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Archive for January 2012

Japan, Food, and Gender, Part 6: Final Thoughts

Posted by Shaun

I've explored food and gender in Japan from just about every possible angle in the last 5 blog posts. 

In Part 1, I looked at some examples of gender-divided food marketing in Japan and posed some questions for the rest of the blog series. Why did the Whopper Junior become womanly when it came to Japan? The transformation tells us about the extent to which Japanese people find it natural to market food based on gender. In Part 2, I summarized research that showed Japanese college students perceived meat as masculine and women's diets as dainty. Burger King already had a kid's meal, so who else could the Whopper Junior be for?

In Part 2, I also looked at the social origins of food stereotypes, and how presenting, serving, and eating food is one of the many ways we perform gender.

In Part 3, I explored how changes in the consumption of sweet food by Japanese men reflect changes in masculinities, as well as how sexuality is described with food terms in the case of "herbivore men." I also looked at how, due to the globalization of Japanese popular culture, anime fans outside of Japan are picking up on the ways food cues are used to express gender in Japan.

In Part 4, I examined the relatively gender-neutral marketing of beer in Japan and considered how these advertisements, when compared to American beer ads, might be viewed as feminine by American consumers.

Finally, in Part 5 I looked at the commodification of women through food advertising, with AKB48 as a case study.

"So," you say, "Shaun, this has all been very interesting, but what does all this stuff going on in Japan have to do with America? And you said your class was about the globalization of Japanese popular culture. What does this have to do with globalization?"

The answer to "What does this have to do with globalization?" is that all of the things I've written about are already being globalized. Japanese food, particularly sushi, is popular throughout America, and so are Japanese pop culture forms like anime and manga. Anime and manga bring with them Japanese ideas of both gender and food, because characters also perform gender while they're eating. AKB48, too, is finding an American audience - apparently they performed at California's Anime Expo in 2010. It might not be long before we start seeing AKB48 food in the US, in which case we'll have to really dig deep and examine what it is about this uniformed all-girl pop band that whets our appetites.

And when it comes to marketing methods and economic issues, America finds itself in a position to look to Japan as a model, as The New York Times' Eamonn Fingleton suggests in The Myth of Japan's Failure. Our modern histories are intertwined, and our economic situations are similar. Using Japan as a model, or a mirror, we can begin to understand America. Looking at the ways gender is constructed differently in Japan and the US when it comes to food and eating, we can better understand how arbitrary and how diverse gender can be.

Japan, Food, and Gender, Part 5: Edible Idols

Posted by Shaun

In this last installment of the "Japan, Food, and Gender" series, we're going to look at something a little different. That is, the use of women to sell food, with a focus on the Japanese pop band AKB48.

If you live in Japan, and especially Tokyo, it's impossible to go through daily life without hearing something about AKB48, the forty-eight-(and-counting)-member pop idol group that performs daily for its (largely male) otaku fanbase in Akihabara. The AKB girls' smiling faces appear all over billboards and the advertisements in trains, and they appear in every sort of TV programming, from televised concerts to comedy and variety to even serious drama (Atsuko Maeda has a main role in the currently-airing  最高の人生の終わり方 Saikou no Jinsei no Owarikata and her name is always followed in the credits by "AKB48"). I also learned when I visited the grocery store near my host family's house to research for this blog series that they appear on a surprising array of advertisements for food and beverages.

The use of women in food advertisements is nothing new. "Sexy Food Advertisements - Hot Women in Food Ads" has examples starting from the 1800s, and Sociological Images has a large collection of ads either posing food like women or women like food.

Margarita Jankauskait writes in "Food, Gender, and Representation":

"The feminine body, irksomely related by means of mass media to food products, becomes a product itself. A woman is ‘consumed’ like food; she is seduced by food (as a man is seduced by pornographic images). In advertisements her image is closely connected with gourmet experiences that surpass sexual experiences..."(1-2).
Although it's tame compared to the Hardees and Burger King ads on the sites linked above, it's getting hard not to look askance at AKB48's ad for the Hotto Motto boxed lunch chain's katsu-don, right? Cute girls enthusiastically gobbling down food that we learned in Part 2 was coded as masculine. I could be wrong, but I think there might be something sexual going on here.

It's not totally related to this blog entry, but if you're in the mood to feel some righteous anger, you can watch the making-of video, おいしい顔のヒミツOishii Kao no Himitsu "The Secret to a 'Delicious' Face" on Hotto Motto's Youtube account. Just like the commercial, there's a version for each of the three AKB girls. Basically, the advertisers made each girl not eat anything for 24 hours and then, in her weakened state, led her to a room where they could film her eating Hotto Motto katsu-don. Then they posted the videos on YouTube as a fan extra. I find this pretty horrifying, and I don't think it's just because I'm hungry right now.

