Culinary Magazine and Murai Gensai

Culinary Magazine was the first publication to include restaurant reviews as a regular feature, but it was not the first Japanese magazine dedicated to food. Kitchen Knife and Seasoning (Hocho anbai), published from 1886 to 1889 and revived briefly in 1891, was produced by and for professional chefs. Women’s magazines, such as Ladies’ Pictorial (Fujin gaho), founded in 1905, and Ladies’ Friend (Fujin no tomo), established in 1906, also featured discussions of home cooking and recipes, but with the upper- and middle-class housewife in mind.

Other publications offered advice about cooking to the professional or home cook, but only Culinary Magazine could boast of its connection to Japan’s most noted food writer, Murai Gensai (1863-1927), author of the original Kuidoraku, a wildly popular novel that served as the monthly’s inspiration.[1] Murai was a newspaper reporter and author of fiction who studied Russian and lived in California for a year. His novel first appeared as a year-long series in the Hochi Shimbun newspaper in 1903. When he expanded his tale into a four-volume book, the novel enjoyed tremendous success with more than 38 re-printings in just 2 years exceeding more than 100,000 copies. Adaptations for the Kabuki stage followed, which confirmed Murai as a household name - to the point that some spoke of a ‘Murai-style of cooking’.[2] In 1905, a magazine borrowing the title of Murai’s bestseller, based on his ideas, and featuring him as an occasional contributor, seemed like a sure bet.

For Murai, food was not only something pleasurable and necessary to sustain life: the quality of prepared food was also an international measure of a nation’s development. In the same way that the Meiji government had adapted ideas from Europe and North America to modernize laws and institutions including the armed forces and education, Murai contended that Westernizing home cooking was needed to advance Japanese civilization. Murai’s protagonists, Nakagawa and his sister Otowa, were both educated in the best traditional and latest culinary techniques. In a series of short episodes harkening back to the novel’s origin as a daily newspaper column, the pair conveyed their knowledge to their unenlightened acquaintances: a gluttonous man from the countryside named Ohara, and his uncouth and obese fiancee, Odai. Murai’s preferred English rendering of the novel’s title was ‘Pleasures of House-keeping, which points to the locale where he envisioned the best food to be prepared.[3] Men like Nakagawa could assist in improving cooking by demanding high standards and liberally sharing their knowledge of cuisine, but culinary success according to Murai depended on a housewife’s scientific management of the kitchen, which made Otowa a main actor in the drama. Popularly, Otowa was the recognized hero of the novel. Kuidoraku-themed restaurants and makers of aprons borrowed her name for their establishments and products, as described below. Despite the fact that she remains unmarried throughout the novel, Otowa’s frugal management of the household and high level of cooking skills embody the qualities of a ‘good wife and wise mother’, the idealized role for women that the Meiji government heavily promoted after the turn of the twentieth century. Women were denied the right to vote or even discuss politics in public, but the Meiji regime sought to mobilize the important service to the state that wives and mothers performed in the home. Murai’s novel endorsed the view that a woman’s most important duty was as a homemaker.

Murai’s contributions to Culinary Magazine continued the emphasis on home cooking that made him famous. On the first page of the monthly’s second edition, he editorialized the need to develop new methods to prepare rice, lamenting the fact that there were only five or six new rice dishes in Japan in contrast to the 400 varieties said to be found in the United States alone.[4] The December 1905 edition offered daily recipe suggestions drawn from Murai’s novel, which received a full-page advertisement in the same edition.[5] Murai’s presence in the magazine was felt beyond his few contributions to early issues. The September 1905 issue contained Murai’s list of aphorisms about home cooking on a large centrefold. The other side featured an advertisement with a detailed table of contents for his new book on tips for home cooking, Treasury of the Kitchen (Daidokoro chohoki), published that year.[6] The same issue featured a flattering story from the magazine’s editorial staff about Murai and his wife Takako’s cooking at home, which was far better fare than a Western restaurant according to the reporter who ate there.[7] The January 1906 issue printed two conversations with Murai, one about New Year’s cuisine and another about the contents of the sequel to his novel Kuidoraku, appearing as a daily column in Hochi Shimbun newspaper that year.[8] A few pages later in the same issue, readers find Murai’s remarks in a debate about the nature of Japanese cuisine and then directions on how to make an apron, designed by Murai Takako and named for Otowa from Murai’s novel. The inside back cover of the issue showcased a full-page limited offer for purchasers of the four-volume expanded version of Murai’s novel, which provided a complimentary foreign postcard and the chance to win a cook’s outfit of Murai’s design.

