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Helena Grinshpun is currently a Research Fellow at the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. In 2009 she completed her doctorate in anthropology and Japanese studies at Kyoto University, Japan. Her PhD thesis dealt with the incorporation of global cultural commodities in Japan. Since 2010 she has been teaching courses on Japanese contemporary society and culture at the Asian Studies Department of the Hebrew University. Her main research interests are cultural representation, structuring of public space, urban culture, consumer behaviour and consumer education in Japan. She is currently working on a book focusing on public space and global coffee chains in Japan.

Annie Sheng


In the northern outskirts of Paris, a standing audience comprising people from around the world waves various national flags as ovens blaze, trays clatter gently onto white counters and an emcee’s booming voice fills the arena. In the midst of the din and the fast-moving bakers’ arms under startling bright fluorescent lights, several life-size statues stand prominent in front of the audience. These statues gleam under the lights and look surprisingly life-like, but are in fact made of bread, and rules that dictate they should be entirely edible. Hiroyuki Chinen of Team Japan crouches in front of a bread statue and with

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program under Grant No. DGE-1144153. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

A. Sheng (*)

Cornell University, New York, NY, USA e-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it

© The Author(s) 2017 191

A. Niehaus, T. Walravens (eds.), Feeding Japan,

DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-50553-4_8

surgical precision attaches a long piece to the bottom half of his creation. He shoots a steady stream of edible coolant from the spray can in his right hand, while adjusting the long flat bread piece with his left hand. The piece he is attaching is a swooping banner that goes across the mannequin-like torso of his bread-based athlete: a sumo wrestler crafted in dough. He affixes the banner to the shime- nawa, a white rope, which signifies the wrestler reaching the highest rank in the sport, yokozuna. The bread-based banner illustrates some common motifs of Japan: sakura (cherry blossoms) and koi (carp) fins spread out in mid-swim, images as delicate as if painted on silk with a brush. The onlooking supporters in the audience of Team Japan sport bright red happi coats.1 One of the supporters holds up a large signed Japanese flag (hinomaru flag), with messages of encouragement and motivation, written in the white area outside the red circle symbolizing the sun.

The event I describe here is the prestigious Bakery World Cup (Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie), the premiere baking competition for top-bakers from around the world. Thirteen national teams are chosen to compete in this event that occurs every four years, also likened to the Olympic Games or (FIFA) World Cup in its scope and timing.[1] [2] Since its inception in 1992, Japan and Taiwan have challenged the presumption of Western predominance in the field of bread baking by achieving gold, silver and bronze in numerous years by submitting what the judges have evaluated to be exceptional examples of baked loaves and pieces, including the bread sculptures such as those I have just described.

I draw attention to these crafted pieces to demonstrate ways in which bread - often referred to in sweeping terms both by informants and the media as the staple food of the so-called West[3] - is used as a medium to construct, reshape and ultimately propagate notions of national and local identity in the cultural context of Japan, often considered a riceeating country. This brandishing of the notion of bread as a means of iterating national and local identity also stems from the materiality of the loaves: the tactile, palatable, olfactory and visual presence of bread, made possible through the transformative properties of fermentation and baking, that is consumed and taken into the body.[4]

In this chapter, I discuss nationalism and acts of reinforcing national identity, as well as the implicated phenomenon of modernization, through analysing discourse and narratives on bread. I specifically consider bread production and consumption in recent and contemporary Japan, while situating this phenomenon in historical accounts. I also examine these narratives of bread in the context of existing scholarship on the crafting of Self and Other in the construction of Japanese cuisine. Ultimately, I argue that despite tenacious associations of bread with the West in Japan, not only do standardized notions of Japanese breads exist but also networks of bakers and bread enthusiasts are gathering and holding events in public spaces to grapple towards a novel notion of bread that can reflect Japanese aesthetics and sentiment beyond these standardized forms.[5] What ‘Japanese bread’ may mean rests not solely with bakers but also becomes a project undertaken by farmers, millers, policy-makers, mass media personnel and the consuming public in their attendance and contribution to these festivals and seminar events. These individuals come together in seminars and events to express their stances on the creation of Japanese bread that can best reflect this notion of Self. They also engage in the mundane acts of production and consumption of the food. I therefore address: (1) nationalism and national identity in terms of food and cuisine in Japan; (2) Wa (Japanese) and yo (Western), and Nihon no pan (Japanese bread), the traversing of constructed categories of Self and Other; (3) the decline of rice consumption and the ubiquity of bread in Japan today; (4) the introduction of bread into Japan, its historical trajectory and implications for modernizing projects; (5) baking networks across Japan (and Taiwan). Ultimately, I discuss the new phenomena among baking and bread networks grappling for a ‘national’ sentiment of Japanese bread.

  • [1] Happi coats are mainly worn during festivals, and often bear crests of shops and organizations.
  • [2] Bakery World Cup or Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie in French, translates to ‘Kupu dyumondo do ra buranjuri/ Bekari warudo kappu’ in Japanese. The following two webpages areexamples in which Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie is referred to as the Olympics of Baking:Douglas J. Peckenpaugh, ‘An inside look at the 2016 Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie’; JeffYankellow, ‘2016 Coupe Du Monde de la Boulangerie’.
  • [3] One example of the media mentioning cultural eating habits in the framework of East and West:The Economist, ‘Culture and psychology: You are what you eat’.
  • [4] On structural understandings of food absorbed into the body and the importance of itsmateriality, see: Douglas, Purity and Danger, Levi-Strauss, The Raw and the Cooked. On bread,social meaning (as well as taking into the body), see also Sack, Whitebread Protestants', Bobrow-Strain, White Bread. On fermentation, see: Paxson, Life of Cheese. When I discuss bread culture inthis chapter, I mostly refer to leavened, wheat-based buns, loaves and slices, though I leave theparameters of what bread may mean fairly open to see how my informants discuss what theyconsider to be bread.
  • [5] Here I draw on Fajans’ argument of people’s manipulation of food in reinforcing changes insocial life, thus food takes on a role as a transformative agent, in bestowing prestige and reinstillingnotions of national identity. Fajans, ‘The transformative value of food’, 143—144.
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