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Rice as Self

Rice as Self: Japanese Identities through Time

Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney
Copyright Date: 1993
Pages: 198
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  • Book Info
    Rice as Self
    Book Description:

    Are we what we eat? What does food reveal about how we live and how we think of ourselves in relation to others? Why do people have a strong attachment to their own cuisine and an aversion to the foodways of others? In this engaging account of the crucial significance rice has for the Japanese,Rice as Selfexamines how people use the metaphor of a principal food in conceptualizing themselves in relation to other peoples. Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney traces the changing contours that the Japanese notion of the self has taken as different historical Others--whether Chinese or Westerner--have emerged, and shows how rice and rice paddies have served as the vehicle for this deliberation. Using Japan as an example, she proposes a new cross-cultural model for the interpretation of the self and other.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2097-9
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xi)
  4. A Note to the Reader
    (pp. xii-2)
  5. One Food as a Metaphor of Self: An Exercise in Historical Anthropology
    (pp. 3-11)

    Intensive interaction among peoples through trade, warfare, religion, and so forth, is a familiar historical picture in any part of the world. As anthropologists have become increasingly aware, few peoples have lived in isolated pockets insulated from historical flows of people and goods. An encounter with another culture, directly or indirectly through an exchange of cultural artifacts and institutions, often prompts people to think about who they are in relation to other peoples.

    Food plays a dynamic role in the way people think of themselves and others. Parry (1985:613) notes of Hindu culture: “A maniswhat he eats. Not...

  6. Two Rice and Rice Agriculture Today
    (pp. 12-29)

    Rice, along with wheat and corn, is one of the three most important grains in the world today. In 1984 wheat occupied 31.8 percent, rice 20.2 percent, and corn 17.8 percent of the cultivated acreage in the world while wheat constituted 29 percent, rice 26.1 percent, and corn 24.9 percent of all agricultural production (Soda 1989:11). More than one-third of the world’s population (34.9 percent; 1,166,474,000 people) eat rice as the only staple food. If one includes those who rely on both rice and other staples, such as corn and potatoes, the figure increases to 38 percent, and 17.5 percent...

  7. Three Rice as a Staple Food?
    (pp. 30-43)

    “Staple food” is a household term with a seemingly commonsense meaning. People identify certain foods as staple foods—bread, rice, tortillas, and so forth. What makes a food a staple? Is it the food eaten the most, quantitatively? The food used by most or all of the people in a society? The food that defines the meal, regardless of quantity? The Japanese termmeshi(gohanin the polite form) means either cooked rice or the meal in general. “Have you eatengohan” means “Have you eaten a meal?” Equating rice with food in general may have diffused to Japan from...

  8. Four Rice in Cosmogony and Cosmology
    (pp. 44-62)

    Clearly, rice occupies a special place in the Japanese diet. Although rice has never been the staple food in a quantitative sense for all Japanese, it has always been the food for ritual occasions. Yanagita (1982d:159–160) points out that of all grains rice alone is believed to have a soul, and it alone requires ritual performances. In contrast, nonrice grains are called zakkoku (miscellaneous grains), a label that places them in a residual category.

    I examine the cultural institutions and symbols primarily of ancient Japan, which show a gradual but decisive development of the powers and meanings was assigned...

  9. Five Rice as Wealth, Power, and Aesthetics
    (pp. 63-80)

    To further understand the symbolism of rice, which served as the primary form of wealth for many centuries, I explore the concepts of wealth in the context of Japanese cosmology and the related notions of power and aesthetics of rice.

    Acquisition of wealth is a dominant motif in the folklore of various parts of Japan, past and present (Yanagita 1951:371). Tales in this genre, referred to as “tales of a wealthy person”(chōjatan), share common themes: (1) a stranger, sometimes in the form of an animal, brings fortune to a person; (2) the stranger lives somewhere outside the village, sometimes...

  10. Six Rice as Self, Rice Paddies as Our Land
    (pp. 81-98)

    Historical processes whereby “rice as self,” that is, rice and rice paddies, have become dominant metaphors of the Japanese self must be examined in order to understand why this particular mode of representation has been accepted asnatural, or self-evident, for so long. Because I argue that it is not as a result of a simple “mystification” process, I examine cultural institutions, including artistic representations and other expressive cultural practices, to show how agrarian cosmology cum ideology has penetrated the day-to-day lives of the Japanese. Equally important is to explore the social dimensions of the “cost” of this representation, which...

  11. Seven Rice in the Discourse of Selves and Others
    (pp. 99-113)

    Through historical processes rice and rice paddies have come to represent the collective self of a social group within Japanese society from the smallest unit, of a family, to Japan as a whole. The collective self of the Japanese has undergone historical changes, changes that are almost always intimately related to historical developments outside of Japan.

    In anthropology, the classical formulation of the person/self by Mauss ([1938]1985) is quasi-evolutionary—the transformation of thepersonnage(role) in primitive holism into thepersonne(self) characterizing modern individualism, with themoi(awareness of self) as a human universal. Dumont’s ([1966] 1970, 1986) argument...

  12. Eight Foods as Selves and Others in Cross-cultural Perspective
    (pp. 114-126)

    A symbolic complex involving foods, agriculture, and nature serves as a metaphor of self in many other cultures. Some examples highlight both cultural specificities and cross-cultural parallels in the use of important foods as reflexive metaphors. Needless to say, the comparisons that follow are not meant to be systematic.

    Just as there are multiple voices of actors and social groups, there are diverse foodways within a single population. On the other hand, there is a striking cross-cultural parallel whereby people conceptualize a particular food asthefood, that is, the epitome oftheirfood. Across culturesthefood chosen by...

  13. Nine Symbolic Practice through Time: Self, Ethnicity, and Nationalism
    (pp. 127-136)

    There is a long tradition in symbolic anthropology of “food for thought” and, I would add, “for feeling.” Theoretical dimensions of foods and food taboos have been discussed by a number of distinguished anthropologists; Douglas (1966), Leach (1968), Lévi-Strauss (1963, 1969b), and Tambiah (1969), to name only a few. Many others contributed to an understanding of offerings to deities. But the symbolic meaning of staple foods has escaped systematic attention.

    In this book I have questioned an assumption, held at least by some, that so-called staple foods are primarily of quantitative value. I may have overemphasized the symbolic value of...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 137-148)
  15. References Cited
    (pp. 149-170)
  16. Index
    (pp. 171-184)