Rice as Self: Japanese Identities through Time

Rice as Self: Japanese Identities through Time

Rice as Self: Japanese Identities through Time

Rice as Self: Japanese Identities through Time

Synopsis

"In this engaging account of the crucial significance of rice for the Japanese, Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney examines how people use the metaphor of a principal food, such as rice, corn, or wheat, in conceptualizing themselves in relation to other peoples who eat other foods. Rice as Self shows how the Japanese identity was born through discourse with the Chinese, the first historical other. It shows how rice agriculture, in itself introduced from outside, was, ironically, appropriated as a dominant metaphor of the Japanese self. Since then rice and rice paddies have served as the vehicles for their deliberation of selves and others. Using for evidence such diverse sources as myth-histories of the eighth century, the imperial accession ritual, woodblock prints, novels, day-to-day discourse, and opinion polls, Ohnuki-Tierney shows that throughout Japan's history the cultural importance of rice has been deeply embedded in Japanese cosmology, both of the elite and common folk - rice as soul, rice as deity, and ultimately rice as self of the family, the community, and the nation at large. This, she emphasizes, has been so even though rice has not been the "staple food" of the Japanese, as is commonly held. Using Japan as an example, Ohnuki-Tierney proposes a new and complex cross-cultural model for the interpretation of selves and others. The historical transformations of the Japanese identity have been intimately related not only to their encounter with foreigners - the external other - but also to the process of the marginalization of minorities within Japanese society - the internal other - and of external others who ceased to be the privileged other. The model takes into account the power inequities both within and outside a given society. It has broad applications, especially to people for whom foreign "cultural hegemony" is part and parcel of a complex, often ambivalent, process of self-identity." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

Intensive interaction among peoples through trade, warfare, religion, and so forth, is a familiar historical picture in any part of the world. As anthropologists have become increasingly aware, few peoples have lived in isolated pockets insulated from historical flows of people and goods. An encounter with another culture, directly or indirectly through an exchange of cultural artifacts and institutions, often prompts people to think about who they are in relation to other peoples.

Food plays a dynamic role in the way people think of themselves and others. Parry (1985:613) notes of Hindu culture: “A man is what he eats. Not only is his bodily substance created out of food, but so is his moral disposition,” and Braudel (1973:66) tells of similar sayings in Europe. “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are” is similar to the German proverb, “Der Mensch ist was er isst” (Man is what he eats). Food tells not only how people live but also how they think of themselves in relation to others. a people's cuisine, or a particular food, often marks the boundary between the collective self and the other, for example, as a basis of discrimination against other peoples. Thus, although the Japanese are quite attached to raw food, the Ainu take pride in long, thorough cooking methods and distinguish their “civilized” way from the “barbaric” ways of the Japanese and Gilyaks—their neighbors—who eat food raw. Many Japanese, in turn, used to or continue to distinguish themselves from the neighboring Koreans and Chinese by pointing out their use of garlic, which is not used in washoku (Japanese cuisine). People have a strong attachment to their own cuisine and, conversely, an aversion to the foodways of others, including their table manners (Ohnuki-Tierney 1990a).

In many urban areas of the world today, ethnic foods are popular, and food has become truly internationalized. in the United Kingdom, daily cuisine now includes foods introduced by people from the former colonies—Africa, the East and West Indies, Pakistan, China (Hong Kong)— as well as “Italian” pizza and American hamburgers and “American steak.” I saw with amazement and amusement in south London that “fish and chips” is now sometimes advertised as “traditional.” in Japan, even before the recent introduction of fast foods from McDonald's . . .

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