Manners and Mischief: Gender, Power, and Etiquette in Japan

Manners and Mischief: Gender, Power, and Etiquette in Japan

Manners and Mischief: Gender, Power, and Etiquette in Japan

Manners and Mischief: Gender, Power, and Etiquette in Japan

Synopsis

Offering a concise, entertaining snapshot of Japanese society, Manners and Mischief examines etiquette guides, advice literature, and other such instruction for behavior from the early modern period to the present day and discovers how manners do in fact make the nation. Eleven accessibly written essays consider a spectrum of cases, from the geisha party to gay bar cool, executive grooming, and good manners for subway travel. Together, they show that etiquette is much more than fussy rules for behavior. In fact the idiom of manners, packaged in conduct literature, reveals much about gender and class difference, notions of national identity, the dynamics of subversion and conformity, and more. This richly detailed work reveals how manners give meaning to everyday life and extraordinary occasions, and how they can illuminate larger social and cultural transformations.

Excerpt

One fine day a robust Japanese man with a boyish mop of hair, a colorful aloha shirt, and a grin of anticipation sits down at an ordinary lunch counter in Tokyo. He has come for a lesson in eating ramen noodles by a master who has studied the art for forty years. The elderly expert, elegant in his kimono, sits subdued next to him. He instructs the novice in each step of proper noodle consumption, from appreciating the aesthetic whole to attending to the meal’s superb particulars. He expresses affection to the pork slices with a fond, “See you soon!” Every move made by the master appears steeped in significance; every taste is a symbolic act of reverence for the thin ropes of dough. Yet when the young fellow asks the master why he ceremoniously taps the pork slice three times against the bowl, he replies, “Just to drain it.”

Fans of Itami Jūzō’s movies will recognize this scene as one of the early vignettes in his film Tampopo (1986), a satire about the plea sure that Japanese take in food, sex, and rituals. As the vignette is all about manners and mischief, it provides the perfect opening to introduce the goals and scope of this book. Whether made instantly or eaten at one of the trendiest noodle shops in town, ramen is considered one of the most commonplace meals in Japan. Itami makes this scene comical by imagining a professor of pasta who approaches noodles with all the grace and seriousness of purpose associated with the Zen priest or the tea ceremony master, iconic practitioners of Japanese high taste and esoteric thought. The student has no way of knowing what the significance . . .

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