Murai’s involvement with Culinary Magazine appears to have lasted a little over 6 months from the time that the monthly first appeared in print to his final contribution in the March 1906 issue, the year he joined the editorial board of a new magazine, Ladies’ World (Fujin sekai). At Ladies’ World, Murai offered practical advice for the housewife and Takako wrote the column, ‘Gensai’s Wife Discusses Cooking’.[9] Since Murai’s contributions to Culinary Magazine ended abruptly, it is probable that Murai’s move resulted from a difference of opinion about the direction of the monthly, a point we shall now consider.

Murai’s focus at Ladies’ World was instructional information about cooking for women, but Culinary Magazine hoped to educate eaters of both sexes who may or may not cook themselves. In its debut issue, the monthly announced that it would give the same emphasis to eating as it would to preparing food:

Food and meals are the most important factors to a successful life: they are neither a frivolity nor a diversion, but should instead be given serious attention. That being said, one cannot focus myopically on the practical and the utilitarian, because one cannot very well forget what is interesting and diverting. One must keep faith in both the edifying and the pleasurable. Ultimately that is the way of pleasurable eating (kuiddraku), and the approach that will be attempted to be maintained at this magazine.[10]

If home cooking fell into the category of the ‘practical and utilitarian’, then that made it less ‘interesting’ and ‘diverting’ than meals in other contexts. The ‘way of pleasurable eating’ led outside the home to the restaurant, and provided a rationale for publishing restaurant reviews.

There is evidence to suggest that Murai was critical of the view that restaurant food deserved equal attention to home cooking. In Murai’s novel, devoted to elevating the art and science of cooking at home, the authoritative Nakagawa pronounces, ‘the typical Western-style restaurants one goes to produce dishes that no one could possibly put in their mouth’.[11] Rather than learn from eating out, Nakagawa proposes the creation of a culinary club (kuidorakukai) to teach young women from good families how to cook Western cuisine at home. As described below, Culinary Magazine adopted this idea and the name kuidorakukai for one of its own food clubs. However, the monthly reinterpreted Murai’s notion of a study group for women cooking at home into an association largely of men focused on dining out at expensive restaurants. Murai may have been the person who dubbed these groups disparagingly the ‘Glutton’s [sic] Meeting’. The inclusion of an English-language table of contents for the magazine where that term appears ended in the same month that Murai’s articles stopped appearing in the publication.

In October 1906, 7 months after Murai’s work stopped appearing in Culinary Magazine, the editors published an essay about the magazine’s focus, which explained the decision to include even more articles about dining out. After recapping the monthly’s initial goal of providing information about eating, nutrition and cooking, the article stated: ‘Besides being the kind friend to the housewife, kitchen consultant, and guide, another aspect of our responsibilities will be as the companion to the food connoisseur and the weathervane to the world of fine dining.’[12] Again the magazine staff differentiated between the meals prepared at home and the ones in restaurants, implying that the former, however healthy or frugal, were not as elevated or as pleasurable as the latter. Thus, Murai’s departure only solidified the view at the magazine about the importance of covering fine dining. A survey of the monthly’s contents finds that less than 19 per cent of the articles were about home cooking. In contrast, more than 72 per cent of the articles were on topics such as dining out and the activities of the ‘Glutton’s Meeting(s)’, food companies, historical essays and articles by prominent chefs.[13]

