'Glutton's Meeting' and Cooking Clubs

The tension between dining out in posh surroundings and frugal home cooking was also evident in two organizations Culinary Magazine founded in January 1906. As noted earlier, the inspiration for these groups came from a scene in Murai Gensai’s novel where the character Nakagawa envisioned a group called the Kuidorakukai consisting of

An organization limited to 30 people that would meet at an aristocrat’s mansion. These followers of the pleasures of house-keeping (kuidoraku) would commence a club of the finest foodstuffs. It should be noted that it would be important to find candidates for that purpose among women of good families, but the main goal would be to initiate a familial association whose purpose was to research food. Membership fees would cost two yen per person, and all of that two yen would go toward ingredients for making delicacies and the costs of cooking.

Thinking aloud, Nakagawa proposed guest visits by professional chefs who would demonstrate cooking techniques. He promised to devise elegant menus for these gatherings, and he imagined forming different monthly groups based on the membership fees of one yen or two yen. Alternatively, one group could focus on Western cooking and another on eclectic cooking. And Nakagawa suggested that groups could be established in different parts of Tokyo.[1]

The January 1906 issue of Culinary Magazine proposed the creation of two different food groups, and both deviated from the organizations described in Murai’s story. One association, called the ‘Food Trends Group’ (Shoku shikai), preserved Murai’s vision of a meeting of people to research cooking, but without restricting membership to wealthy young women; indeed, it is uncertain if any women ever attended the meetings of the Food Trends Group. The second group, called the Kuidorakukai, took its name from the aforementioned scene in Murai’s novel — as well as the title of his novel and the masthead of the magazine. However, the magazine’s Kuidorakukai departed from Murai’s vision even further because it was not a cooking circle, but rather a dining club that met monthly in the better restaurants in Tokyo, hence the English translation ‘Glutton’s Meeting’ rather than one that referenced the Pleasures of House-keeping, Murai’s authorized translation for Kuidoraku.

The Food Trends Group was closer in spirit to Murai's vision of a culinary research club, but comprised a different membership than upper-class women. Two principles guided the new group: first, it was restricted to readers of the magazine; and second, members had to pay 25 sen in fees each time and bring ten sen worth of prepared foods as ‘homework’. The first meeting was slated for the Otowa-tei in Hongyoku, named after the heroine in Murai's novel, thereby reinforcing the purpose of the group in line with Murai’s ideas on home cooking, but also highlighting an internal tension in the magazine since the critic Sei Kyuro had panned that restaurant in his column only a month earlier, as noted above. The first homework assignment was to bring a horsemeat dish valued at least 10 sen. In addition to the opportunity to discuss cooking in a convivial atmosphere, the announcement promised that participants would enjoy three different Western- style dishes prepared for them and that they could bring their own alcohol.[2] Horsemeat was less expensive than beef, which gave rise to the fact that unscrupulous establishments often substituted one for the other as a writer to the Readers’ Column had observed. The fact that the readers also brought their own drinks suggests that the event was intended for the more budget conscious than the participants of the magazine’s other food group.

The announcement for the Food Trends Group, which appeared in a small column near the back of the January 1906 edition, made a stark contrast to the article on page three proposing the Glutton’s Meeting, which would, ‘provide for the possibility of a most delightful organization of people with similar interests who would gather and talk while trying things to eat’. The editors planned monthly meetings at Tokyo restaurants and required advanced reservation and the payment of two yen to the publisher, the same amount prescribed for the culinary group described in Murai’s novel, and more than five times the cost of a year’s subscription to Culinary Magazine.[3]

The next edition, February 1906, contained write-ups about the meetings of both groups, beginning with the Glutton’s Meeting on 13th January at the restaurant Iyomon. The article mentions in passing Culinary Magazines stated purpose of providing information about hygiene and home economics, but the focus of the piece is on the visit to the restaurant and the food consumed. The author, writing under a pseudonym, provided the kaiseki menu for the event and then critiqued the quality of the dishes served. The fish salad featured excellent fishcake, but the cod soup was deficient and the miso sauce overwhelmed the shrimp. The magazine's advertisers also appeared at the gathering to win new customers. Higeta Soy Sauce, a company that usually took out a full-page colour advertisement in Culinary Magazine, gave away free bottles of soy sauce, and everyone received a container of tooth cleaning powder from the Ando Izutsudo Company.[4]