According to Brian Ashcraft's Schoolgirl Confidential*, part of AKB48's appeal lies in the group's vast array of members. Each girl's personality is different, and so are her hobbies, so fans can find a girl who shares their interests (33-34). "It's an idol smorgasbord where fans can find at least one idol to his or her taste," says Ashcraft (34). Don't miss that word "smorgasbord." An article at AdvertisingAge.com also uses the language of food to describe the band, with the headline "AKB48 Takes Equal Parts Choir, Slumber Party and Beauty Pageant, Mixes Well."

It's not just Hotto Motto katsu-don that AKB48 promotes.  The holiday season and 7-11 brought us AKB48 Christmas cake, and the impending Valentines Day brings us AKB48 in commercials for Meiji chocolate bars. A quick Google search introduced me to a wall-sized ad for Wonda Morning Shot coffee with AKB48 as cheerleaders, AKB48 instant ramen, and AKB48 "Happy Pie."

Meiji chocolate display featuring AKB48
AKB48 is on this vending machine at my train station twice: in the back with the white cat ears...
...And here in the Wonda coffee ad on the side.
Several of the AKB48-sponsored food products come with a collectable. At the grocery store near my house, I saw bottles of vegetable juice that each came with a tiny figurine of one of the girls, and at conveniences stores you can buy Wonda-brand coffee that comes with a charm with an AKB star's face on it (here's a blog post and photo by someone who's bought one). With both of these products, you can see which AKB48 collectable you're getting before you buy. It's not random. Fans can choose from any of the bottles or cans on the shelf and buy only those that come with a collectable of their favorite star.
Tiny AKB48 dolls sold with Kagome Fruity Tomato juice

So what's with this incredibly persistent association between AKB48 and food?
The nature of the band itself makes its members particularly well-suited to being "consumed" in food advertisements. AKB48 is successful for two reasons: 1) The band members are accessible. What's more accessible than a grocery store, and what's more comfortably incorporated into a fan's daily life than food? 2) The band members span a wide variety of interests and personalities, to satisfy any appetite, like a buffet. In small groups, like in the Wonda and Meiji ads, AKB48's image can appear over and over again in ads without getting boring, because the band's managers can always pick new faces to highlight, like a restaurant with seasonal menus. And fans can consume AKB48 in bite-sized morsels when the girls appear individually, whether it's in multiple versions of a TV commercial or in collectables attached to AKB48-sponsored food products.

AKB48 represents the pinnacle of gender in food marketing. It combines food advertising with an entertainment concept that allows fans to consume their favorite young stars either as a cutely singing set or a la carte by personality, and the end result is a group of edible idols, smiling their way into fans' hearts, minds, and stomachs three meals a day.

Print Works Cited
Ashcraft, Brian. Schoolgirl Confidential. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 2010.

Japan, Food, and Gender, Part 4: Beer for Him and Her

Posted by Shaun

Alcohol marketing in the US is notoriously sexist, especially when it comes to beer. In America, there's a hard-and-fast stereotype that beer is for men. When alcohol marketers try to target women, as Emily Bryson York and Robert Channick at the Chicago Tribune say companies are trying to do now, they tend to focus on sweet or low-calorie drinks, missing the market of women who like bitter flavors or aren't bound by calorie-related insecurities when they drink. Although plenty of women do drink beer, they generally feature in beer commercials only as the butt of men's jokes or as sexual objects. And Chick Beer, "the only American beer created just for women," (para. 1), while claiming to celebrate "women: independent, smart, fun-loving and self-assured women who love life and embrace all of the possibilities that it has to offer" (para. 6), depicts its own limited image of femininity with its' extremely pink website, cheesy slogan ("Witness the chickness!"), purse-shaped case, and little-black-dress label.
For the sake of full disclosure, I'm not a beer drinker, and American beer marketing is not doing much to change my mind. Let's take a closer look at some beer commercials from the US.

First of all, we have a compilation of Dos Equis ads, starring "The Most Interesting Man in the World."
Whoever this guy is, he can do all these amazing, unbelievable things, and when he announces "I don't always drink beer, but when I do, it's Dos Equis," he's got attractive women at his side, like props to show how cool he is. Why don't we ever see "The Most Interesting Woman in the World?"

