frugal, low meat consumption, and overall moderation, are discarded and replaced with American values of excessiveness and high consumerism (in particular with that of meat). This new 20th century Japan, illustrates Japanese high regard toward a state of modernity, which is thought to be only possible through the mimicry of “American culture.”

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Cover of My Year of Meats Novel (displays Japanese Chopsticks which pick up Beef Cow)

My Year of Meats is a novel in which Japanese progression towards modernity in the 19th and 20th century is displayed through Japanese adaptations toward the American lifestyle. Ozeki displays such shift through the symbol of meat which becomes an increasingly common part of the Japanese peoples’ lives. American consumerism is placed at the utmost highest pedestal, as it emanates and produces prosperity and health which is shown through the juxtaposition of American and Japanese women.

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My year of meat (Extra Credit)

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Soyoung Son
Japanese 70

         Jane Takagi-Little is a Japanese American journalist and she works for a Japanese production company. She produces the program of called “My American Wife.”, this is about meat (beef), they show how to cook beef, what the best meat is, and show her life as American wife, how she cook meat every week. There are story of Jane, Suzie and Akiko. Jane’s story is the life of Akiko Ueno, she is manga artist and married with a man who work for BEEF-EX.

         This book’s story is about meat, actually culture of meat is not for Asian food, it came from Western and now it is popular and had been settled as our meal. Almost every one love meat and always find it at table and also rate of sold a meat has been growing rapidly. In My American Wife program show how to cook meat in the best way, and where we can find the best meat. They try to find the place where they can find the best meat, but they found the company which made a meat in stranger way rather than the best meat. There are actually lots of menu that they will cook but end up, they decided to cook a beef, because this American broadcast company have supporter Japanese company as well and this American company make a program for showing Japanese wife the best way to cook beef and that is actual purpose to sell a meat. The company which sold a meat have a huge farm, they want to raise a cow with very easy way, they shot inject of Hormone and other variety prevent inject to cow when cows are born, and also during they are growing, the company give them food mixed some drugs and give some shot as injection. It probably looks that cows are very healthy and they are growing up in very well circumstance, but it is not like that, it is very mess. The company even haven’t cleaned cow’s excreta, the farm is too small cow to grow, People who work there looks very bored to work as machine.  And if kids eat this meat, then they have problem of growing well. I think, most people have ambition and it brings these terrible result, they just need to sell it and earn money with any reason and ways. Ruth Ozeki wants to tell veil of food story, and we have to know there is lots of problem in food. Asian food culture is actually not meat long time ago but now it is popular and every Asian know it as healthy food, but there are lots of junk food also made with meat, such as Hamburger, sausage  and spam, we might know it is very unhealthy food, but we can’t stop eating those food. That means meat has already settled in our life. So we probably want to find a way to eat healthy and great meat as well and even if we eat junk food, we should try to eat less.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contemporary Travails

Parallel through character development but different through personal struggles, Jane Takagi-Little and Akiko Ueno both experience a learning journey that alters the shape of their futures. Jane produces a Japanese cooking show—with hopes to locate America’s most winning wives—and Akiko watches the reality performance—with hopes to cook and consume delicious, beef dishes. Ruth Ozeki, author of My Year of Meats, presents a wide variety of serious, somber issues that delve into cultural relations. Plaguing modern society’s viewpoints and beliefs, she begins to question these particular conflicts: the relationships between women and men; the gender stereotypes surrounding women; and the undisclosed affairs conducted by the meat industry. Through a characterization comparison between Jane and Akiko, Ruth Ozeki tackles issues that contemporary individuals and couples face on a daily basis in My Year of Meats.

