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The Well-Tempura'd Nation:
Japan, television food shows, and cultural nationalism
By Todd Joseph Miles Holden Graduate School of International Cultural Studies (GSICS) Tohoku University Sendai, Japan
Prepared for the Asia-Pacific Sociological Association 5 th Conference July 4 th to 7 th Brisbane, Australia
Asia Pacific Societies: Contrasts, Challenges and Crises Session: Media, Culture and Identity
Abstract: assertion Food is not a trifling matter on Japanese television. Aired year-round and positioned on every channel in every time period throughout the broadcast day, the lenses of food show are calibrated at a wider angle than heavilytrafficked samurai dramas, the national sport beisuboru, or music shows.
Abstract: methods In this paper I demonstrate this by reporting the results of a systematically-collected, qualitatively-analyzed sample of TV food programming. The results reveal:
Abstract: results (1) At their simplest, food shows work (both in isolation and as a unity) to reproduce traditional Japanese cuisine and cultural mores, educating viewers about regional customs and history.
Abstract: results (2) In this way, and perhaps most saliently, food-talk engages nihonjinron -- theory of the uniqueness of Japanese culture. Food talk is shown to be insular, exclusionary, reproductive, and, therefore, serves as a powerful pull toward cultural nationalism.
Abstract: results (3) In other ways, food-talk is socializing. It often is framed in the context of competition and teaches viewers about: • planning and aesthetics, • imparting class values, and • a consumption ethic.
Abstract: results (4) Additionally, because it often arises in conjunction with the appearance of television, film, sports, and recording stars, food discourse also works to reproduce popular culture.
Abstract: results (5) Finally, despite its interior focus, whether inadvertent or not, food shows also serve as globalizers. They teach viewers about the "peculiar" practices of far-away countries and expose viewers to ideas, words, people and ways of life beyond Japanese borders.
Abstract: results (6) In this way, then, food shows can assist in integrating outside influences and lifestyles into Japan
Abstract: conclusions (1) Taken together, then, food shows serve not only as a medium for reproducing Japanese society, but a tool for decoding its deeper-most structure, as well.
Abstract: Conclusions 2) As such, they can serve as a means for greater theorization about Japan.
Kani tabe (ni) iko, Ha ni kan de iko (Let's go eat crab, Let's go bite [crab]) Puffy, 1997
In 1997, the singing duo, Puffy, followed up their mega hits, Ajia no junshin (Asian purity) and Kore ga watashi no ikiru michi (This is the way I live), with a song whose key lyric concerned the pleasure of chomping crab. Throughout Japan--on radios, in variety shows, as backing in TV commercials, over speakers in elevators and restaurants, heavily trafficked in CD rental stores and karaoke boxes--Japanese were singing the praises
Opening Observation This is not the only instance of food entering Japanese popular culture. In contemporary Japan, in contemporary J-Pop, food is everywhere.
Premise Most often, though, food is not the main dish. It is part of a larger discourse centering on deeper socio-cultural themes, such as: * historical practices * professionalism * preparedness * intelligence * organization * westernization * aesthetics * glo-calization * pleasure * Japanese uniqueness * competition * star culture * capitalism * health and body * gender * sexuality * identity
Aim of this Presentation To consider the social and cultural discourse that flows through food
Sociology of Culture Raymond Williams (1981: 33 -5): “Any adequate sociology of culture must… be an historical sociology… It must recognize “on the one hand, the variable relations between ‘cultural producers’… and recognizable social institutions; on the other hand, the variable relations in which ‘cultural producers’ have been organized or have organized themselves, their formations.
The Institutional Formation we consider is Television TV is part of the “increasingly capitalized corporate sector” which “produc(es art) for the market. ” This involves the “conception of art as a commodity and of the artist… as a particular kind of commodity producer. ” (Williams: 1981: 44) Television is a “new media” which has necessitated the rise of “more complex and specialized means of production and distribution. ” (p. 45).
Socialization, Social Construction, Cultural Reproduction Berger and Luckmann (1967): An institutional world tends to present society members with an objectified external reality. This “objectivated social reality” is internalized in the course of socialization; It is then used to produce the conditions which will, in turn, reproduce that very same social reality.
TV’s Social Reproduction Function Television plays a major role in the socialization (internalization) and reproduction (maintenance) processes— nurturing and replenishing a societal member’s “cultural stock of knowledge”.