Next we have a Miller Lite commercial in which a female bar tender insults her male customer for choosing the wrong light beer and wearing jeans that are too tight. The announcer at the end tells customers to "Man up!" and choose Miller Lite. Stereotype: Men need to draw a bold line between masculinity and femininity and the wrong choice will have them ridiculed, and women are bitches.

Next, we have my favorite. I had some hopes for this commercial because the Youtube video was called something like "Bud Lite together," but my hopes were soon dashed. Here we have a couple of guys coming home with their Bud Lite beer to watch a football game, only to find that the wife/girlfriend has taken over the living room by having her girlfriends over. Rather than try to negotiate like adults, the man tells his wife/girlfriend's friends some gossip she apparently trusted him with, and then all the friends storm out of the room, angry at the wife/girlfriend, and the men get to take over the TV room. Stereotype: Men can't have fun, relax, and "be men," if women are there, and once again, women are bitches. 

This one is my second favorite of the American beer ads I looked at today. Sexy, vinyl-clad aliens land on planet Earth and offer men Bud Lite as a reward in exchange for "schmeplicating" to save the alien species. The men all cheer and run to the alien ladies while their wives/girlfriends roll their eyes, and the announcer tells us that Bud Lite is "a sure sign of a good time." Once the men are gone, the ladies cheer and take out their own 6-packs of Bud Lite. Stereotype: Men have a Pavlovian response to the combination of attractive women and certain brands of beer, and women put up with this. Plus, women and men can't enjoy the same thing together at the same time.

When I came to Japan, I didn't really expect to see anything different when it came to beer ads. Just like the US, Japan has its fair share of sweet and low-calorie drinks obviously marketed to women, but when I saw commercials for Japanese beer, I was amazed. There are women in Japanese beer commercials, and their roles are different from the ones in the American commercials I posted above. To get an idea of what I mean, here's a selection of fairly recent Japanese beer commercials:

First, we have a commercial for Sapporo's 麦とホップ mugi to hoppu "Barely and Hops." It features, notably, a man and a woman eating the same food and drinking the same beer. They seem to be talking about what toppings to eat with their baked potatoes, and the commercial ends with the phrase traditionally said before eating, "Ittadakimasu!." Rather than drinking beer and getting rowdy while watching football with the guys, or trying to impress women, or partying, this commercial focuses on beer as a refreshing beverage to drink with dinner.

This commercial for Suntory: The Premium Malts shows beer at one of the places where it's sold, at the convenience store, and unlike the Miller Lite commercial above, the woman who sells it is friendly and smiling. A man walks into the convenience store and notices that there's a new salesperson, and a new size for his favorite beer at a new price. At home, he takes a drink out of his glass of beer and says "delicious!" The slogan at the end, 帰り道で、冷えてますよ kaerimichi de, hietemasu yo is sort of hard for me to translate. Literally it's "On the way home, [it's] cold," but I'm not sure what arrangement of words would work in a real English advertisement and fit the vibe of the commercial.

This collection of commercials for Suntory All Free is interesting because it's for an alcohol-free and calorie-free beer and the commercials consistently feature a man and a young woman side by side. I don't really understand the story of these commercials, but I think they feature a man and his daughter enjoying some sort of outing together while drinking a beer. The girl says "Hey, papa-" and then a UFO appears, and she says "Oh, it's nothing." The relaxing music and the father-daughter relationship are totally different than the sorts of connections between men and women demonstrated in the American commercials. One thing that confuses me is that the daughter is always seen drinking her beer out of a can while the father is drinking out of a glass, which could be interpreted to mean that they're drinking different beers, but when I saw this beer at my local grocery store, both of their pictures were on the case, so I'll assume they're both drinking the same thing.

While this last commercial, for Suntory's 金麦 kin mugi, "Gold Barley" features a male announcer, all of the actors that appear in the commercial are women. The narrator says the flavor of "Gold Barley" has gotten more delicious, and the text on the screen says "金麦進む kin mugi susumu," "Gold Barley advances." It shows a woman popping the top on the beer can and pouring it into a glass. She's then joined by several other women, and they drink together.

After this commercial came on TV, I told my host mom about how women never appear like this in American beer commercials, and she told me that Japanese men will buy something if they see women enjoying it. I thought that assessment was interesting, but I don't necessarily agree. For example, I recently saw a commercial in which women become ecstatic at the fruit scents of dish soap, and I doubt Japanese men are in a rush to do the dishes because of that. The other reason I think this commercial is targeted at women as much as it might also be targeted at men is the way the women are dressed. They're wearing warm sweaters and comfortable-looking dresses, and the camera focuses on their eyes and their smiles, not their bodies. They look friendly, approachable, and like they're having fun together. I get the feeling that these women are going to have a nice, low-key time hanging out together, and as a woman, that appeals to me.

