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Home arrow Political science arrow Feeding Japan : The Cultural and Political Issues of Dependency and Risk
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Conclusion

Ekiken elucidates the moral principles of health preservation, the human body and the techniques of everyday self-cultivation, touching on topics like eating and drinking, sexuality, sleeping, bathing and physical exercise, establishing food and eating as the main concern of a dietary lifestyle. The readers also learn why and how food choices will affect organs, digestion, blood pressure, flow of energy etc. The Yojokun in this sense creates knowledge about the body and the way it functions, and also shapes the way of thinking about the body. Food regulations in the Yojokun are firmly rooted within kampo medicine, but are to the same degree techniques of self-control and self-cultivation based on Neo- Confucian ethics, through which a definition of the appropriate or ‘right’ food and dietary habits is established. The main concern in Ekiken’s dietetics is moderation and frugality with respect to eating and drinking. The dietary regime mirrors and disseminates ideas of the ruling warrior class, and by following the established regulations, which are based on control of desires and emotions, the individual becomes an ethical subject by subjugating himself/herself to an existing political, social order, which is based on cosmological principles. By failing to follow the given rules of a healthy diet, the individual violates his/her obligations to ruler, parents, family and society in general. Like other Edo period health manuals, the Yojokun transfers responsibility for the food choices made to the (informed) individual and the decision to follow food regulations is defined as a moral choice. The consequences of a refusal to adhere to dietetic rules are immediate: disease. Dietetics in this sense is an appeal to the fearful and ethical subject. The sick subject, however, is also stigmatized as his/her body visibly displays the individual’s doubtfulness in terms of morals and work ethics. Ideas and ideologies are thus imprinted onto the body or even actively shape the body as a social fact,50 as the ideas of the body are translated into performative acts of life cultivation and nourishment.

Kuriyama Shigehisa already observed that ‘the Japanese experience of embodiment still retains some of the core features that crystallized in Edo times’. He is referring to the ‘cultural memory in the body’ - but certainly also of the body - ‘in which, despite the passage of several hundred years, the past remains palpably present’.[1] The notions of the body and health presented in the Yojokun equally still reflect culturally established body techniques and experiences of embodiment. Recently, the book has regained popularity in Japan within holistic medicine, lifestyle magazines and books as well as within the ecological move- ment.[2] Undoubtedly, the rediscovery of the Yojokun also needs to be seen within the context of the ‘Edo boom’, which, in a process of nostalgic romanticization, establishes the Edo period, or Edo manners (Edo shigusa), as a remedy for the ‘illnesses’ that afflict modern Japanese society. In this nostalgic notion, the Edo period is seen as an ideal past of a ‘pure/unadulterated Japanese’ culture or tradition, which has been lost and needs to be recovered. This idea is also mirrored in an article entitled ‘The Wisdom Behind Foods Developed in Edo’ published by the Bulletin of the Kikkoman Society of International Food Culture, where the question is asked: ‘Are we, however, preserving and maintaining the wisdom of Edo? Perhaps we need to review the wisdom of Edo regarding food and incorporate it into the practical science of our daily lives.’[3] But, there is also another level on which the increasing influence of a neoliberal worldview - supporting nationalistic tendencies of creating a, using the term Abe Shinzo coined, ‘beautiful country’ (utsukushii kuni) - surfaces. This model also takes hold in food education, which as Stephanie Assmann will argue in this volume, embraces an approach of neoliberal governmentality and accordingly creates mechanisms of social and self-disciplinary regimes. The ‘wisdom of Edo’ in terms of health care and food thus comes at a price: Health may never have been a private matter, but now it has definitely become a public one.

  • [1] Kuriyama,‘ The Historical Origins of Katakori, 146.
  • [2] E.g. Shimokata, ‘Ydjokun’ ni manabu!; Tatsukawa, Yojokun ni manabo; Shoji, Shoji kun noYdjdkun and Obitsu, Horisutiku Ydjdkun.
  • [3] Kikkoman Institute for International Food Culture. http://www.kikkoman.co.jp/kiifc/foodculture/pdf_12/e_015_018.pdf.
 
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