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Reading Food in Modern Japanese Literature

Reading Food in Modern Japanese Literature

Tomoko Aoyama
Copyright Date: 2008
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    Reading Food in Modern Japanese Literature
    Book Description:

    Literature, like food, is, in Terry Eagleton’s words, "endlessly interpretable," and food, like literature, "looks like an object but is actually a relationship." So how much do we, and should we, read into the way food is represented in literature? Reading Food explores this and other questions in an unusual and fascinating tour of twentieth-century Japanese literature. Tomoko Aoyama analyzes a wide range of diverse writings that focus on food, eating, and cooking and considers how factors such as industrialization, urbanization, nationalism, and gender construction have affected people’s relationships to food, nature, and culture, and to each other. The examples she offers are taken from novels (shosetsu) and other literary texts and include well known writers (such as Tanizaki Jun’ichiro, Hayashi Fumiko, Okamoto Kanoko, Kaiko Takeshi, and Yoshimoto Banana) as well as those who are less widely known (Murai Gensai, Nagatsuka Takashi, Sumii Sue, and Numa Shozo). Food is everywhere in Japanese literature, and early chapters illustrate historical changes and variations in the treatment of food and eating. Examples are drawn from Meiji literary diaries, children’s stories, peasant and proletarian literature, and women’s writing before and after World War II. The author then turns to the theme of cannibalism in serious and popular novels. Key issues include ethical questions about survival, colonization, and cultural identity. The quest for gastronomic gratification is a dominant theme in "gourmet novels." Like cannibalism, the gastronomic journey as a literary theme is deeply implicated with cultural identity. The final chapter deals specifically with contemporary novels by women, some of which celebrate the inclusiveness of eating (and writing), while others grapple with the fear of eating. Such dread or disgust can be seen as a warning against what the complacent "gourmet boom" of the 1980s and 1990s concealed: the dangers of a market economy, environmental destruction, and continuing gender biases. Reading Food in Modern Japanese Literature will tempt any reader with an interest in food, literature, and culture. Moreover, it provides appetizing hints for further savoring, digesting, and incorporating textual food.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6407-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction: Why Read Food in Modern Japanese Literature?
    (pp. 1-14)

    Towards the end of Tanizaki Jun’ichiro’s novelTade kuu mushi(1929, trans.Some Prefer Nettles, 1955) the protagonist Kaname and his wife, Misako, visit Misako’s father in Kyoto to discuss their marriage, which has been on the rocks. After years of inertia and hesitation, the couple has finally decided to make a move towards formal separation and divorce. Realizing this, Misa-ko’s father wants to talk to Kaname first, then take his daughter to a restaurant for a quiet chat. Before leaving Kaname in the house, the old man asks his young, “doll-like” mistress, O-Hisa, to ensure that his son-in-law is...

  5. Chapter One Food in the Diary
    (pp. 15-45)

    The diarist is Masaoka Shiki (1867–1902), the poet-critic celebrated as the key figure in the radical modernization of the haiku and the tanka, the close friend of Natsume Sōseki, and the literary ally of Tsubouchi Shōyō.³ He is in the last year of his life and is bedridden, being slowly consumed by tuberculosis of the spine. This process is recorded in two diaries,⁴ one of them “private,” the other “public.” What we have just seen is a part of the private diary, which, as we will see more closely below, is a frank and honest record of, among other...

  6. Chapter Two Down-to-Earth Eating and Writing (1)
    (pp. 46-70)

    Poet Ishikawa Takuboku (1886–1912) wrote this passage in his 1909 essay “Kurau beki shi” (Poems to Eat). Takuboku’s idea of “poems to eat” provides a prototype for the “earthy” and “down-to-earth” writing that is the subject of this and the following chapter; what he says about poetry can also be applied to prose fiction. It is common to link food and literature on the grounds of the vital importance of both in building, nurturing, and sustaining a healthy mind and body. This view is often allied with a preference for the basic and the ordinary, rather than special or...

  7. Chapter Three Down-to-Earth Eating and Writing (2)
    (pp. 71-93)

    As we saw in the previous chapter, down-to-earth representations of food and eating tend to focus on disempowered, marginalized people, although the style and form vary. This chapter begins with an examination of some women’s texts that demonstrate that hunger is not simply a physical and socioeconomic issue, but has also a deep connection with gender. In the middle section of the chapter I discuss three novels that depict the hunger and appetite of various social dropouts, outcasts, and marginalized people in the prewar, wartime, and postwar periods. The final text examined in this chapter is somewhat different from the...

  8. Chapter Four Cannibalism in Modern Japanese Literature
    (pp. 94-130)

    Cannibalism, or anthropophagy, appears in many mythologies and fairy tales, as well as in classical and modern literature. It is a topic that has attracted scholarly attention across a wide range of disciplines that include anthropology, psychology, semiotics, history, and literary and cultural studies, at the same time triggering heated debates as to its possible meanings, particularly over the last few decades in the West. Anthropophagy has been seen variously as a colonialist myth (William Arens,The Man-Eating Myth, 1979), as a means of controlling evil or illness (Jacques Attali,L’ordre cannibale, 1979), as a so-called concrete device for distinguishing...

  9. Chapter Five The Gastronomic Novel
    (pp. 131-171)

    In traditional Japanese culture, eating enjoyed a status far lower than that of drinking. To talk about food, to desire food, or to be at all interested in food was generally regarded as vulgar, especially in adult men. The uninhibited eating and food writing of contemporary Japan seems to have received its impetus from a reaction to the repression and oppression of appetite during the war—expressed in the sloganHoshigari masen katsu made wa(Desire nothing till victory)—and to the understandable preoccupation, during and immediately after the war, with food simply as a means for survival. By the...

  10. Chapter Six Food and Gender in Contemporary Women’s Literature
    (pp. 172-203)

    In recent years the connection between food and gender has been the subject of numerous and diverse studies.¹ Certain kinds of food and certain ways of eating are generally regarded as either feminine or masculine. While meat and offal tend to be categorized as masculine food in many cultures, sweets are usually considered feminine food. More important, the production, preparation, and consumption of food may be regarded exclusively as the preserve of either men or women. In Japan, as in many other countries, men’s cooking was confined to the professional sphere until relatively recently, while women were, and to a...

  11. Conclusion: Confessions of an Obsessive Textual Food Eater
    (pp. 204-210)

    I started this book with a series of question about reading food in literature: what, how, why, and how far do we or can we or should we read? My questions arose out of a decade of reading food in literary texts driven by an omnivorous desire to know. Not that this desire has had a significant effect on my actual eating habits. Neither has my cooking repertoire been extended significantly, though I did try some of the recipes that appear in the writings of Uno Chiyo, Dan Kazuo, Kanai Mieko, and a few others. The reading experience has, however,...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 211-248)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 249-262)
  14. Index
    (pp. 263-274)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 275-280)