One of the major differences I see between the American beer commercials and the Japanese ones is that American commercials tend to make you laugh at someone's expense, and they tend to play boys vs. girls, while Japanese beer commercials tend to make characters of both genders smile. This partly stems from the different drinking cultures in Japan and America. Just judging from these commercials alone, beer in America is associated with parties and rowdiness, while in Japan it's associated with refreshment and relaxation. This has honestly changed my perception of beer somewhat while I've been here. It certainly looks refreshing when it's in a clear glass instead of a brown bottle, and when it's being drunk by cute, smiling women instead of leering frat boys or jeering sports fans.

If American alcohol marketers want to appeal to women, perhaps they should look at the less uptight performance of masculinity, the positive presence of women and femininity, and the images of men and women drinking together in Japanese beer ads. Though American beer marketing has had such a long association with promoting a very loud, obnoxious form of masculinity that the quieter Japanese model might get coded as feminine the minute it crossed over to American soil, therefore further gendering the beer market instead of giving it the gender neutrality it seems to have in Japan.

Japan, Food, and Gender, Part 3: Let Them Eat Cake

Posted by Shaun

Last time, I wrote about the basic ways that food in Japan is categorized based on gender.

There's a strong perception in Japanese culture that sweets are for women, not for men, which I touched on briefly in the last post. Researchers have found that women in Japan reported that they like sweets more and eat more of them than men (Katou, Mori, and Ikawa, abstract), and that people who described themselves as more feminine also described themselves as eating more sweet foods (Hirokawa, Yamazawa, and Shimizu, 432).

This belief that men can't openly enjoy sweets was at one point so strong that a restaurant opened up in Shibuya that sold desserts that looked like fast food, so men could indulge undercover (It's since gone out of business).

In my last post, I wrote about how different eating habits between men and women are not necessarily because men and women naturally like different foods. The social environment plays a huge role in encouraging people to eat one thing or another, and this social environment is created not just by individuals eating together with their family or friends, but by pop culture as well. That includes advertising as well as anime, manga, TV shows, and other forms of mass communication.

The website TVTropes, in which internet users record and catalog reoccurring conventions in media, wiki-style, has a page called "Real Men Hate Sugar," which lists examples of male characters who either hate sweet foods or are encouraged to pretend to hate sweet foods in order to seem more mature and masculine. Most of the examples come from Japanese anime. The opposite of "Real Men Hate Sugar," characters who love sweets and consume them frequently, is called "Sweet Tooth." Once again, most of the examples are from anime. Many of the male characters with a Sweet Tooth are described by TVTropes contributors as odd, immature, comedic, or creepy because of their love for sugar. There are also several male characters listed who magically change gender throughout the course of a story and either have their degree of preference for sweets change or suddenly have the opportunity to indulge in a secret craving for sweets.

TVTropes is only available in English, and it relies a lot on English-specific humor and internet slang.  Japan has its own thriving Japanese-language internet communities, so I think it's a pretty safe guess that most of the website's contributors who are anime fans come from outside of Japan. An anime character's eating habits are clearly used to say something about that character's position on the axes of masculinity <--> femininity, immaturity <--> maturity, and even normality <--> weirdness. And anime fans outside of Japan are picking up on this coding. The relationships between gender and food in Japan's popular culture are being globalized along with the pop culture itself.

It's important to realize that when we consume pop culture from another country, we're not just watching a different kind of story. The story and characters carry the residue of the culture in which they were created, and this includes different ways of expressing gender.

This is important because it's not just anime that gets exported from Japan. In my experience, anime fans tend to be drawn to other things from Japan as well, including Japanese snack food. When I was in junior high, I was able to buy Men's Pocky, a more bitter, dark chocolate version of the popular Japanese cracker stick dipped in chocolate, at the same store where I bought my anime and manga. When we learned from watching anime and reading manga that it was "manly" to avoid sweets, it became a joke among my group of friends to give it to the butchest girl among us to demonstrate her "manliness." Even as young teenagers, we were using anime, manga, and food consumption to construct our concepts of gender.