The first meeting of the Food Trends Group received more coverage in the February issue in two articles, but what is more striking is the populist tone. The first article begins with a diatribe against elite gourmandism as antithetical to ‘pleasures of the way of eating’

Will the pleasures of the way of eating (kuidoraku) be restricted only to foods of the upper classes? Those who chase after rare tastes are simply devouring money and creating a decadent form of the pleasures of the way of eating. Do they know the compelling words about the love of [simple] chicken and onions? In the pleasures of the way of eating high or low status and wealth or poverty are not an issue. People with the pure motivation of researching food came together toward developing close friendship for the future; they joined hand in hand and commenced the first Food Trends Group for the purpose of studying foodstuffs.

The anonymous author indirectly challenges ownership of the term kuidoraku, used by the Glutton’s Meeting, the masthead of the magazine, and synonymous with Murai’s legacy of home cooking and housekeeping. But the author’s brave call to arms proves to be an overstated preamble for the disappointing turnout for the first meeting, which only five people attended. Unlike the culinary studies group that Murai Gensai had envisioned for elite women, all of the five attendees were men. But, the men came prepared to talk about the horsemeat dishes they had brought, although some had obviously purchased the foods rather than cooked them themselves. One guest revealed inexpensive horse-shaped candies, which elicited appreciation from the group. Another showed off a dish of simmered squid, and asked ‘is the squid delicious? (umai ka) ’ - a pun on the expression ‘is this a horse? (uma ka)’. Plans were announced for a second meeting in February on the theme of love, appropriate for Valentine s Day, which would doubtless offer similar material for culinary word play.[5]

Inspired by the first meeting of the Food Trends Group, one of the attendees identified by the nickname Sakura (‘cherry tree , a word sometimes used as a euphemism for horsemeat or bystander), wrote a separate short article that appeared in the same issue. Titled ‘Ditch Eating and

Bug Miso , Sakura described the reminisces of an attendee named Matsuda who hailed from Kumamoto. As a youth, Matsuda and his friends would head off into the countryside on ‘ditch eating forays ’ daring each other to consume anything that they came across in their path such as wild herbs, snails and other creatures not usually considered edible, which they covered in soy sauce or miso and swallowed. Matsuda swore off such expeditions after having to eat a small river crab covered in miso. When he told his father about the events, his dad confessed to once eating a small live carp.[6] [7] Sakura’s account can be read as a parody of the practice of dining out on unusual foods, which had become both a staple of the Culinary Magazine s food writing and the rationale behind the rival Glutton s Meeting. He demonstrates the absurdity and potential risks of looking for unusual things to eat outside of the home when that pursuit is taken to an extreme.

The next issue, March 1906, included only a terse write up about the Food Trends Group. Gone is the elevated language of purpose: the article merely lists the location and the foods brought by the members. No mention was made of plans for future meetings and the club disappears from the pages of Culinary Magazine5

Coverage of the Glutton s Meeting, in contrast, was much more extensive in the same issue and thereafter. The March 1906 edition devoted four articles about the Glutton s Meeting: one that recounted the appetizers served at the first meeting, which were omitted from the previous description of the event; a brief write-up of the second meeting; an announcement of the French menu to be served at the Metoroporu Hotel for the third meeting and a lengthier synopsis of a regional Glutton ’s Meeting, the newly formed ‘Eating and Drinking Club of Osaka’. The esteemed restaurant Tsuchida, where that event occurred in Osaka on 18 February, could only seat 40 people in one place, so the large group took over three rooms in the establishment. According to the article, participants included leaders in the pharmacy industry and transportation business, government officials, sake brewers, soy sauce makers, confectioners, restaurant owners, soldiers, tradesmen, rakugo performers, construction business people and advertisers. After a brief talk by the group’s convener on how the new organization brought together individuals seeking their own path as gourmets, the chef of the Tsuchida appeared and introduced himself and the meal the group was to enjoy. The anonymous author praised the meal overall and drew particular attention to the whale miso soup, sea bream sashimi and the parboiled and pressed cucumbers with shiitake and octopus in a sesame dressing. Those assembled agreed that such a repast was inexpensive for the price of just two yen, especially since they too, received free containers of soy sauce, bottles of Sapporo and Kirin Beer, and samples of Japanese confectionery and Western digestive biscuits.[8] In other issues, Culinary Magazine reported similar activities by regional Glutton’s Meetings in Kanazawa, Kyoto and Hakodate.