About Culture “Culture is a verb…” -- Street (1993) * Culture is an active process of meaning making; * Thus culture is ever in formation. It is constantly being re/produced through human action. * This is opposed to the view (held in some quarters) that culture is an accoutrement, a tool, a mere element within a larger structure or milieu.
About Cultural Studies Hall (1992): “(Cultural Studies) has to analyze… the constitutive and political nature of representation, itself. ”
Thus… in Media-Centered Studies of Culture v One must focus on how the visual and verbal representations construct their object v One must ask: What is the image purporting to represent? How does the image construct the thing it is purporting to represent? (From Hall, ibid. )
Food Shows are Media v v v They are not just CONTENT. They serve as a conduit which transmits social content; As media, they change relationships between people, as well as between people, their culture and society.
Mapping this presentation : 1. Serves up a sample week of food programming on Japanese TV; 2. Looks at a handful of other programs pertaining to food; 3. Identifies some of the key cultural themes that emerge through the aegis of food on TV; 4. Considers a number of key ideas that are communicated in food-related TV advertising.
A Content Analysis: Key Analytic Categories: 1. Straight Cooking 2. Food with Guests 3. Cooking as Part of Show/Food Introduced during course of Show 4. Food as an Element in Discovery of/ Travel to Place/Region
A Most Conservative Accounting: Food Shows amount to 5% of the programming between 6 a. m. and 6 p. m. on any given day. “Food with Guests” and “Cooking as Part of the Show” average 2 hours each per day. By Comparison: News accounts for 15% of the broadcast day for all stations from 5 a. m. to Midnight These figures do not include the minutes in which food is introduced as a minor or inadvertent part of the show.
Typical Examples of Inadvertent or Peripheral food-discourse v May 9, 2001 (late evening): v Binbaba: An entertainment show with singing and light talk contained a segment in which guests and staff tasted (and endured) exotic foods, such as toasted scorpions. v Tonight 2: An adult (generally sexually-tinged) infotainment show featured two reporters trekking to Nagoya to sample parfaits, fried rice and Italian food. They introduced a dessert shop, a bistro and a small kitchen and brought ice cream back to the studio for on-air sampling.
Typical Examples of Inadvertent or Peripheral food-discourse May 25, 2002: v NHK News: A visit to an elementary school in a small city hosting the Slovenian soccer team. The children at the school were sampling the food of Slovenia for an entire week during their lunch period. v Commercial News: Sports reporters were invited to a pre-World Cup event in which they were treated to an eleven course meal that would be offered to VIP ticket holders at the up-coming world cup event.
Gendering Implicit in Food Shows v Beyond the names of regular food shows (such as “Letsu! Okusama hiken [Lets! Wife, you must see]) is the gendering implicit in time distribution. v Those between 6 a. m. and 6 p. m fall disproportionately between 8 and 10 a. m. and 4 and 6 p. m. —times that most salaried men are presumably not able to view TV. v Indeed, the patterning suggests that the target population is women who will have some time just after their husbands and children have departed for the outside world and prior to their return at the dinner hour. It also affords ample time in the late morning/early afternoon for out-of-doors shopping.
A Sample Week of Food Discourse Day 日 月 火 水 木 Douchi no ryori shiou 金 土 Show Riori Banzai SMAP x SMAP Ninki mono de ikou Tonnerus no nama de dara ikasette Time 6 p. m. 10 p. m. 8 p. m. 9 p. m. 11 p. m. Theme Come to know stars through the foods they like Competition, Sexuality, Image mgt. , Commercialization Leveling (of taste, ideas, and status) Emphasis on technique, craft, preparation, “ki” Competition, Information, Cultural nationalism Competition, Ingenuity, Skill, some nationalism Intimate glimpses of stars abetted by food preparation Ryori Chyu-bo no -desu tetsujin yo
SMAP x SMAP Situation Food’s Position Food’s Function Effect Nakai-kun entertains a guest who requests a certain dish. The four other SMAPsters (in teams of two) compete against one another to prepare the meal. “Corner”/Segment Facilitated competition; measures skill; serves as a vehicle for the expression of sexuality; serves as the basis for selling recipes and SMAP goods. Food works to manage each idol's image.
Ninki mono de ikou Situation Five famous people must appraising a series of paired items —each seemingly identical. Which is authentic and which is a bargain -basement copy? Food’s Position Peripheral Food’s Function Effect Used as a measure to determine the knowledge/intelligence of the guest. One effect of the recurrent criticism from the hosts observing in a control booth is a leveling: stars are no more (and often less) competent than the audience
Tonnerus no nama de dara ikasette Situation Food’s Position Food’s Function Effect Two members battle each other by trying to master a craft—in this case cooking. “Corner”/Segment Way of showing ability and learning the proper techniques Underscores the importance of rules, organization, preparation, technique, the ki (aura, essence) of cooking.
Thursday, 9: 00 p. m. Douchi no ryori shiou: (Which one? Cooking Show)
Douchi!? (Which one!? )
Douchi!? (Which one!? ) Situation Food’s Position Food’s Function Effect Competition between rival foods to win the hearts of a panel of seven singers, actors, writers and athletes. Two hosts seek to sway the panel during the on-going in-studio food preparation. Center Stage Opens doors to world history and Japanese culture. Also serves to spur competition, create tension and entertain. Educates about Japanese culture. However, one clear message is that Japanese food is distinct, special, irreplaceable, and generally unbeatable.
Friday, 11: 00 p. m. Ryori no tetsujin. (The Ironmen of Cooking)
Friday, 11: 00 p. m. Ryori no tetsujin. (The Ironmen of Cooking) Society as War This show, which ran for 300 plus airings was retired last year. Like sumo the weak were thrown into the ring with the strong. The challengers were Japanese (or operated in Japan), though occasionally they came from overseas. Almost without exception they were men. The strong were four teachers from Hattori senmon gakko, arguably the premier training ground for chefs in Japan. Each sensei specialized in a particular cuisine: Japanese, Chinese, French or Italian.
Friday, 11: 00 p. m. Ryori no tetsujin. (The Ironmen of Cooking) • The challenger could choose which chef he would battle. • Both were allowed to bring a team to assist. • The chefs were provided with fully-equipped kitchens positioned side by side on a sprawling sound stage • They prepared a full-course meal for four celebrity judges within a set time frame (usually one hour). • Just prior to start time they were informed which one ingredient had to be used in every course. • The contestants had to finish within time AND satisfy the judges' in terms of planning, creativity, composition, aesthetics and taste.
Society as War… • A reporter and cameras waded into the trenches, conducting interviews and offering play-by-play. • Jump-cut editing quickened the pace of the show • A running clock added suspense • Consistent with one message encoded in Japanese history was this: it is very hard to defeat the big power. Hattori senmon gakko usually won
Ryori no tetsujin Situation Food’s Position Food’s Function Effect One ingredient, an independent challenger against a pro… one hour to prepare a full course meal for a panel of judges. Center Stage The vehicle through which competition is manifested—by which winning and losing is determined. Underscores the notion that the big power usually wins. Competition, creativity, aesthetics and some history thrown in.
Saturday 11: 00 p. m. Chyu-bo-desu yo (It’s a Chef’s Kitchen!)
Chyu-bo-desu yo Situation Food’s Position Food’s Function Effect A famous guest helps prepare a meal. 3 professional “coaches” and 2 (very inexpert) hosts assist while interviewing the guest. Central/Peripheral Serves to facilitate discovery of the “inner guest”. The audience comes to know more about the guest. At the same time, they are entertained, learn more about food preparation and the economic sector of society is (however modestly) supported.
Other Shows of Note v Gotchi Batoru v Zumu-inu Asa v Letsu! Okusama Hiken v Oban desu!
Thursdays 9: 00. Tunnerusu no minasan no okage deshita. ("Tunnels' because of everyone") In this show, cooking is a regular “corner”. Two guests--a male and female—seek to guess which of 4 prepared dishes includes one item that the other guest absolutely detests.
Thursdays 9: 00. Tunnerusu no minasan no okage deshita. ("Tunnels' because of everyone")
Thursdays 9: 00. Tunnerusu no minasan no okage deshita. ("Tunnels' because of everyone") There is more than a bit of sadism in this show as the guest is forced to continually eat something that turns his or her stomach --all the while smiling and pretending s/he loves it. In many ways this suits the Japanese cultural value of gaman, of bearing up under intolerable conditions.
Friday 7: 00 p. m. Gotchi Batoru (Banquet Battle/(I will) Treat (you) Battle) v A pun meaning both “Banquet Battle” as well as “ ‘I will treat you, ’ Battle” v SCENARIO: a group (4 Gotchi regulars and (usually) 1 guest go to a famous restaurant in Tokyo. The restaurant can be Italian, French, Chinese, Japanese… All members must guess the price of the dish served to them. The person whose guess is farthest from the true price must purchase everyone’s meal.
Gotchi Batoru An Info-tainment Show in that: 1. a narrator describes the ingredients of the dish; 2. the audience views the chef preparing the dish; 3. the “patrons” discuss the food as they taste and guess its price; 4. Advisories flash on the screen informing the audience whether a guess is close or far off.
Zumu-inu Asa Regional reporters stationed throughout Japan introduce the cuisine in their particular local “beat”.
Letsu! Okusama Hiken SCENARIO: a reporter strolls through a neighborhood, knocks on a door, invites him/herself in and shows the TV audience what is being prepared for dinner or else what has already been consumed by the family inside. “Okusama, konya no okazu wa? ”
Oban desu! At the local level, all 3 networks have their own news/infotainment shows which feature a food corner. In “Oban desu!” viewers send recipes into the station and the show’s hosts try cooking a selected recipe on air. After they have completed the task, they call up the person who submitted the recipe and ask: “our effort came out like this—is that how it is supposed to be? ”
Oban Desu! Desu In this way food is the medium for interaction and participation in public culture. It also involves, to however small a degree, performance and identity.
Saturday 12: 00 p. m. Merenge no kimochi (Feelings Like Meringue)
Saturday 12: 00 p. m. Merenge no kimochi (Feelings Like Meringue) Like many food shows, Meringue uses food as a vehicle for understanding another human being. In this show it is a star (author, comedian, singer, actor). The person (generally male) will be “interviewed” by 3 female hosts and then introduce the hosts and audience to a food that they like to cook.
Sunday 6: 00 p. m. Riori Banzai (Hail Cooking)
Riori Banzai Situation Food’s Position Food’s Function Effect Like many of the shows listed above, a celebrity guest introduces his/her favorite food. 2 hosts comment on it. There is usually also a recommended spot where a maitre’d or chef discusses the food and hosts sample the ambiance. Center Stage Food serves to decode the guest’s personality. Beyond serving as a spur to the economic system, food softens or changes the celebrity’s image.
Ubiquity / Invisibility Well beyond the formal data that can be identified by coding TV Guides and content analyzing TV shows whose conscious definition or primary theme is “food”… Is the informal, invisible data that floods TV programming about food
Ubiquity / Invisibility In short, food is present in an overwhelming number of shows—even those which have nothing to do with food. Shows like: quiz shows, sports, news, travel, and late night talk shows
Continuity Editing Advertising plays an enormous role in placing food at the center of Japanese society
Function of Ads v Used as a device to heighten tension or underscore the show’s major themes v Ads interrupt: v just before a judge’s decision (SMAPx. SMAP, Douchi, Tetsujin) v when it is revealed whether the host can follow the correct procedure (Tonnerus) v before the delivery of the punchline to a story a guest is telling (Merengue) v prior to announcing which star correctly evaluated an item (Ninki mono).
Ad Function v But ads are not departures from the world of food, as a large proportion of them are devoted to edible items. v In this way, they underscore food's intimate relationship to economy--a point that SMAPx. SMAP and Meringue make with their tie-in goods and yearly recipe books offered for sale. A point underscored by shows which provide maps to and menus of the restaurants where the weekly chefs operate.
Food Ads on TV: some numerical data
Most Frequent Ad Categories (Collapsed)
Top Categories of Ads (Itemized)
Top Categories of Ads (Itemized)
Qualitative as well as Quantitative Just in terms of numbers, then, advertising serves to reproduce food-culture in Japan However, qualitatively, as well, the content of food-ads works to emphasize themes that are most central to social structure and in social consciousness
Emphasis on secondary sociocultural discourse. Embedded in this commercial discourse one finds deeper social themes such as health, diet, gender roles, sexuality, race, globalization, even death.
Predominant themes include: * Gender Roles * Health * Sexuality * Diet * Sexism * Fitness * Body * Star-cult * Consumption * Identity * Nationalism
Gender Roles Food ads reinforce the message that women stay inside and cook while men go out and play
Gender Roles Or else that women wait at home for their husbands, who they happily greet at the end of the day with a warm meal
Gender Roles Ads reinforce the idea that women are food shoppers And that they set high standards for freshness which must be met in their kitchen
Gender Roles Ads continually send us the message that women keep their families nourished, healthy and happy— even when they have moved away to college or work in another city.