The public attitude towards Japanese men and sweets consumption is changing, and I think 草食男子 soushoku danshi, "herbivore men" started the conversation. The disintegration of Japan's lifetime employment system has meant that the current generation of Japanese men have to construct their identities in a different way than their fathers did. According to Slate's Alexandra Harney in "The Herbivore's Dilemma," herbivore men are guys who fly in the face of stereotypes of Japanese masculinity.  They're known for being relatively passive, with a low interest in sex, money, and career status, content to hang around the house and pursue quiet hobbies like gardening, which seem "feminine" by Japanese standards (para. 1-2, 4-8). They're called "herbivores" not because they eat a lot of vegetables, but because of their lack of interest in sex. Apparently the translation of "sex" is "relationship in the flesh," so the journalist who coined the term, Maki Fukusawa, chose "herbivores" (Neill, para. 3). Note how once again diet is used as a metaphor for constructions of gender and sexuality.

Following the trend of soushoku-danshi, to translate and paraphrase this Japanese blog entry, many "___ danshi" expressions have been coined to describe men whose personalities and tastes are completely different from men of previous generations. These men have traits that used to belong exclusively to women. The entry, posted in May, 2009 focuses on the new term スイーツ男子 suiitsu danshi "sweets man."

 According to this company news bulletin, the Japanese convenience store chain Family Mart began selling its own line of sweets in 2006. Family Mart noticed that the ratio of men to women buying sweets was 6:4 and created a set of 男のスイーツ otoko no suiitsu "men's sweets" that was also enjoyed by many women. The original "men's sweets" series focused on "volume" and "familiar flavors" (para. 3). Following the "sweets danshi" trend, in September 2010, Family Mart decided to improve upon its' "men's sweets" series and create 俺のスイーツ ore no suiitsu, with a focus on "volume," "moderate sweetness," and "high-quality ingredients" to satisfy its most discerning male customers (para. 1, 3).

This text is pink on Family Mart's other desserts
Family Mart's decision to call its' new-and-improved dessert line for men 俺のスイーツ ore no suiitsu is interesting because the name ups the manliness of the sweets while the company attempts to up the quality. It literally translates to "My Sweets," but the word 俺 ore is a very masculine first-person pronoun, so as not to let you forget that these are a man's desserts. So far I've seen (and eaten) 俺のエクレアore no ekurea "My Eclair" and 俺のチョコケーキシュウ ore no choko keeki shuu "My Chocolate Cake Cream Puff."

Let's take a closer look at 俺のエクレアore no eclair:
ore no ekurea
First of all, this is an incredibly large dessert.

With my iPod Touch for scale.
Evidently, Family Mart thinks size matters.
 I can't speak for the quality of the ingredients, because I've never actually eaten an eclair before, but there was certainly a lot going on inside this thing.

Cream, chocolate whipped cream, chocolate flakes, chocolate mousse, chocolate doughy outside...
It sort of makes me laugh how intense this eclair is. Look at it in comparison to the "double cream" eclair marketed at women.

The photo quality is low because I took this in Family Mart with my cell phone.
The image of men I'm getting from Family Mart's "ore no eclair" is of a guy who wants everything bigger and better than the options available for women. If he's going to buy chocolate, it's got to come with chocolate on top. I'd be interested to see how many men switched from buying ordinary "women's" sweets to buying these male-targeted lines once they were released. This is a lot to eat, and if a guy feels like he has to eat this much chocolate in one sitting in order to feed his sweet tooth without sacrificing his masculinity, I kinda feel sorry for him.

In any case, the trend of sweets-eating men continues to grow. This MSN article from January 2011 announced another new term coined to describe men who love sweet foods, 甘男子,  amadan, a portmanteau of 甘い amai, "sweet" and 男子 danshi, "man."

It's been interesting exploring how changes in Japan's masculinities are described through the language of diet and food. American media is still largely stagnating in the stereotype of hyper-masculine, aggressive, sex-obsessed "carnivores," but I'm interested to see how our own economic recession and the inability to realize the American dream of "pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps" will affect future constructions of masculinity in the US.

Works Cited (that I can't link to directly)

Hirokawa, Kumi, Kazuko Yamazawa, and Hiroyuki Shimizu. "An Examination Of Sex And Masculinity/Femininity As Related To The Taste Sensitivity Of Japanese Students." Sex Roles 55.5/6 (2006): 429-433. Academic Search Premier. Web. 26 Jan. 2012.

Japan, Food, and Gender, Part 2: Are You What You Eat? Or Do You Eat What You Are?

Posted by Shaun

The idea of "men's dishes" and "women's dishes" is not unique to Japan. Both the US's Salon.com and the UK's The Guardian have run articles on the gendering of food in their respective countries. A.K. Whitney at SexyFeminist humorously relates her experience as a woman who does not eat the foods expected of her in "Feminoshing: Eating According to Gender":

"I put in my order. [The proprietress] raised an eyebrow at me.
'That is a man’s dish.'


That was news to me. I don’t often make Stroganoff at home ... but I never saw it as any more male or female than, say, ordinary stew. But the proprietress clearly had her ideas. I feared for a moment that she would not let me have the Stroganoff, being that I don’t have a penis, but she was obviously done with that one comment. When the food came, I ate every bite, and while no one thankfully checked afterward, I was still female through and through." (para. 2-7)
What's a stereotypical "man's dish" in Japan? And how present are those stereotypes? In an experiment titled "Implicit gender-based food stereotypes: Semantic priming experiments on young Japanese"* (abstract available here), researchers Kimura et al. attempted to find out exactly that. First, they asked a group of Japanese college students to list foods they thought were feminine or masculine. The researchers made a list of the foods that were mentioned more than once and then asked another group of students to rank those foods as masculine, feminine, or neutral.

According to these pilot studies, the six most masculine foods in Japan are:
Gyu-don (thinly sliced beef served over a bowl of rice), ramen, yaki-niku, katsu-don (breaded and fried pork served over a bowl of rice), tonkatsu (breaded and fried pork cutlet), and steak.

The six most feminine are:
Cake, fruit, salad, pudding, ice cream parfaits, and pasta (522)
    As you can see, and as Kimura et al. point out, the masculine foods are meaty and high in fat, while the feminine foods are either desserts or low in fat and calories (524). The researchers decided to test for gender stereotypes about these foods using a third group of Japanese college students. This group was first shown the name of one of the food items in the list above and then asked to identify the gender of a Japanese first name (the 6 most feminine and 6 most masculine first names were selected in another pilot study). A computer measured the student's reaction times. The researchers found that it took participants significantly longer to identify the gender of a name when it was presented with a food stereotypically associated with the opposite gender. For example, if participants were shown "ice cream parfait" and then "Daisuke" it would take longer for them to choose "male" than if shown "gyu-don" and "Daisuke." This demonstrates that Japanese college students really do have strong stereotypes about who eats what according to gender (522-523).

    So where on earth do these stereotypes come from? Both Salon.com's Riddhi Shah in"Men Eat Meat, Women Eat Chocolate: How Food Gets Gendered" and The Guardian's Eva Wiseman in "The Truth About Men, Women, and Food" explore this question.

    Shah interviews researchers who suggest evolutionary reasons for men's and women's different diets, but finds that these explanations break down when taken outside the US. Although Japan's stereotypes of men and women and food sound pretty similar to those in America, studies in Spain and Egypt found completely different associations (paragraphs 4-9). Other researchers Shah interviews tell her that differences in eating habits come from the double standard that women must worry about calories and weight gain while men don't have to, allowing men to freely eat the high-calorie foods women pass up. Or perhaps people want to eat foods that are associated traits they want to have themselves (para. 12-13). If you want to be more masculine, grab some gyu-don.

    Wiseman takes these concepts even further. Further evolutionary theories are discussed (paragraphs 11, 14), but the writer agrees that it's more complicated than evolution. Boys are socialized to eat heartily, while women and girls are socialized to associate eating with emotions, calories with guilt (para. 15-16). Of particular interest is Wiseman's interview with Dr. David Bell, a professor at the University of Leeds and the author of a book called Consuming Geographies: We Are Where We Eat:
    "Dr Bell, whose work on food consumption concentrates on how we use food to work out who we are, makes this very clear: ''Nature' isn't natural. It's cultural.
    It's a story we tell to help us understand the world, and it's powerfully
    appealing in our post-Darwinian, secular culture. We need ways to explain the
    world and who we are, and nature, via science, gives us that.
    ... Gender, like nature itself, isn't 'natural', it's something we 'do'. And we do it all the time, which means we do it when we eat. We learn our tastes, and part of that learning is gendered'" (para. 22-23).
    For the rest of this blog series, I'm going to be working with this idea of gender as something we do, and do differently depending on where we are and when, not as something that always happens in a fixed way based on evolution. With that in mind, let's return to the example of 男の油そば and 女の油そば. What's the difference, and what do men's- and women's- oil-noodles tell us about how gender is constructed in Japan?

    Approaching the restaurant
    The menu outside the restaurant
     Judging from the menu, the difference is twofold, flavor and price. The men's soba comes in salt and miso flavors, while the women's soba is cooked with extra-virgin olive oil. I had originally thought I'd be a rebel and order the men's soba and see what happened, but the price difference of 150 yen had me balking. I walked in and was immediately presented with a ticket vending machine to place my order. I asked a nearby employee what the difference between the men's and women's versions was, and he told me 1) the "volume" of the men's version is greater and 2) the women's version has the olive oil. He asked me if I liked olive oil and pointed out another dish that was also popular with women.