Wealthy women able to afford the cost of a meal for two yen may have read Culinary Magazine, but they only rarely attended the Glutton’s Meeting in Tokyo, a fact noted by an author using the name Rokusanjin.[9] Written after the Tokyo group’s sixth gathering, the author observed:

Originally this group did not have a profound purpose at all; simply put, it allowed us to eat around consecutively at fashionable restaurants in the city once each month, and collect the comments about what and where we had eaten from gourmands for the purpose of researching fine dining. It was a social gathering for like-minded individuals. The first meeting was at Iyomon in Shitaya and there were eleven people; the second was at Hashimoto in Yanagishima and there were 24 people; the third was at the Metoroporu Hotel in Tsukiji and there were 35 people; the fourth was at Okada in Yokohama and there were 36 people; the fifth time was at Kurataya in Nihonbashi and there were 26 people; and last month at the sixth meeting at Mikawaya in Akasaka there were sixteen people.

The author then came to the reason for recounting the activities of the group: ‘Up to now only one woman has attended the second and fifth meetings, but at the recent sixth meeting three women attended... and this is something that the group should be pleased about.’ The modest growth in female attendees, identified as wives by name (fujin) and context in the article, facilitated the notion that the group had an educational purpose, to wit, that exposure to restaurant cooking would serve as an example to improve home cooking. Wives should not rely solely on their husbands to learn about restaurants, explained the author: women themselves needed to dine out. The author assured readers that he did not mean that husbands should take their wives out for a night of indulgence in a geisha house, but rather that women should engage in the equally rare and ‘somewhat irregular’ practice of dining out both for the sake of pleasure and to improve what they served at home. The author went so far as to suggest that the monthly meetings would be much better if women took them over entirely, ‘so that women will be happy and home cooking will improve’.[10] Lest women have too much fun and forget their familial duties that justified the edifying experience of dining out, an article on the opposite page reminded women that a way to a man’s heart was through his stomach, and that in the words of the article’s title, they ‘should feast’ their husbands at home.[11] Even if women did not attend these events, the magazine staff and those who participated in the culinary clubs could rationalize that the accounts of the club’s luxurious meals might somehow provide a way for wives and other readers to learn vicariously. However, the same articles also reinforced the exclusivity of these events restricted to the men who could afford them and the few women with enough social prestige or bravado to challenge the prerogatives of male-dominated dining rooms.

Less charitable comments about the Glutton’s Meetings appear in the Readers’ Columns. In November 1906, a self-identified participant at one culinary club meeting voiced displeasure at having to pay three yen for the outing to Mikawaya when the cost of other gatherings was less.[12]

The previous month, a reader complained that, at the group’s eighth meeting, the chef not only served sashimi differently from what was listed on the menu but he also did not bother to greet the club members.[13] [14] Other readers resented the fact that they felt excluded from these gatherings. One urged for the establishment of a culinary club with a limit of just 30 sen.58 Three months later, someone sought to contact the person who proposed the idea of a ‘commoners’ culinary club.[15] A third letter denounced the very idea that someone who simply ate at different restaurants could call himself a gourmet.[16] As much as readers might learn about the activities of the culinary clubs, many felt excluded from them and the ‘way of eating’ they espoused.

