Organization of Chapters

This book is organized into five parts, which guide the reader through topics that have been identified by the contributors as most timely and significant in ongoing discussions as well as crucial to the understanding of recent developments and future challenges of cultural and national food identities in Japan and beyond. Resonating across the papers is the notion of food and eating as an important aspect in cultural, national and individual identity formation. Yet, what are the mechanisms that govern food choices and foodways, and who actually decides what we eat, under what circumstances and why? In trying to find an answer to these questions, the contributors to this book address and reconsider what the ‘Japanese food’ we discuss actually is - and what it is not - focusing on the process through which it becomes or has become ‘Japanese’ food, how it is maintained as such and what it should be ‘defended’ from, internally as well as externally.

The four articles in the first part deal with the cultural background to the creation of a national cuisine, placing embodied food practices[1] within the theoretical framework of invented traditions.[2] In the first article, Andreas Niehaus takes a historical approach, drawing on the theoretical framework of Foucault’s governmentality. He argues that already during the Edo period (1600-1867) individual food choices were linked to Neo-Confucian moral and ethical concepts. These concepts were then placed within the discourse of self-cultivation and health preservation and thereby defined as individual responsibility and duty towards the ruler and natural order. Covering the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Mitsuda Tatsuya focuses on conflicting narratives of Western (yogashi) and Japanese (wagashi) style snacks. He shows the extent to which this contentious juxtaposition affected consumer behaviour and privileged yogashi, by defining them as healthy, useful and rational. Through an analysis of restaurant reviews in the culinary magazine Kuidoraku in the first decennium of the twentieth century,

Eric Rath reveals another public debate, which remains valid to this day. On the surface, the discourse in Kuidoraku seems to centre on the value and quality of restaurant cuisine versus home cooking. However, ultimately, the reviews point at a contestation that still lingers in Japan, involving the state-induced virtues of the housewife preparing washoku versus the gourmand’s continuous pursuit of ever more refined versions of Japanese cuisine in high-end restaurants. These topics are also dealt with in the following article by Stephanie Assmann, as she addresses questions of national food education (shokuiku) in the global as well as domestic context. While domestically, the governmental food education campaigns stress the importance of a pure and fresh Japanese diet and homemade food for a healthy lifestyle; on the international level, the focus is on the recognition of Japanese haute cuisine in a globalized world. The conclusion, however, shows striking similarities with the first article by Niehaus: the realization that the responsibility for good and healthy eating is increasingly being redirected to the individual. Bridging national culinary identity on the local as well as global level, Assmann’s article guides us to the following section, which explores Japanese food identities in a globalizing world.

Each dealing with a different commodity - coffee, bread, sake and wine - the four articles in Part II single out certain products that are all, consciously or unconsciously, consumed as ‘national’ products and became part of Japanese culinary culture. Nevertheless, it can be argued that three out of the four products are fairly new to Japan and historically fit within the opposition between Japan and the West. Shedding light on the process behind this transformation, Part II thus addresses current dynamics of reinvention, appropriation and localization of these mainly un-Japanese products in Japanese national cuisine within the context of a globalized world. Helena Grinshpun’s study on coffee as a cultural and culinary experience gives important insights into the ‘Japanization’ of coffee culture and coffee drinking. At the same time, this contribution breaks open the binary West/Japan pattern within the context of globalization that formed the theoretical starting point of this part. Similar dynamics can be seen in the historical process through which bread, originally associated with Western food, became a symbol of the nation. Sheng shows how Japanese bakers express their ideas of national identity to a global audience in their bread creations for international baking competitions. Also beyond this, in local bakeries around the country, bakers draw on traditions from the ‘Other’ in constructing the ‘Self through bread, anchoring it by adding Japanese references in the name, such as nihon no pan (Japanese bread) or by adding wa (Japanese).

The following two contributions address Japanese wine and sake cultures, which although seemingly unrelated at first, both became representatives of Japanese culinary soft power abroad as part of the washoku boom. Wang Chuanfei first tackles the dynamics behind the growing popularity of Japanese wine in Japan and abroad, explaining how the sector overcame struggles related to local grape agriculture and globalized consumer demands. Aside from assigning a clear role for the government in this process of globalization, it becomes apparent that recent successes are the result of the cooperative involvement of big private companies as well as small-scale engaged entrepreneurs, researchers and consumers. Turning towards a drink that is considered to be truly Japanese, Dick Stegewerns' article focuses on the ongoing campaigns of re-traditionalizing sake, by creating a new semantic field around established constituents of what is considered to be traditionally Japanese. He scrutinizes the various ways through which sake is linked to Japanese culture and Japanese national identity, and gives insights into the recent trends of turning drinking habits into heritage. The articles in Parts I and II of this volume thus reflect how the process of constructing a national cuisine and culinary identity is more than a conscious state- run project, but also strongly depends on the support and initiative of a wide array of actors such as intellectuals, the media and its audience, industry, cooks, specialists and consumers, in an often uncoordinated act.

In a world where not only the supply chain but also the consumer and their preferences are increasingly globalized, questions of hybridization and exclusivity arise that are related to domestic and international food identities. The third part of our volume crosses borders and addresses ‘Japanese food identities inside-out', expressed through the consumption of foreign food in Japan, or Japanese food abroad. In the first article, Tine Walravens addresses the perception of foreign food within the context of an increasing exclusivity of Japanese food identities. The author analyses the ubiquity of a negative image of Chinese food in Japan and traces the changes in food perceptions correlated with both the statistical increase in food safety issues involving imported Chinese food and the development of the ‘China threat’ thesis. She unfolds the political as well as social processes and dynamics that link Chinese food imports to questions of national food safety and a seemingly endangered national and cultural identity embodied in ‘Japanese’ cuisine. From questions related to the quality and safety of food influencing consumer behaviour, we turn to religious patterns regarding the consumption and production of food. In his chapter on halal food and Islam in Japan, Ono Junichi addresses a recently much discussed and disputed topic. He discloses how, in a country where Muslim Japanese cannot take the halal-ness of their food for granted, the conscious and individual act of choosing what to eat becomes a manifestation of identity awareness and self-identification for the Muslim minority in Japan.

Crossing borders, James Farrer turns his gaze towards China, providing a historical as well as anthropological context to Shanghai as a centre of high-end Japanese cuisine amidst increasing bilateral conflicts, a negative perception of Japan and consumer concerns over Japanese food since the Fukushima nuclear disaster. He shows how, against a changing domestic background, the Japanese culinary field in Shanghai has come to be domesticated and sheds light on the dynamic agents - owners, suppliers but also importantly consumers - behind this phenomenon. Turning from the space of the restaurant to the spatial reality of the Japanese department store Shirokiya in Hawai’i, Jutta Teuwsen’s anthropological study then analyses the importance of Japanese food, taste and eating within the Japanese diasporic communities of Hawai’i, revealing different identities that Japanese groups in Hawai’i construct through the means of food.

At 39% (2015) Japan’s food self-sufficiency rate is the lowest among developed nations, and questions related to the consequences of this high import dependency on food safety and national cuisine are ample. In the fourth part of this volume, three contributions will turn heads to the issue of food security and agricultural politics, on the local, national and international level. Felice Farina starts off with a historical account of Japan’s import dependency. Taking a novel approach to this much-debated issue in contemporary Japanese food politics, he analyses Japan’s dependence on imported food not as a result of a change in dietary habits, but places the self-sufficiency rate within the framework of international food politics and national security interests. Staying within this international context, Paul O’Shea turns towards the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade agreement between states on both sides of the Pacific. In line with the preceding chapter by Farina, O’Shea concludes that the regional geopolitical context and national security issues seem to be key factors motivating Japan’s entry negotiations, rather than the benefits of free trade and agricultural liberalization upon which the public discourse focuses. An outline of the potential consequences of the trade deal for agriculture, rural areas and food security in Japan forces upon us the dilemma Japan will face in the future, as increasing agricultural liberalization threatens to undermine its domestic producers and the country’s efforts towards food self-sufficiency. Concentrating on the local, Hanno Jentzsch applies this pressing question, by focusing on hamlet-based agricultural collectives (shuraku eino). Based on extensive fieldwork, he shows how local authorities as well as farmers and agricultural networks negotiate and discuss the interpretation and implementation of changing agricultural policies. Thus addressing the interaction between informal village institutions and agricultural policy reform, this chapter sheds light on shifting social structures and new forms of farming in rural Japan.