    At first I had a hard time finding the button on the touch screen for the 女の油そば. The buttons for each flavor of the 男の油そば were much bigger and closer to the top, suggesting right off the bat that most of the restaurant's customers are men. When I finally found the button for the soba I wanted, closer to the bottom of the screen, it was bright pink. The buttons for the men's dishes were black with white lettering, like the flags outside the restaurant. I pushed the button, and strangely enough, the vending machine emitted Super Mario sound effects when it spat out my meal ticket. Not exactly relevant, but still entertaining.

    I was directed to an open table near the back of the restaurant. The university lunch rush hadn't started yet, so there weren't many people, and most of them were men, probably college-aged. I began to wonder if maybe this restaurant wasn't popular with women at all despite its attempts to create menu items specifically for them, but halfway through my lunch, a group of four girls came in. I'm not sure if they ordered along gender lines or not.

    Here's what the 女の油そば looked like:
    Before you tell me how pathetic this portion size is, this bowl was enormous. I should have put something else in the picture for scale.
    I unfortunately couldn't afford two bowls of soba and I went out to lunch alone, so I don't have anything else from this restaurant to compare to, but there are a few things I noticed right off the bat. The first is the size. This bowl was huge. There was no way I would have been able to finish a portion that filled the bowl, and I found it interesting that the dish was intentionally presented in a way that made it look smaller than it was. Another thing that surprised me was the lack of toppings. I had expected only a small amount of meat, because meat is coded as masculine, but I had also expected more vegetables as a substitute. I can only imagine the size and the toppings of the men's version.

    The choice to use extra-virgin olive oil for the women's dish is an interesting one. I've heard of extra virgin olive oil being praised for its health value in comparison to other cooking oils. The combination of small portion size and a "healthier" oil shows that the restaurant pictures its female customers as relatively health-conscious (but not afraid of carbs - the dish really was mostly noodles).  But while soba is unquestionably a Japanese dish, olive oil is not exactly a traditional Japanese flavor. I think Italy and Greece, not Japan, when I think of olive oil. The men's dishes were available in more Japanese flavors. The different flavor options constructs an image of women as more willing to try new things and potentially more open to "Western" flavors than men. It's interesting that on the list of strongly-gendered food Kimura et al. put together, all of the men's dishes except steak are distinctly Japanese food, while the women's choices of cake, salad, fruit, and pasta are not specifically Japanese.

    People in both the US and Japan construct gender based on food. Japanese and American impressions tend to coincide - sweet and light foods for women, hearty, meaty, and caloric foods for men - possibly because of our historical connections, from Commodore Perry forcing Japan to open its ports to the American occupation after World War II. In the next two posts, about sweets and alcohol, I'll explore the ways these similarities, as well as differences, are reflected in advertising.

    My question for you, the reader, is this: Why is it that, in the examples here and in my last post, a Japanese restaurant will flat out declare on a menu, "this food is for women," while in the US, it's more subtle? Men never appear in American yogurt commercials, for example, but you don't see "ladies' yogurt parfait" on the menu when you go out to breakfast (if you have, please let me know!). Perhaps it's because in America we like to see ourselves as a culture that's gender-blind, even though assumptions about what men and women do and don't do still enter our minds on a daily basis, while Japan has no illusions about its' very distinct constructions of male and female. Would a restaurant selling "men's food" and "women's food" separately be successful in the US? Granted, I'm not sure how successful the abura-soba place is, but the unagi restaurant and Burger King seem to be doing well enough.

    If I had more time and people to help me out, I also would have liked to do more research into reactions to eating the "opposite gendered" food. My guess is that if a woman orders a man's dish, the reaction would be that she was either really hungry or a bit of a pig. But what would happen if a man who happened to really like olive oil went for the women's abura-soba? Or ordered the princess set at the unagi restaurant? Or if he wasn't quite hungry enough for the Whopper and got the Whopper Junior instead?

    If anyone reading this has any experience with ordering "the wrong food," especially in Japan, please feel free to share it with me.
    Print works cited:

    *Kimura, Atsushi, Yuji Wada, Sho-Ichi Goto, Daisuke Tsuzuki, Dongsheng
    Cai, Takashi Oka, and Ippeita Dan. "Implicit Gender-based Food
    Stereotypes. Semantic Priming Experiments on Young Japanese." Appetite 52 (2009): 521-24. Print.