The participants in the ‘Glutton’s Meetings’ could be called the most enthusiastic supporters of Culinary Magazine, but their numbers, which never amounted to more than a few dozen at each session in Tokyo, proved too small a demographic to sustain a monthly publication. In 1907, the last year of Culinary Magazines existence, food remained a popular subject. That year, Murai Gensai published the final volume of his sequel to his opus, Kuidoraku, which prompted the opening of yet another restaurant based upon his book.[17] But Culinary Magazine proved unsustainable. In the last issue the publisher Yurakusha announced that Culinary Magazine would fold together with two other publications, Global Generation (Seikaiteki seinen) and Global Youth (Sekai no shonen), creating a new magazine called Four Directions (Tozai nanboku). Four Directions was to be ‘like a newspaper’ with sections on politics, economics, science, art, literature, religion, education and home economics — in short, everything but fine dining.[18] Dining out was no longer newsworthy.

When it began, Culinary Magazine did not face competition from other monthlies about food, but that quickly changed with the appearance of women’s magazines that provided advice to the home cook. Among these was Ladies’ World, which Murai Gensai had joined to edit and write. Ladies’ World and the publications that followed such as Housewife’s Friend (Shufu no tomo), founded in 1917, and Ladies’ Review (Fujin koron), established in 1916, provided information about food but in the context of home cooking, not dining out.[19]

The gender imbalance between the masculine world of eating out and the feminine sphere of cooking at home persisted in magazines about food in Japan for more than six decades after the demise of Culinary Magazine, lasting until the debut of the monthlies An’an in 1970 and Nonno in 1971 - some 25 years after women won the right to vote. An’an and Nonno, which targeted women aged 18-24, demonstrated to their readers how food could be more than the obligation to cook for the family: eating out was fashionable and definitely fun. An ’an and Nonno reported where to buy the best cheesecake, crepes or pizza; and it was these new Western foods that bespoke progress and enlightenment in these monthlies rather than the latest apparatus for the home kitchen.64

For all of its elitism and male chauvinism, Culinary Magazine was the first Japanese monthly to point the way to the pleasures and significance of eating out, although it took more than 60 years, Japan’s post-war economic miracle, and improvements in the economic prospects and status of women - to make dining out and magazine writing about gourmet restaurants more egalitarian. Culinary Magazine can be faulted for taking the losing side in a public debate it had initiated over whether restaurant cuisine was better than home cooking, but ultimately, that discussion is one that cannot be resolved and endures to this day in Japan where government ministries still proclaim the virtues of the housewife preparing washoku and gourmands continually pursue ever more refined versions of Japanese cuisine in Michelin-starred restaurants.

  • [1] Murai, Kuidoraku, Aki no kan, 270—271.
  • [2] ‘Shoku shikai’, Kuidoraku 2.1, 58—59.
  • [3] ‘Kuidorakukai’.
  • [4] ‘Kuidorakukai (shinnen hakkai)’, 6—10.
  • [5] ‘Shoku shikai (koi no ryori)’ .
  • [6] Sakura, ‘Dotegui to kawamiso ’ , 25—26.
  • [7] ‘Dai ni kai shoku shikai ’ .
  • [8] ‘Osaka Nomikuidorakukai’, 49—51.
  • [9] The author may be Saito Rokusan. Articles about the club meetings included a list of names,but omitted magazine staff. Saito was a frequent contributor to the monthly; so although his namedid not appear, he may have attended.
  • [10] Rokusanjin, ‘Kuidorakukai to fujin’, 3—5.
  • [11] Yuraku, ‘Gochiso nasai’, 2.
  • [12] ‘Dokusha ran’, 2.13, 87.
  • [13] ‘Dokusha ran’, 3.2, 87—88.
  • [14] ‘Dokusha ran’, 2.13, 87.
  • [15] ‘Dokusha ran’, 3.2, 89.
  • [16] ‘Dokusha ran’, 2.14, 95.
  • [17] ‘Toku ni honshi no dokusha ni tsugu’, i—ii.
  • [18] As noted in Asahi Shimbun, the restaurant was slated to open in Kyobashi near the Kabukizatheatre, and was a branch of an earlier establishment in Shiba-ku. Asahi Shimbun, 12 April 1907, 7.
  • [19] From 1928, Murai Takako wrote a cooking column for Ladies’ Review. Ishida, ‘“Kuidoraku”sakka’, 47.
< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >