AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 321

[ Japan Sessions, Table of Contents | Panels by World Area Main Menu ]

Session 321: Before and After the Banquet: Culinary Discourse in Japan (1500-1900)

Organizer: Eric C. Rath, University of Kansas, USA

Discussant: Jordan Sand, Georgetown University, USA

This panel examines pictorial and discursive depictions of Japanese banquets and meals from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries to understand the formation of new forms of culinary discourse and cuisines, and how these reflect and critique larger social issues. We begin with medieval feasts and their preparation as described in the early sixteenth-century Illustrated Scroll of the Sake and Rice Debate (Shuhanron emaki) as presented in a paper by Claire-Akiko Brisset. Brisset examines the disjuncture between the parodic Shuhanron text and its idyllic images of food preparation and banqueting. Tea cuisine (kaiseki) has been understood as a late sixteenth century refinement of medieval banqueting styles, but Eric Rath suggests that kaiseki cuisine in fact dates to a later period despite the supposed innovations of one of its earliest proponents, Sen no Rikyû (d. 1591). Drawing from diaries and other period sources, Shoko Higashiyotsuyanagi focuses on the adoption of Western foodways in the late nineteenth century and the gradual, hit and miss, invention of the Japanese version of Western-style cooking (yōshoku). Finally, Michael Kinski offers us advice from early modern writers on what to do after the banquet, to recover when one has over indulged, by drawing advice from nineteenth-century medical literature. Our panel illustrates how culinary discourse intersected with and affected ideas not only of health, but of religion, aesthetics, and national identity.

“Food Imagery and Parody in 16th Century Japan: About the Shuhanron Emaki (The Illustrated Scroll of the Sake and Rice Debate)”
Claire-Akiko Brisset, Universite Paris Diderot, France

Displaying four paintings depicting banquets and kitchen scenes, Shuhanron emaki illustrates a debate about different types of food, behind which may hide a religious dispute. Quite famous among specialists of Japanese food history and culture for its documentary value, this scroll most probably dates to the first half of the 16th century; but its anonymous text has not yet been much discussed and it raises hermeneutical issues. Beyond the obvious food-centered theme, four main attempts of interpretation have been recently proposed for this work. Namiki Seishi contends that the scroll is a metaphoric transposition of the religious and social context of early 16th century Japan. Watanabe Takeshi examines the historical background and makes the assumption that the paintings actually deny the religious conflicts and the terrible economic climate of that time by depicting an idealized, wealthy and placated Muromachi society. Tokuda Kazuo emphasizes the parodic nature of the text; and Miyakoshi Naoto among others draws attention to the discrepancy between the content of the Shuhanron text and the illustrations. My paper will focus on the text in its literary aspects and attempt to determine its discursive strategy from a typologic point of view in comparison to other Muromachi works, genres (ronsômono, tokumono, etc), and plausible Chinese models. This should shed new light on the problematic disjunction between a mainly parodic text (Tokuda), its utopian paintings (Watanabe), and on the food and banquet imagery as figured in the scroll.

“From Warming Stone to Memorial Stone: Rethinking the History of Japanese Tea Cuisine”
Eric C. Rath, University of Kansas, USA

The development of tea cuisine (cha kaiseki) has been heralded as the most significant event in Japanese foodways during the sixteenth century, one that has been credited to just one person, tea master Sen no Rikyū (1522-1591), who casts a long shadow on the history of the tea ceremony and Japanese culture. Several scholars identify tea cuisine as the origin of modern Japanese cuisine, so Rikyū might be called the founding father of Japanese cuisine too. Despite the close association of Rikyū and kaiseki, his specific contributions to the development of kaiseki are hard to discern in his lifetime. This paper contends that it is far easier to substantiate the conclusion that Rikyū demonstrated a lack of interest in cooking than the assumption that he is responsible for creating or revamping kaiseki cuisine. It finds evidence from the existing sources that much of the basis for glorifying Rikyū’s place in the history of kaiseki comes from three misunderstandings: 1) the anachronistic dating of kaiseki as a cuisine to his lifetime; 2) the misinterpretation of quantitative data about Rikyū’s teas; and, 3) the over-interpretation of ambiguous statements in apocryphal sources attributed to Rikyū to construct a philosophy of cooking that actually reflects preferences of his descendants a century after his death. The aim of the paper is to reevaluate Rikyū’s place in the history of kaiseki to obtain a better understanding of its development and of his contributions to the history of Japanese cuisine.

Wine and Eau-de-Cologne: From the Introduction of Western Food to the Birth of Yōshoku
Shoko Higashiyotsuyanagi, International Christian University, Japan

Japan modernized after the abrupt introduction of Western culture and material goods following the Meiji Restoration of 1868. The quest to “catch up with the West” and revise unequal treaties entailed changes in people’s daily lives, including areas such as food, housing, and dress. The Westernization of Japan’s food culture was one part of the new national agenda. Japan’s leaders sought to strengthen the Japanese physique as one way to “strengthen the nation.” To this end, meat eating and milk drinking were encouraged from the early 1870s. Nonetheless, the digestion of western food culture was an arduous affair. Blunders were committed and often the Japanese found themselves the butt of Western ridicule. In one instance, a maid disgraced herself by mistaking eau-de-cologne for wine. After years of trial and error, Western food and table manners were gradually transformed into a unique Japanese genre of food culture called yōshoku. This “Western-style” in essence became the standard of Japanese home cooking. This paper will follow the process of this transformation, noting various Japanese experiments with foreign food as seen in diaries or other memoranda. My attempt is to clarify the process through which “Western-style” food became part of the everyday life of the Japanese people. Yōshoku is the object of a wave of nostalgia in Japan today. An examination of its origins will draw attention to areas of continuity and discontinuity in the history of Japanese food culture.

“Admonitions Regarding Food: Some Glimpses into the Pleasures and Dangers of Eating in Edo Period Japan”
Michael Kinski, Independent Scholar, Germany

Early modern Japan saw the development of a refined culture of food. But as enjoyable as dining might be, an excessive service to the pleasures of the palate is not without danger. Insofar, as by nourishing himself man replenishes his own stock of vital energy and maintains its equilibrium, there is no clear-cut borderline between food and medicine. However, as the properties of various kinds of food may not be compatible and excessive consumption might have detrimental effects, attention has to be paid to the balance of one’s nutrition. In Japan, an awareness of this owed much to the acquaintance with Chinese medicine. Kaibara Ekiken's Principles for Nourishing Life (Yôjô kun, 1713) is a well-known example. Following this epochal work, the 18th and 19th century saw a proliferation of advice manuals on a healthy enjoyment of food. Representative of such works is Takai Ranzan's Admonitions Regarding Food Consumption (Shokuji kai, 1815). This short book and similar ones will be discussed not as medical literature but as an answer to the following question: What kind of knowledge could the educated reader by the turn of the 19th century glean from popular dietetic advice manuals to allay his fears of indulging himself in good food? At the same time, these manuals are read as an expression of the belief in the individual human being’s responsibility for preserving his/her physical integrity and leading one’s life to the fullest.