Sexuality Through food comes discourse about heterosexual intimacy
Sexuality And women as the objects of lesbian fantasy
Sexuality So, too, physical contact and the expression of emotion are present in ad text
Sexuality Food also is the occasion to present men as desired subjects
Sexism And food ads are a medium through which women are continually partialized
Sexism In food ads, women are: ever objectified, taken advantage of, and put on display
Body Part and parcel of this trend is the emphasis on bodies
Body Both for women And men
Health Ads for energy drinks and antacids often focus on the difficult life of the salary-man Which, of course, also reproduces notions of gender roles
Nationalism Aside from the flag-mimicking trademarks of many food companies, ad text often makes reference to nationalism…
Nationalism In this ad, a man is preparing food in his kitchen, only to find himself transported onto a tennis court, facing a powerful foreign player, armed only with a frying pan. When the egg simmers in the pan, it appears as a percolating Hinomaru
Identity A large area of secondary discourse in food ads
Identity: Example 1 A Japanese woman bumps into an Indian man on the street…
Identity: Ex. 1 She thinks: “Oh! Curry…” Which she promptly rushes home to eat.
Identity: Example 2 “What would you like? ” the waiter asks… Cut to a room full of patrons who chant “Sato rice cakes” Cut back to the customer who says: “I think I’ll have Sato rice cakes!”
Identity: Example 3 "Even if it’s raining, don't let it bother you…"
Identity: Ki ni Shinai (don’t worry/don’t let it bother you) "Even if they laugh at you, don't let it bother you…"
Identity: Ki ni Shinai (don’t worry/don’t let it bother you) "Even if you don't know, don't let it bother you. "
What is Food? While a considerable amount of primary ad discourse is centered around food, it is ersatz food (vitamin-enriched waters, sugarless gums, food supplements) which has recently come to dominate ad space.
Challenging Old Conceptions and Patterns Not only does this signal a change in dietary habits, it suggests changes in human behavior and orientation: toward a face-paced lifestyle, convenience, rapid consumption, disposable goods, solitary living, eating away from home.
What Food Talk Tells Us: v Food is often framed in the context of competition; v It teaches viewers about planning and aesthetics; v It imparts class values; v It encourages a consumption ethic; v Because it is intertwined with singers, actors, artists, comedians, and sports heroes, food discourse is also inevitably about the reproduction of popular culture.
Food for Conclusion One question remains: "why food? “ What is it that qualifies foods as a suitable source and medium for filtering the raw material of popular culture? For one, food is something that all Japanese share in common. It is an essential part of daily life.
Food for Conclusion: Beyond that, though, there is the legacy of the notso-distant past. Embedded in the consciousness of nearly a third of the population is an era of food shortage, which has given rise to overwhelming abundance.
TV's food-talk is of interest to almost all viewers 1. Because of food’s history (the agrarian basis of Japan; its postwar saga from dearth to bounty); 2. Food’s place in Japanese folklore (animist roots and ritual); 3. Its ubiquity; 4. Its easy availability to nearly all societal members; and 5. Its penetration into many aspects of everyday life.
Food is a Part of the Structure of Every Viewer’s Life Thus, it serves as a fathomable conduit for all manner of other talk. To invoke information theory, there is very little noise on the channel when food is involved, so pure information can pass unfettered.
Bringing Food Talk within the Orbit of the Opening Concepts
An analysis informed by Cultural Studies, Semiology, and Sociology of Knowledge and Sociology of Culture suggests: Food Discourse: Communicates about the nature of society Reproduces the basic structures and values of that society Socializes member/viewers into the logics and behaviors of that society
Via Commercials: food serves as a medium for the processing of gender-related themes, sex-roles, body, health, sexuality, nationalism and identity
In TV programs… In looking at the numerous segments that introduce food in the course of travel or meeting guests… We see that food is used as a means to decode/understand a person or place. This is equally true whether the place is Nairobi, Hakodate or Tokyo; whether the person is Jackie Chan or Kimura Takuya.
PROXIMATE EFFECTS The array of food discourse works to: v reproduce traditional Japanese cuisine and cultural mores; v educate viewers about regional customs and history; v teach viewers about the "peculiar" practices of far-away countries; v Thereby engaging the global/local dialectic.
ULTIMATE EFFECTS ² Sustained food discourse aids in reproducing nihonjinron--the spread of views about the uniqueness of Japanese culture. ² As such, food talk tends toward cultural nationalism. ² At the same time, food talk assists the integration of outside influences and lifestyles into Japanese society.