Reading Food in Modern Japanese Literature
288pp. September 2008
Reading Food in Modern Japanese Literature
Author: Aoyama, Tomoko;
Asian Studies Association of Australia Mid-career Researcher Prize for Excellence

Literature, like food, is, in Terry Eagleton’s words, "endlessly interpretable," and food, like literature, "looks like an object but is actually a relationship." So how much do we, and should we, read into the way food is represented in literature? Reading Food explores this and other questions in an unusual and fascinating tour of twentieth-century Japanese literature. Tomoko Aoyama analyzes a wide range of diverse writings that focus on food, eating, and cooking and considers how factors such as industrialization, urbanization, nationalism, and gender construction have affected people’s relationships to food, nature, and culture, and to each other. The examples she offers are taken from novels (shosetsu) and other literary texts and include well known writers (such as Tanizaki Jun’ichiro, Hayashi Fumiko, Okamoto Kanoko, Kaiko Takeshi, and Yoshimoto Banana) as well as those who are less widely known (Murai Gensai, Nagatsuka Takashi, Sumii Sue, and Numa Shozo).

Food is everywhere in Japanese literature, and early chapters illustrate historical changes and variations in the treatment of food and eating. Examples are drawn from Meiji literary diaries, children’s stories, peasant and proletarian literature, and women’s writing before and after World War II. The author then turns to the theme of cannibalism in serious and popular novels. Key issues include ethical questions about survival, colonization, and cultural identity. The quest for gastronomic gratification is a dominant theme in "gourmet novels." Like cannibalism, the gastronomic journey as a literary theme is deeply implicated with cultural identity. The final chapter deals specifically with contemporary novels by women, some of which celebrate the inclusiveness of eating (and writing), while others grapple with the fear of eating. Such dread or disgust can be seen as a warning against what the complacent "gourmet boom" of the 1980s and 1990s concealed: the dangers of a market economy, environmental destruction, and continuing gender biases.

Reading Food in Modern Japanese Literature will tempt any reader with an interest in food, literature, and culture. Moreover, it provides appetizing hints for further savoring, digesting, and incorporating textual food.

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“Fascinating. . . . Reading Food is on its way to a gustatory revelation about the true seat of cuisine within the Japanese literary mindset.” —Journal of Japanese Studies (37:2, 2011)

"As a significant foray into a largely unexplored aspect of Japanese literature that combines critical awareness and precision with an impressive breadth of reading and knowledge [this] text will clearly be important to specialists in the field. At the same time, gracefully and clearly written, covering a wide spectrum of literature, writers, periods, genres and theoretical approaches, it is eminently suitable for undergraduate and graduate courses on modern Japanese literature and culture." —New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies (12:1, June 2010)

"At first glance, this seems an unlikely subject, but the originality of the topic is fully sustained by the clarity of exposition, the profound knowledge of modern Japanese literature (both in the original and in translation) and the assurance of the author’s voice. A wide-ranging interest in theory never obscures its application to the discussion of particular works and themes. With a broad interdisciplinary approach, the author offers many sharp and relevant insights from anthropology, history, cultural studies, feminism, etc., and her cross-cultural insights are well-based. A feature of the book is the skill with which the English reader is led to appreciate linguistic subtleties in the Japanese." —Citation from the Prize Committee, Asian Studies Association of Australia Mid-career Researcher Prize for Excellence, 2010

"[This book] will certainly inspire other researchers to explore some of the trails that Aoyama has marked for further inquiry into Japan’s culinary imaginaire. The wealth of information that she presents makes all the more astonishing the long-held belief that Japanese literature lacks the interest in food and appetite that abounds in other literatures, such as those of France and China. Aoyama is to be congratulated for this study, which provides a cornucopia of findings and research ideas for the investigation of literaure within the expanding field of culinary studies." —Monumenta Nipponica (64:2, 2009)

"Offering a diverse cornucopia, Reading Food in Modern Japanese Literature is a welcome addition to scholarship, its menu bound to entice readers with a variety of tastes." —Pacific Affairs (82:3, fall 2009)

Author: Aoyama, Tomoko;
Tomoko Aoyama is senior lecturer in Japanese language and literature at the University of Queensland, Australia. She received the Asian Studies Association of Australia’s 2010 Mid-career Researcher Prize for Excellence for her work on Reading Food in Modern Japanese Literature.
Read the introduction (PDF).

Introduction: Why Read Food in Modern Japanese Literature?
Chapter 1. Food in the Diary
Chapter 2. Down-to-Earth Eating and Writing (1)
Chapter 3. Down-to-Earth Eating and Writing (2)
Chapter 4. Cannibalism in Modern Japanese Literature
Chapter 5. The Gastronomic Novel
Chapter 6. Food and Gender in Contemporary Women’s Literature
Conclusion: Confession of an Obsessive Textual Food Eater