Irrespective of Murai’s departure, Culinary Magazine could still call upon a list of luminaries in the food and cultural world to write for it. Frequent contributors included the noted food writers and chefs Ikama Masaki and Ishii Taijiro (1871-1953), who headed the centuries-old Ikama and Shijo schools of traditional ceremonial cuisine (hocho shikt), respectively. Articles by other food educators appeared in the magazine such as by the cookbook author Akahori Minekichi II (1885-1956), who operated the first cooking school for women in Tokyo, which had been established by his father. Culinary Magazine further raised the profiles of these celebrity chefs by featuring both their writings and their portrait photographs as front pieces for the publication. Akahori’s cooking school with students and instructor appears on the front page of the September 1905 edition, and 2 months later a portrait photo of Ikama Masaki adorned the November issue. Other prominent chefs who wrote for Culinary Magazine are simply known by the name of their establishment;

thus we find articles by the Master of [the restaurant] Yaozen and Master of [the confectioner] Fugetsudo (see also Mitsuda’s article in this volume). Cookbook authors, Saito Rokusan and Asai Denzaburo, contributed essays as did experts in a wide range of fields including Sonobe Shikyo, author of children’s literature, Matsuoka Tobako, a specialist in etiquette, and novelist Maeda Shozan (1871—1941).[14] Their writings are joined by articles from a surprising number of visual artists including Tashiro Gyoshu (b. 1881), FukutaShogei (1869-1909), MishimaShoso (1856-1928) and Kubota Beisai (1874-1937). The names of these authors usually appeared without introduction indicating that they were well known to the magazine’s readers. Many of these writers may also have written under pennames because one finds works by authors named Willow-Moon (Ryugetsu), Bunny-Deer (Toroku) and someone who wrote under a far less poetic nom-de-plume: Pseudonym (Kuregashi). Among these, Bunny-Deer was especially prolific, producing some 20 articles, including four in the same issue (Fig. 2).

  • [1] The title of Murai’s novel was pronounced Kuidoraku when it first appeared in 1903, but helater advocated a different reading for the same initial kanji, calling his work Shokuddraku. SeeKuroiwa, Shokuiku no susume, 19. Since the magazine chose the former reading for its masthead,that will be the one used here.
  • [2] Iida, ‘“Kuidoraku” ni okeru seiyo ryori’, 34; Saito, Nihon shokubunka jimbutsu jiten, 319;Ishida, ‘“Kuidoraku” sakka’, 45-46.
  • [3] The title, Pleasures of House-keeping, appears in an authorized biography of Murai written byUnkichi Kawai as preface to his translation of Murai’s novel Hana, A Daughter of Japan. SeeMurai, Hana, a Daughter of Japan, XL. Murai biographer Kuroiwa Hisako observes that thistranslation of the title of Kuiddraku expresses Murai’s goals that his novel was more than just anappreciation of gourmet food. Kuroiwa, “Kuiddraku” no hito Murai Gensai, 21.
  • [4] Murai, ‘Kome ryori no kenkyu’.
  • [5] ‘Junigatsu no ryori koyomi’. The advertisement for Murai’s book appears in Kuiddraku 1.8 (1905), iii.
  • [6] Murai, ‘Daidokoro kokoroe uta’.
  • [7] Henshushi, ‘Murai Gensaishi no katei to ryori’, 50—55.
  • [8] The sequel, More Pleasures of House-keeping (Shokudoraku zokuhen), failed to win the samepopular acclaim as the original.
  • [9] The column lasted for 6 years and was later republished as a series of four books under Murai’swife’s name with a co-author. See Murai and Ishizuka, Gensai, vols 1—3; Murai and Ishizuka,Gensai fujin no rydridan. Vol. 4. The co-author, Ishizuka Gettei was a relative who transcribed theconversation. See Kuroiwa, “Kuiddraku” no hito Murai Gensai, 252.
  • [10] ‘Gekkan kuidoraku no hakko’, Kuiddraku 1.1, 1.
  • [11] Murai, Kuiddraku, aki no kan, 271.
  • [12] ‘Honshi no kairyo’, 3.
  • [13] Imai, ‘Ryori zasshi’, 198.
  • [14] The chefs collaborated on a cookbook from the same publisher as Culinary Magazine. See Asaiand Saito, Miso rydri nihyakushu.
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