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Home arrow Political science arrow Feeding Japan : The Cultural and Political Issues of Dependency and Risk
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Conclusion

I began this chapter by detailing the ways in which bakers in Japan express notions of national identity and their versions of historical narrative representative oftheir country to a global audience through artistic bread pieces at prestigious international baking competitions. Here I raise sumo bread sculptor and baker Chinen again in his response to the question why he chose sumo for his bread sculpture. His reply was, ‘Sumo is Japan’s national sport [kokugi]. It is simple and since olden times, it has been loved by everyone. Bread is the same: it is simple and since olden times, it has been loved by everyone. Because of these kinds of commonalities, I chose [sumo] to be the theme for my decorative bread piece this time.’[1] For Chinen, sumo is exemplary because it already serves as a symbol of the nation. He likens bread in general to sumo in terms of something recognizable and simple that goes back to ‘olden days’, brimming with nostalgia and meaning. This meaning is conferred by temporal longevity: a faraway past. By using the word everyone in ‘loved by everyone’ ‘since olden days’, he manages to draw out this parallel between sumo and bread without discussing bread’s specific historical trajectory in Japan. (I find this quote especially telling, considering that bread was in fact not loved much in Japan in the Meiji period as hardtack for military use.)[2] In discussing ways in which bakers express these national characteristics inscribed onto the medium of bread to a general public not only in global media but also locally at stores as breads for purchase, one must first understand broader historical trajectories of food culture, as well as identity politics of Self and Other; and the dynamics of cultural exchange and mobility.

I have demonstrated how food and cuisine, which due to their symbolic charge, are convenient tools brandished for political causes. I have discussed wa and yo in Japan as constructed divisions used not only for food but also as general aesthetics to discuss Self and Other. Yet I have not addressed how encompassing or limiting this notion of Self, wa, actually is in terms of the way it is deployed. Japan is home to identity politics that include minorities such as Ryukyu people, ethnic Koreans and Ainu, that unfortunately have not made their way much into my discussion here, but certainly can be addressed in the purview of bread and food culture more generally.

Many sources and informants attribute post-war relations with America as heavily shaping bread culture in Japan. They also discuss influences from Europe and the development of bread-making techniques crafted for Japanese tastes. I traced the historical context in which bread first entered

Japan and then became more widely diffused. I also demonstrated the striking aspects of the bread market and culture today, where networks of bakers are moving towards baking breads that reflect what they consider to be singularly distinct, representational and commendable on a global scale. In turn, consumers are taking in these breads as metaphors ofthe Selfand tokens of national pride as they purchase and take in the breads into their bodies. Both producers and their customers in Japan consume media surrounding bread that emphasizes this nation-representing facet of bread using various terms to denote the Self — for example, referencing the concept wa or calling their creations nihon no pan (Japanese bread), while facing persisting sentiments of bread’s association with Western food. In constructing this notion of Self vis-a-vis the Other, bakers weave transnational networks and pull from what they consider outside traditions to make tangible things (bread) and more abstract concepts (bread culture) they refer to as their own.

Acknowledgements I would like to express my appreciation to the following institutions for their generous support: Anthropology Department, East Asia Program, Southeast Asia Program, The Einaudi Center, Cornell University; the National Science Foundation; Sophia University Institute of Comparative Culture; Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies; TLI; and the Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica. Many thanks to Magnus Fiskesjo and the editors of this volume for their keen insight. Much appreciation to Jimmy Utley for assisting with fieldwork. With thanks also to the many colleagues, scholars, farmers, distributors, millers, bakery and bread-related industry personnel, bread appreciators, food tour guides, food writers, bread-inspired artists and the many residents in Japan, Taiwan and the USA who shared with me their time and views on these issues. My gratitude also extends to my partner, family and dear friends who have given me invaluable advice and support.

  • [1] Oe, ‘Bekari warudo kappu taiwan nii’.
  • [2] Bay writes how in 1884 when the government instituted Takagi’s reforms on provisions anddiet, sailors hated their new diets: Takagi noted that they often did not eat their meat and breadand even threw their bread overboard into the sea. Bay, Beriberi in Modern Japan, 44—45.
 
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