The aim of this chapter was to challenge the conventional wisdom that the negative image of imported Chinese food in Japan is a result of the high objective risks associated with its consumption. The chapter showed that the number of Chinese food safety violations has not increased in the 2000s. In fact, they have decreased in proportion to their overall volume. A second explanation, that the negative image of Chinese food imports coincides with the development of consumer awareness in Japan, was also found to be problematic due to the fact that food safety awareness was shown to have been well established as early as the late 1980s and 1990s.
While not entirely discounting these two explanations, the chapter presented an alternative account of the development of the negative image of Chinese food imports. A first and very important factor is the changing nature of Chinese food safety problems from food poisonings to poisoned foods. Whereas originally, food safety incidents in China were due to a lack of scientific knowledge and hygiene standards, more recent scandals are largely the result of negligence or deliberate adulteration in order to increase profits. This intentional aspect combined with Japanese culinary nationalism found its way into Japanese public opinion, adding moral dimensions to the Chinese food threat. Within the context of the ongoing deterioration of bilateral relations and the increasingly negative view of China in Japan, this factor is compounded by the diffusion of the ‘China Threat’ theory. Regarding food safety issues, this development is further considered in the context of the subsequent factor, Japan’s increasing dependence on China as a source of food supply. A golden thread throughout these additional factors is the dichotomy of Japan versus the Other, mainly manifested in an emotional attachment to domestic food products and food culture, and directed against the threatening Other. The social construct of ‘dangerous’ food coming from ‘risky’ China further proves to be particularly well-suited to diverting attention away from Japan’s domestic structural deficiencies in food safety and agricultural policy.
Despite the statistics showing the results of an effective Chinese determination to polish up their country brand, there thus seem to be other political and societal interests at stake that - consciously or not - counteract the improvement of the Chinese (food) reputation, while protecting domestic cases. Nevertheless, despite its bad reputation, ever- increasing import statistics show how the economic principle seems to prevail and Chinese foods still find their way onto the Japanese table.
Now that the negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership have been concluded, the food safety discourse has gradually shifted towards ‘threatening and dangerous’ American foods. The regional free trade agreement, which would open up the Japanese market to (mainly American) imports, might revive Takeuchi Naokazu’s fear from the
1970s, that ‘the Americans’ might come to ‘occupy the stomachs of the Japanese’. The USA seems to have partially taken over the role of China in the food safety discourse, although I argue that both Others are discussed on different levels. US goods are feared, as housewives and the public in general assume that the standards in the USA are lower than the Japanese ones. Chinese goods, as demonstrated, are rather feared because of the potentially corruptive intentions of the producers. The future proves to be interesting, in terms of seeing how the USA and Japan, two countries with very different approaches to food safety policy, will find each other and how public perceptions (and hence, consumer trust) will weigh in the debate.