Global Recognition and Domestic Containment: Culinary Soft Power in Japan

Stephanie Assmann


Globalization can be described as a form of complex connectivity1 in which even the most remote localities are linked through the forces of globalization such as advanced communication technologies, media technologies, and travel options. Globalization can result in the homogenization and standardization of mundane and cultural items through detachment from a locality and its distinct characteristics. Cultural practices are subject to constant change, hybridization, indigenization, and forces of re-territorialization, which is an attempt to re-confirm the link to a locality. This process has been [1]


addressed by Anthony Giddens as a constant push and pull between forces of dis-embedding and re-embedding,[2] whereas John Tomlinson has described the phenomenon of globalization as an entwined process of de-territorialization and re-territorialization.[3]

In the analysis of globalization, food has played a marginal role, however, this has gradually been changing in recent years. A number of academic works have addressed the accelerated globalization of the twentieth century through the lens of food and culinary styles.[4] Globalization often occurs through the travelling of cuisines that are delinked from their place of invention and production and taken to another place for consumption, which might involve change and adapta- tion.[5] In this context, the idea of a national cuisine, which firmly links place and taste and ties this entwined concept to a geographical location, remains contested since multiple foodways exist within nation-states and make the determination of one national cuisine difficult.[6] But culinary styles and food items continue to serve as powerful images of globalization and also as symbols of everyday life that are routinely enforced and attach the citizens’ identity to the nation-state as Michael Billig has pointed out in his study on banal nationalism.[7]

The phenomenon of globalization and re-territorialization of food has been discussed in the context of culinary nationalism[8] and gastronationalism.[9] In her study on foie gras - fattened duck liver or goose liver - Michaela DeSoucey discussed gastronationalism as the appreciation of a morally contested food, which remains a powerful symbol of French culinary and national identity. DeSoucey has argued that nation-states resist the forces of globalization by utilizing the homogenizing powers of globalization. In doing so, nation-states initiate new forms of identity politics, protectionist policies, and local culinary identities that re-position the boundaries between national foodstuffs and foreign foodstuffs and re-emphasize distinct localities.11

Taking Japan as an example, this chapter analyses the efforts of a national government to engage in the process of re-territorialization on two levels, the global and the domestic level. Globally, the Japanese government makes use of culinary soft power[10] [11] and internationally recognized institutions such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to gain recognition for a pristine national haute cuisine. As Priscilla Ferguson Parkhurst has shown, the origins of haute cuisine lie in nineteenth-century France and are characterized by the existence of abundant foodstuffs, and experienced food producers who prepare food at a specific site - the restaurant - for affluent and knowledgeable consumers in a secular cultural tradition.[12] The emergence of a modern culinary tradition and a culinary discourse as a cultural practice led to the cultivation of a national identity which included foodways as part of national identity, and to a ‘re-definition of haute cuisine as a national cuisine’.[13]

Domestically, the Japanese government aims to contain the realities of culinary globalization through a state-led food education campaign, which emphasizes the responsibility of the individual for a healthy body and good eating. This two-fold approach involves different representations of Japanese food; whereas an elaborate cuisine represents a form of culinary soft power globally, a mundane culinary style focuses on the consumption of rice and locally produced food.

  • [1] Tomlinson, Globalization and Culture.
  • [2] Giddens, The Consequences of Modernity, 21.
  • [3] Tomlinson, Globalization and Culture.
  • [4] Nutzenadel and Trentmann, Food and Globalization; Cwiertka, Modern Japanese Cuisine, Rathand Assmann, Japanese Foodways. Past and Present, Farrer, Globalization, Food and Social Identitiesin the Asia Pacific Region; ibid., ‘Introduction: Traveling Cuisines in and out of Asia’; Watson,Golden Arches East. McDonald’s in East Asia.
  • [5] Farrer, ‘Introduction: Traveling Cuisines in and out of Asia’; Bestor, ‘How Sushi Went Global’.
  • [6] Cwiertka, Modern Japanese Cuisine; Sternsdorff-Cisterna, ‘Food and Place’.
  • [7] Billig, Banal Nationalism.
  • [8] Ferguson Parkhurst, ‘Culinary Nationalism’; Ferguson Parkhurst, ‘A Cultural Field in theMaking’.
  • [9] DeSoucey, ‘Gastronationalism’.
  • [10] Ibid.
  • [11] Farrer, ‘Introduction: Traveling Cuisines in and out of Asia’.
  • [12] Ferguson Parkhurst, ‘A Cultural Field in the Making’, 603.
  • [13] Ibid., 624.
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