Jane and Akiko not only embody dazzling counterpoints, but they also symbolize astounding resemblances. Jane’s first-person account provides the novel with its comical/frank tone, and Akiko’s ultimate conquest offers the novel its didactic/wise tone. Ozeki first attacks the sometimes troubling, complex relationships that women have with men. Jane’s intimate affair with the mysterious saxophonist, Sloane, supplies readers with an interesting scope: how modern-day relationships can epitomize ambiguity and confusion. This allows Jane to realize that her emotions cannot stop her from permitting fear of intimacy to dismember her relationship. Comparably, Akiko continues to pursue her puzzling relationship with Joichi Ueno—executive producer of the show. At this point, Ozeki begins to explore the distressing issue of spousal abuse: “he gave Akiko one last violent shake… gouged Akiko right above the eye” (100). Ozeki then starts to analyze the intricacies of gender stereotypes that constantly hamper women. Due to mainstream media and a bashing husband, Akiko is led to believe that the ideal, American wife characterizes an “ample, robust, yet never tough or hard to digest” (1) woman. Ruth Ozeki plays with this idea of stereotypes to test the preconceptions and misconceptions that contemporary individuals have with gender and culture.

Nevertheless, My Year of Meats fully discusses the concern of food safety and the practice of hormones in the meat industry. Ruth Ozeki conducts a rough examination about the trace residues of such growth-enhancing drugs; blended in the industrial beef, Americans unknowingly eat harmful remains on a consistent basis. This information integrates itself into the story and begins to affect Jane’s well-being. Learning that she once was exposed to a DES hormone—which promotes growth in cows and prevents miscarriages in women—she heartbreakingly realizes that she now has reproductive problems. Such a large, social issue regarding the meat industry begins to resonate with the small, intimate portion of this woman’s life. Ozeki investigates one of the true evils of the world while reveling about the defective, flawed qualities of human nature.

In their own respects, each character traverses through differing obstacles and opposing conflicts. However, even though they both rise above any complications, Jane comprehends that happy endings only satisfy the emotions of a reader: “I don’t think I can change my future simply by writing a happy ending” (350). After all of the proposed issues in the novel, readers not only wonder about modern society’s belief system, but they also ponder about the efficacy of a desired outcome.

Wal-Mart

In My Years of Meat by Ruth Ozeki, segmented episodes where Jane Takagi penetrates into the lives of various “american wives” function together to construct one coherently distressful message of the mass producing, profit oriented, mask wearing image of capitalist America. Between these bursts of plot, the one underlying theme of consumption, packaging, and mass distribution in the name of prosperity is represented by a single entity – Wal-Mart; its ugly identity remains static and transcends through each episode of the close inspections. Wal-Mart is shown to be the perfect representation of a falsified face of American culture, both in its shimmering image and its hidden despicable flaws, and in how it corrupts homeland America, as well as deceive Japan.

In America, Wal-Mart is like a disease-filled, brainwashing corporate machine. People are described as zombie like and “spent all their days off at Wal-Mart” (Location 540). Towns are sterilized and equalized into copies of each other, as if Wal-Mart’s giant gloved right hand stamps on the mark of advancement while its rotten black left hand crushes and brushes away the traditional Main street Mom n’ Pop shops. Wal-Mart has the ability to wipe clean any character, there is no race, sexuality, or disability in its eyes, and with the same welcoming embrace it accepts all and contaminates all; it is there that Susie buys her Pepsi, Gracie buys the toys, and Suzuki finds his porn. Ruth also describes the twisted values of the corporation in the case of the Bukowsky family, where “Wal-Mart did the right thing and paid a handsome settlement” (Location 2122). To the cold faced manager who refuses to admit liability, amendments for his mistake did not involve any remorse or humanly emotions. Instead of fixing their wrongs from the root of the problem, Wal-Mart’s attitude of corrective action is simply monetary repayment.

Yet such a flawed creature is glorified in Japan as the “awesome, capitalist equivalent of the wide open spaces and endless horizons of the American geographical frontier.”(Location 559). In reality Wal-Mart is more like a pretty curtain drop in front of a vulgar mess of disturbing meat production and processing; it serves as a filter between the ugly truth, and the dressed up version presented to the masses. However to Ueno, the image casted onto the curtain is precisely what he wishes to broadcast to the people of Japan, both as a means to satisfy their hunger for western understanding, and for his own selfish incentive of promoting beef. Since the Japanese crew’s very initial contact with Jane, “Waru-Maato wa doko?”(Location 538) already sounds like a desperate cry in the pursuit of a falsely constructed wholesomeness.

