Shokuiku: The Domestic Reflection of Culinary Politics

Cultural diplomacy through the promotion of Japanese food outside Japan involves education through staged events such as those conducted by the JRO. Education about foodways and nutrition is also an essential component of culinary politics towards the containment of globalization domestically. Whereas, globally, the Japanese government aims to counter the globalization of popular and hybridized foods through an authenticity campaign, at home, the Japanese government seeks to counter the spread of hybrid culinary styles through a renewed emphasis on washoku, Japanese food. The food education campaign pursues two objectives: The first agenda of the food education campaign is to improve the eating habits of Japanese citizens. The second objective of the food education campaign is to support ailing economies through the promotion of local food products.

To achieve these entwined objectives, the administration of prime minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro under the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP, 2001-2006) enacted the Basic Law on Food Education (Shokuiku kihon-ho) in 2005 and initiated a nationwide food education campaign. One characteristic of the shokuiku campaign is the participation of multiple actors. The state-led campaign is jointly organized by the Cabinet Office of the Japanese government, the MAFF, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW), and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT). In addition, a number of non-governmental organizations support the shokuiku campaign through volunteering activities such as organizing cooking classes or regional food fairs.

Similar to the efforts of the Japanese government to gain recognition of a cultural heritage, food education has historical roots in the Meiji period. The term shokuiku consists of the Chinese character for shoku (which can mean to eat, food, or diet) and the character iku (which can mean to educate, to nurture, or to cultivate). The term shokuiku appeared for the first time in the year 1896, when the nutrition expert Ishizuka Sagen (1850-1909) conceptualized shokuiku as part of a four-dimensional educational concept, which consists of intellectual education (chiiku), moral education (tokuiku), physical education (taiiku), and food education (shokuiku)4

Efforts to educate citizens with regard to their eating habits were also prevalent in the Edo period as Andreas Niehaus asserts in his contribution to this volume. In the post-war period, a former official of MAFF and founder of the Consumers Union of Japan (CUJ, [1]

Nihon Shohisha Renmei), Takeuchi Naokazu advocated a return to native eating habits in response to a nutritional shift towards a diet based on wheat and dairy products, which had occurred as part of the food aid programme issued by the US government. Takeuchi encouraged Japanese citizens to eat domestically produced food, in particular rice, which should be eaten for breakfast every day.[2]

The first reason for starting the current food education campaign is based on concerns over the decay of eating habits and the increase of lifestyle-related health problems that were revealed by the results of the Survey on Health and Nutrition of the Japanese Population (Kokumin kenko eiyo chosa). In this survey, the MHLW accumulates data on weight control, breakfast habits, dining out, sleeping habits, the consumption of local food products and the consumption of alcohol and tobacco. Weight control is given particular attention. The 2013 survey has revealed the alarming result that almost 35 per cent of all male respondents between the ages of 40 and 49 years and almost 15 per cent of all female respondents in the same age group are perceived to be obese (in Japanese: himan).[3] The metabolic syndrome - defined as a group of risk factors such as abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol that may result in the development of health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, and strokes - has also received attention in the shokuiku campaign. According to a health survey conducted by the MHLW in 2013, 26.2 per cent of all male respondents between the ages of 40 and 74, and 9.4 per cent of all female respondents in this age group are considered to be affected by the metabolic syndrome.[4]

In response to the results of the Survey on Health and Nutrition of the Japanese Population, MAFF and MHLW have jointly introduced the Food Guide Spinning Top (Shokuji baransu guide), which is an inverted pyramid-shaped diagram featuring nutritional components. Rice is being emphasized as a major source of nutrition at the top of the food pyramid, followed by side dishes such as vegetables, eggs, fruits, and milk products.[5] The Food Guide Spinning Top is the best-known visual component of the shokuiku campaign, and its effectiveness is being monitored by the ministries. In 2012, the Distribution System Research Centre conducted the Survey on Food Life and Experiences of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (Shokuseikatsu oyobi norin gyogyo taiken ni kansuru chosa). The survey measured awareness of the Food Guide Spinning Top and the degree of adherence to its guidelines. Among the 4,000 participants, 61 per cent of the respondents were either familiar with the guide to some degree or were knowledgeable about it and its content. Furthermore, this survey revealed that 60 per cent of the respondents followed the nutritional suggestions put forward in the guide.[6]