Moving away from food security and focusing on food safety in the wake of the 3/11 Triple Disaster, the articles in Part V deal with a crucial turning point in Japanese foodways. The Fukushima nuclear meltdown came to challenge food practices as well as food politics and threatens Japanese food identities that are based on the aforementioned assumption that Japanese food is pure and healthy. The argumentative cracks and discursive conflicts in this belief increasingly come to the surface and are discussed from different perspectives. Against the backdrop of the nuclear accident of 2011, Kimura Aya’s contribution draws on gender, as well science and technology studies, examining the role of women’s mobilizations in contemporary food activism in Japan. Through the case study of the safe school lunch movement, she highlights the important context of post-disaster nationalism and neoliberalism in shaping the meaning of Japanese food. At the end of her contribution, Kimura opens a new direction of discussion on politicized food, a thread taken up by Takeda Hiroko who discusses food politics in the aftermath of the Fukushima incident. Following up on Kimura’s neoliberal arguments, Takeda analyses the narratives and politics behind the national campaign that promotes the consumption of food from the disaster-stricken area. Takeda identifies how, by minimalizing the risk related to domestic consumption, this promotion of national solidarity links food practices with notions of national identity, mediated through different conceptions of food risk in post-3/11 Japan.

As precisely the risk related to the consumption of domestic foods is up for discussion, the above-mentioned dilemma regarding imports and trade liberalization surfaces again. The Japanese discourse on agriculture inherently links food safety with food security. Whereas in Part IV, Paul O’Shea analysed the TPP from a food security perspective; in the next chapter, Cornelia Reiher focuses on the food safety issues in the negotiation process. Through an analysis of the anti-TPP discourse, Reiher discloses how over time, the discursive focus changed from concerns related to agriculture, farmers’ livelihoods and food safety towards a discussion on tariffs and economic feasibility. Moreover, trapped in their Us versus Them dichotomy directed towards the US, the TPP opponents analysed overlook real problems regarding scientific value, GMOs (genetically modified organisms), the dominance of the private sector or transnational corporations.

The articles in the last two parts of this volume thus address issues of dependency and risk as expressed through food safety and food security concerns. Within the context of free trade negotiations and uncertainty regarding radioactive contamination of the food supply, Japanese food identities are challenged and contested. The government’s promotion of Japan’s culinary identity as manifested in fresh and pure washoku has failed to convince the public in the aftermath of the 2011 nuclear disaster. Its focus on food self-sufficiency seems irrelevant in light of the ongoing trade negotiations. These chapters aim to show how a changing domestic and international situation forces us to reconsider culinary identities that are built on notions of purity or self-sufficiency, and brings to the surface real consumer concerns. Japan’s food conundrum is more than the discussion of washoku versus imports, or Us versus Them, couched in terms of gastronationalism or national cuisine, but shields pressing issues regarding the concrete safety of domestic as well as imported foods, food education, family life, antiglobalism, local farmers’ survival, trust and motivations.

The editors would also like to thank the Japan Foundation for their financial support, which made this publication possible.

  • [1] Lupton, Food, the Body and the Self.
  • [2] Hobsbawm and Ranger (eds.). The Invention of Tradition Anderson, Imagined Communities.
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