In My Years of Meat, Wal-Mart is singled out as a symbolism for the foulness within American culture. On one hand it corrodes individualism within the U.S. and uses mass production as a means of creating the frenzy that lies in the source of unethical meat production. On the other hand to the viewers in Japan, only a craftily manipulated image of western power is put forth.  By planting this central argument within the familiar image of Wal-Mart, Ruth urges us to see beyond what is fed to us, and find courage to peer behind the curtain and see the unpleasant truth.

“Americazation” of Japan

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.

Genre and Perspective in My Year of Meats

Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats opens each chapter with a quote from Shōnagon’s The Pillow Book.  Thus it precedes the narrative with a question of genre.  To classify Shōnagon’s work into any type of genre might be viewed as a dubious or retroactive action, generally we might see it as a hybrid. Columbia’s Traditional Japanese Literature introduces the work by stating that the three hundred sections of the book can be divided into three types of writing – essay, diary, and listing – and there is some overlap between these selections (248).

Though My Year of Meats takes Shōnagon’s work as an inspiration, two important ‘overlaps’ that mark Ozeki’s work and bind it as a whole, not as interactions between discrete sections.  The first of these is the overlay of the fictional on the real in the form of the genre of the novel. The second is the presence of technology, specifically film and video, which asserts a specific perspective or ‘gaze’ on the characters in the narrative.  The relation of a narrator, or an authorial voice, to the gaze of a camera is raises interesting issues. In relation to the medium of film, specifically documentary, the modes discussed by Bill Nichols project different narrative gazes. Yet, Ozeki’s work, in spite of its fictional overlay, might be seen as a hybridization of the genre of show business exposé.  For the purpose of perspective – or ‘gaze’ – it is important to differentiate this from autobiographical accounts by stars or directors, who might be seen as embodying an authoritative gaze associated with the media itself, or by reporters or other outsiders writing about the business.  An example of this genre that I might attempt to distantly connect to Shōnagon via the media world of Ozeki in the sense of an insider’s look power would be Julia Phillip’s You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again.  The bifurcation of the narrative voice as insider, part of an A-list production team, and outsider, a female in 1970’s Hollywood is central to shifting the perspective away from a select group of (almost entirely) male characters that have transferred their vision or gaze to the public at large.  In My Year of Meats we have an inversion of this; the media the author addresses falls loosely into the category of documentary or what we might see now as reality television, whereas the overarching narrative is presented as fiction. However, the author’s relation to the media spectacle is similar, complicit yet critical.  This closeness allows the audience to be in Nichols’ words “at the keyhole” (39), yet our knowledge that we are watching those who themselves watch, create, and manipulate reality distances us from the discomfort of peering into the ‘life of a person who is not an actor who has willing agreed to be observed playing a part in a fiction” (Ozeki’s fiction serves this distance also).

Ozeki seeks to reintroduce voyeuristic discomfort that could be produced through her analysis of the editing of the breakdown of Suzie’s marriage and her encounter with Suzie after this segment of the production has finished.  Ozeki’s work may most obviously pay tribute to Shōnagon in the mix of such stylistic elements as listing, but I feel the hybridization of various modern media perspectives, the documentary, the novel, the exposé, represents a deeper relationship to Shōnagon’s work.

Shirane, Haruo ed. Traditional Japanese Literature: An Anthology, Beginnings to 1600. New York: Columbia (2007).

Listful Women

“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:

Hateful
Unsuitable
Depressing
Annoying
Presumptuous
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.

The Danger of Selling Culture Through Food

Genre in My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki unfolds into both a personal diary narrative and third-personal documentary.  It follows Japanese-American Jane Takagi-Little as she helps create a television show called “My American Wife” emphasizing meat and American values to the Japanese public.  The personal narrative aspect of the book is told by Jane as she recounts her personal experiences in working on the meat promoting show.  The documentary portion follows the show itself and its effects on a Japanese housewife named Akiko.