Another channel used in the implementation of the shokuiku campaign is the school lunch program. The School Lunch Program Act (Gakko kyushoku-ho) of 1954 established food education as part of a compulsory curriculum in 1956 and adheres to the four educational principles of chiiki, tokuiku, taiiku, and shokuiku mentioned earlier. Currently, 94 per cent of all schools participate in the school lunch program. In accordance with the enactment of the Basic Fundamental Law of Food Education in 2005, the School Lunch Program Act was revised in 2008 with the objective of promoting the shokuiku campaign. MEXT increased the number of nutrition educators from merely 34 teachers in 2005 to 3,853 teachers as of April 2011.[7]

Proper nutrition is firmly rooted in school education. At a later age, food education embraces an approach of governmentality, which draws on the Foucauldian notion of creating a mechanism of self-reflexivity through social and self-disciplinary regimes that expand their control into all areas of life, including intimate areas such as sexuality and body size, shape, and weight.49 In a similar vein, Kimura has defined the term responsibilization, which has become an integral part of the current food education campaign as a process whereby the government demands that individuals and communities take responsibility for their own health, and makes them accountable for risk management and rational choices.50 This approach, which emphasizes the educational ideals of a previous historical period, downplays the challenges of contemporary life such as the increased participation of women in the workforce, an ubiquitous presence of fast food and pre-packaged foods, and time constraints that make the preparation of fresh foods and familial conviviality at dinner increasingly difficult. Instead, the responsibility for an appropriate nutrition and a healthy body is being directed at the individual.

The second agenda of the shokuiku campaign is to foster an awareness of food self-sufficiency (shokuryo jikyu) in support of declining rural economies. MAFF advocates and promotes the consumption of locally available food products. This connection between food education and local food products has historical roots. Ishizuka Sagen, the abovementioned founder of shokuiku, discussed the significance of eating foods that are available in one’s vicinity in his work Chemical Theory of Diet for Longevity. Through using the term nyugo jugo,51 Ishizuka described the consumption of foods available in one’s vicinity as natural and emphasized the nutritional value of locally available foods and their freshness.52 Domestically produced foods are portrayed as safe foods of well-known production origins that evoke trustworthiness. [8] [9] [10] [11]

One reason for the renewed emphasis on the consumption of locally produced food products is Japan’s low food self-sufficiency rate of only 40 per cent (see also Farina in this volume). Japan depends heavily upon food imports, primarily from countries such as the United States of America, Australia, Canada, and China. A high dependency on food imports is a particular problem of urban areas in Japan. According to data accumulated by MAFF, in 2014, Tokyo had a food self-sufficiency rate of merely one per cent, followed by Osaka, which had a food self-sufficiency level of only two per cent. In response to this dire situation, MAFF seeks to implement a protectionist policy in support of rural economies whose primary industry remains agriculture, and which therefore have high food self-sufficiency rates. In 2014, for instance, Hokkaido had a food self-sufficiency rate of 198 per cent, Akita prefecture had a food self-sufficiency rate of 181 per cent, and Niigata prefecture reported a food self-sufficiency rate of 104 per cent.[12] [13] However, rural economies face a number of challenges; among these are small-scale agriculture, population decline, the aging of farmers, and the

decreasing popularity of farming as a profession among younger



Within Japan’s protectionist policy, a critical discussion about the significance of low levels of food self-sufficiency remains absent. Instead, merely the necessity to make the country more self-reliant is being conveyed with a sense of urgency, as is reflected in Japan’s agricultural policy. Japan’s contested decision to participate in the Transpacific Partnership (TPP) in 2013 - a multilateral free trade agreement under the leadership of the United States of America - has added to concerns among farmers, their ‘umbrella organization’ JA and MAFF, that the dependency on food imports will increase and the livelihoods of farmers will be further endangered.[14] Rice farmers are particularly worried about the arrival of the TPP, since rice remains a highly subsidized food despite a decline in the consumption of rice since the 1960s. The food self-sufficiency rate of rice is 100 per cent, and Japan maintains high import tariffs of 778 per cent for this commodity.[15] Rice is not only a culturally loaded but also a highly political food. In the early modern period, rice served as a currency unit for tribute payments and officials’ salaries.[16] The significance of rice is reflected in the usage of the Japanese word gohan, which is an honorific term for cooked rice, which at the same time also means ‘meal’. Rice features at the top of the Food Guide Spinning Top.

However, other local food products are also highlighted in the campaign and educational measures to raise awareness of local food products are reflected in the school lunch program. One example for this is a vegetable cuisine called Dewa sanzan no shojin ryori (The Vegetable Cuisine of the Three Mountains of Dewa) in Tsuruoka City in Yamagata prefecture.[17] According to the Second Basic Plan for the Advancement of Shokuiku (Dai-2-ji shokuiku suishin kihon keikaku), which the Cabinet Office released in December 2013, one objective is to use more than 80 per cent of domestically produced food in school lunch programs.[18] An interview, which I conducted in November 2010 with representatives of MAFF in Sapporo, confirms the significance of local food products in the current shokuiku campaign. The interview revealed that one way to implement education about food self-sufficiency in schools was to encourage school children to calculate the food self-sufficiency rate of the food they were offered at home.[19] In other words, the shokuiku campaign equates a ‘healthy’ nutrition with locality and a distinct culinary heritage.

