[first draft sent as HI 16 bonus paper – an attempt on weird associations (?)]
As Henrik Meyer-Ohle (2011) describes the contemporary Japanese food as “fresh and fast”, the drastic change to retailing had a great impact not only to health and economic issues, but also their way of living and thinking. With the rapid spread of konbini (convenience stores and fast food chain restaurants), the revolution has been greatly affecting society because of the estrangement it gives to local food traditions and practices. Moreover, it also welcomes the “fresh and fast” perspectives that the people acquire to use for their expression – through literature and the arts.
Somehow, we can already directly link food to literature with the cookbook, the piece of literature associated to food extending the ongoing trend for the latest food finds and how to cook them. However, in the premise of having a food invasion involving ways which are not the country’s own, the Japanese voice out their reactions through the creative process. Hence, a lot of films, stories, essays, and modern forms of art have emerged ever since.
Perhaps, a great response to Japanese food and convenience was the “Second Bakery Attack”, part of the fiction compilation entitled “The Elephant Vanishes” (Murakami, 1993). This was a short story narrative involving a struggle between a couple in searching for food that they never found at home. Going out, what was expected to be a bakery robbery turned out as a purchase of Big Macs and Coke. On what seemed to be a relatively fast way to tell a story and to drive a point, the opposition that the character motivations are far off more leaning into food as a necessity rather than a commodity – a certain characteristic that retail outlets or fast food restaurants (such as McDonald’s) can have. These ideas could have stemmed from the McDonaldization of society – in this case, the Japanese – where a society experiences “the process by which the principles of the fast-food restaurant are coming to dominate more and more sectors of [American] society as well as the rest of the world.” In a sudden and weird twist at the end, Murakami chooses to narrate this rejection of the convenience that was illustrated from the start all the way to that point where there was nothing but stillness.
Also presented by Meyer-Ohle was the 1996 film “Sûpâ no onna (Supermarket woman)” (IMDB, 2011). It was directed by Juzo Itami, demonstrates the rivalry between mass production and the skill and talent needed to produce sashimi. Thus, this conflict became crucial not only due to the time it took, but also to how fresh and well-made food items were sold at the supermarkets. As he directed and her wife Nobuko Miyamoto always played the leading lady roles in his films, there was also a previous movie exposing a rather odd way of presenting food as subject. In “Tampopo (Dandelion)”, which was released in 1985, gave a different viewpoint as food became objects of desire and eroticism. Some parts included a kissing scene that involved a transfer of an egg yolk from the man to the woman; another one having to do with an oyster a man could not eat and therefore cut his lip, which in turn helped a girl kiss the man by scooping out the insides of the oyster. In as much these were attempts to eroticism, it can still be agreed that in terms of detail, these scenes still portray how Japanese people want their food: raw and fresh. As far as it went, Itami was dubbed as “a zesty, immoderate connoisseur of pleasure-taking in all its forms” (Hinson, 1987).
The films and the short stories presented were just a very small fraction of new literature that sprung out of the change in Japanese food consumption. In this light, it might be tempting to conclude that Japanese literature has fully migrated into a Western outlook through this change, but the fact that the country’s artists cater to the mix of tradition and innovation in food, in so doing makes the Westerners and neighboring Asians turn to them and share their words about it. In the end, this will further develop into novelty literary projects that will transcend in sync with Japan’s modern-day status as a cultural and technological superpower.
Hinson, Hal, 1987. ‘Tampopo’ (NR). The Washington Post, Online, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/longterm/movies/videos/tampoponrhinson_a0c94d.htm, accessed 3 February 2011.
Internet Movie Database, 2011. Tampopo. Internet document, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0092048/, accessed 3 February 2011.
Ibid. Sûpâ no onna. Internet document, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0127310/, accessed 3 February 2011.
Meyer-Ohle, Hendrik. 2003. Fresh and Fast: Retailing Food in Contemporary Japan. Paper presented at Consuming Japan: Society, Politics, Economy and Japanese Food, Manila, 28 January 2011.
Murakami, Haruki. 1993. The Elephant Vanishes. New York: Vintage Press.
Ritzer, George. 2011. The McDonaldization of Society, 6th ed. California: Pine Forge Press.