An intimate relationship is forged between the reader and Jane through her first-person reflections on the job.  Throughout the book, her self-dialogues are often blunt and harsh.  Jane does not bother with any sort manners in these passages; she is direct, forthright, and genuinely frank.  Jane’s assertive mindset may actually be reminiscent of Sei Shonagon’s boldness in her personal writings, “I am the sort of person who approves of what others abhor and detests the things they like” (1).   Her straightforward attitude not only allows the reader a closer connection to her part of the story.  It, more importantly, imparts the reader with a deeper insight into the fundamentally corrupt manipulation techniques that the show uses to sell a supposedly perfect culture to the Japanese people. Together with the documentary elements of the book, Jane’s personal narrative highlights the increasingly apparent fabrications on the show while underlining its exploitation of both the American families and the Japanese public.

Akiko’s experience with the show is described in the documentary portion of the book.  Her husband, a worker for the company sponsoring the show, forces her to watch the show and adopt American habits, “that’s when her meat duties started.  Every Saturday morning, she would be required to watch My American Wife and then fill out a questionnaire he had designed, rating the program from one to ten in categories such as General Interest, Educational Value, Authenticity, Wholesomeness, Availability of Ingredient, and Deliciousness of Meat” (21).  Her every attitude and reaction are documented and revealed to the reader during her involvement.  Thus, the reader is able to see the direct effects of Jane’s actions in creating show on the Japanese public, thereby seeing what goes into the creative side and the resulting impact. Consequently, the documentary component is critical to the reader’s understanding of Ozeki’s aim of detailing culture exploitation.  Even Akiko’s husband has bought into the artificial, American culture and forces her to eat meat in the hopes that her health and fertility would increase.

The reader is able to observe the destructive harm of the show’s attempt to sell culture through the book’s dual genres of personal narrative and documentary.  Ozeki’s choice to include both methods of writing allows her to portray the damaging effect of valuing and imposing a culture over another.  One may infer that she does not believe any way of life to be inherently superior to another.

My Year of Meats: Contrasting Characters

Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats uses a documentarian style to follow three female characters, Jane Takagi-Little, Suzie, and Akiko.  All three women are linked by the television series My American Wife and the story follows their individual experiences with the show.  Jane plays the role on the production team, Suzie is selected as an “American Wife”, and Akiko is a devoted follower of the show.  Ozeki uses the documentary format and genre to highlight a contrast between Jane and the others.  She uses the weak, dependent characters Akiko and Suzie to highlight Jane’s strength and independence as a female.

Jane does not try to fit the mold of another woman and is inspired to be different.  She describes herself using words like “polysexual” and “freak” and she admittedly talks like a man.  When asked by a man what she is, she responds, “I … Am … A … F**king … AMERICAN!” From the opening passage, this displays Jane as a character who is unafraid to say what she thinks and as a character who is confident with who she is.  Jane wants to use the show to inspire others, “I wanted to think that some girl would watch my shows in Japan… and be inspired and learn something real about America.”  By using the documentary format, readers are able to see the irony in this quote because the show fails to teach people about American ways and it fails to inspire women to be different and independent.

Suzie’s weakness is on display from the opening shoot of her episode.  The producers insult her skin and ridicule her for her recipe’s simplicity.  The shows inability to inspire and make women stronger comes out in full force when Suzie’s husband becomes frustrated and admits of his extramarital affair.  This leaves Suzie as a broken down women left, “crying under a mountain of brand-new floral bedding” at the end of taping.  At the same time Suzie is breaking down, it is Jane, not a male director, who is courageous enough to apologize to Suzie for how the taping negatively impacted her life.

Akiko’s connection with the show begins because her husband believes eating meat will allow her to become fertile again.  John controls Akiko and is frustrated that she cannot have children.  This is ironic because once they got married, John demands that Akiko buys condoms for their relationship.  Although Akiko is embarrassed to buy condoms, she does not voice her opinion and fears being scorned upon buying the incorrect brand.  While Akiko is afraid John will be upset when she buys the wrong condoms, Jane is willing to speak up as shown when she voices her displeasure about the fabrication of the show.   Akiko is also described as a person who, “could not imagine what such certainty would feel like.  She never felt at all sure of anything…”  This is a big contrast to Jane who defines herself.

By using the characters of Akiko and Suzie, the reader is truly able to appreciate and respect the protagonist, Jane, for her strength and individualism.  Although the show is not producing the outcome she originally wanted, Jane remains a strong woman and serves as the model for women that My American Wife if failing to be.