Another way to raise awareness of the low level of food self-sufficiency and the significance of local food products is through the organization Food Action Nippon (FAN), which was initiated by MAFF in October 2008 to improve Japan’s low level of food self-sufficiency through the promotion of domestic foods. FAN sees itself as an NGO but can more accurately be described as a state campaign that aims to encourage Japanese citizens to consume local food through introducing food producers from the vicinity and their products to a wider audience. In doing so, the organization acts as a mediator between producers and consumers and helps to organize food markets in semi-urban settings or in cosmopolitan areas. The initiative cooperates with various collaboration partners, and as of October 2008 already had 150 collaboration partners, among them farmers, food distributors, tourism enterprises, NGOs, prefectural governments, and universities. Since then, this number has increased significantly; as of May 2015, FAN has built relationships with 8,702 organizations.[20] FAN’s partners act as mediators between the government and consumers who are supposed to learn more about food production and reconnect with local producers in their immediate neighbourhood. The organization appears as a sponsor of lectures, food fairs, and urban markets that promote local food products and establish a closer relationship between food producers and food consumers. One example is a two-day food fair in Yokohama, which FAN co-hosted with the prefectural government of Kanagawa in April 2009.[21]

In their emphasis on local food products, the actors of the shokuiku campaign are extending the approach of governmentality whilst highlighting the consumption of locally available food products as a patriotic duty of Japanese citizens. The individual is responsible for maintaining a strong and healthy body through an appropriate diet, whilst dietary habits need to be based on local food products.

  • [1] Iwasa, ‘Ishizuka Sagen’, 20; Iwasa, ‘Shokuiku no so’, 46; Kojima, ‘Responsibility or Right to Eat Well?’, 49.
  • [2] Maclachlan, ‘Global Trends vs. Local Traditions’, 250.
  • [3] MHLW, ‘Heisei 25 nen kokumin kenko chosa kekka no gaiyo’. Obesity is defined differentlyin Japan than in the United States or in Europe. The body mass index (BMI), a person’s weightin kilograms (kg)/height in metres squared, is also used in Japan as a standard measuring device,but according to the Japan Dietetic Association (JDA) [Nihon Eiyoshikai], a person with a BMIbetween 25 and 30 who would be considered overweight in ‘Western’ countries, is consideredobese in Japan. This rigid definition of obesity explains the higher rates of obese people in Japan.The JDA [Nihon Eiyoshikai], 9.
  • [4] MHLW, ‘Heisei 25 nen tokusei kenko shinsa — tokutei hoken shido no jisshi jokyo’.
  • [5] MAFF, ‘Shokuji baransu gaido ni tsuite’.
  • [6] Distribution System Research Centre.
  • [7] Tanaka and Miyoshi, ‘School Lunch Program for Health Promotion Among Children inJapan’, 156.
  • [8] Guthman and DuPuis, ‘Embodying Neoliberalism’, 443.
  • [9] Kimura, ‘Nationalism, Patriarchy, and Moralism’, 205.
  • [10] The term nyugo jugo derives from the proverb ‘go ni iritewa, go ni shitagae’, which can betranslated as: ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do’. However, in using this term, Ishizuka Sagenreferred to the health benefits of eating locally.
  • [11] Iwasa, ‘Ishizuka Sagen’, 22.
  • [12] MAFF, ‘Heisei 26nen (gaisan-chi)’.
  • [13] Assmann, ‘Food Action Nippon and Slow Food Japan’; see also chapters by Farina and O’Sheain this volume.
  • [14] Elms, ‘The Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Negotiations’; see also chapters by Reiher andO’Shea in this volume.
  • [15] Yamashita, ‘Ensuring Japan’s Food Security Through Free Trade Not Tariffs’.
  • [16] Rath, ‘Rural Japan and Agriculture’, 481.
  • [17] Cabinet Office, Shokuiku Hakusho, 128.
  • [18] Cabinet Office, Shokuiku Hakusho, 3.
  • [19] 0The food self-sufficiency rate is defined as the ratio of daily per capita caloric supply fromdomestically produced food to per capita daily caloric supply from food.
  • [20] Food Action Nippon Website.
  • [21] Assmann, ‘Food Action Nippon and Slow Food Japan’.
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