    Japan, Food, and Gender, Part 1: Separate Menus

    Posted by Shaun

    This post is the start of a four- or five-part series on the gendered marketing of food in Japan. It’s an assignment for my Japanese Pop Culture Globalization class, but I’m hoping that my regular readers might find it interesting too, so I’m posting it here rather than creating a new blog. Hopefully you’ll enjoy it, but if not, just hang in there for four or five posts, and then we can return to your regularly scheduled blog programming.

    Japan, Food, and Gender, Part 1: Separate Menus

    There's a restaurant near the Waseda subway station that features two banners, proudly advertising in bold, white characters on a black background, "男の油そば otoko no abura-soba" and 女の油そば onna no abura-soba." Men's oil-noodles and women's oil-noodles.

    The restaurant itself is downstairs, behind the white and red sign on the right.
    What makes abura soba fit for a man or for a woman?

    On my first visit to Japan, I remember being struck by just how gendered things were, even compared to the US, where we're not exactly gender-blind (at all).
    The bathroom signs were not just male and female, they were pink and blue.
    Manga was marketed to boys or to girls, with further subdivisions based on age (young girls, teenage girls, middle-aged women).
    I didn't see any women with hair as short as mine.
    During my current visit, back in October, I had to buy a pair of tennis shoes. I discovered that my feet were 26.5cm, and women's sizes stopped at 25cm. Realizing I was now confined to the men's shoe racks, I started browsing those selections. The sales guy kept trying to redirect me to styles that said "men's and women's," even though Converse and Van's weren't the kind of shoes I wanted. I ended up with a pair of bright purple Nike sneakers. The only person who was able to tell they were from the men's section was my host cousin, who told me he had the same shoes in red. But that salesperson sure thought it was important that I not buy shoes that said "men's."

    Bringing us back to the topic of food, lest you should think the abura-soba example is the only place in Japan you can find food sold by gender, take a look at these boxes of curry mix I found at the grocery store near my host family's house. Bet you can't guess which is for boys and which is for girls.
    Featuring Pretty Cure and (I think) Ultraman
    I've heard that Japanese curry can be a comfort food for kids, so I guess that makes these the Spongebob macaroni of Japan. I totally get the idea that kids will see their favorite characters and convince their parents to buy this curry. I know I remember doing that when I saw Pokemon macaroni while "helping" my mom grocery-shop. But I can't remember ever seeing a "girls' macaroni" and a "boys' macaroni" side by side. I checked Wikipedia for a quick confirmation, and it tells me:
    "Packages have come with pasta in the shapes of various characters popular with children, such as Super Mario Brothers, Pokémon, the Rugrats, The Flintstones, Scooby-Doo, Toy Story, Blue's Clues, SpongeBob SquarePants, and the Fairly OddParents."
    All of these characters appeal to both boys and girls. There's no Disney Princess macaroni, or whatever it is girls are supposed to be watching these days.

    But wait, there's more:
    One of the first times I went out to a restaurant with my host family, we went to an unagi (grilled eel) restaurant. My host mom helped me figure out what to order, and the option we both ended up getting was called the "姫セット hime setto," the "princess set."

    It's called a "princess set" because it's marketed towards women. It has a smaller portion of the unagi and tempura, and it includes a salad, a soup, and a small pudding for dessert. I can't remember if the unagi set my host dad ordered came with soup/salad, but I know the pudding was unique to the "princess" menu.

    As a further example, I remember when Burger King came out with it's Junior menu, and as I recall, it was targeted at older kids who didn't want a kids meal but couldn't quite eat a whole Whopper. I learned from a TV show I was watching yesterday that the Whopper Junior is marketed towards women in Japan. The participants in the show had to guess which foods were most popular at Burger King, and they kept saying "Junior is definitely something women would order," or "Junior would be the version for women," even though there's absolutely nothing related to women in the word "junior."

    When my sister was visiting me and we were considering going to eat yaki-niku (meat you grill yourself at a grill on your table), my host sister looked up some recommendations for us and told us that if they have a set for women, not to order it because it would be mostly vegetables, and we wanted to eat meat.

    Who decides that a Whopper Junior or a vegetable or a pudding is masculine or feminine? Where do these ideas come from? Are we what we eat? And what does it say when "what we should eat" based on whether we're male, female, or something else in between, changes depending on what country we find ourselves in? Those are the questions I'm going to explore in these next five blog posts.

    Keep reading:
    Part 2: Are You What You Eat? Or Do You Eat What You Are?
    Part 3: Let Them Eat Cake
    Part 4: Beer for Him and Her
    Part 5: Edible Idols
    Part 6: Final Thoughts

    ☆お正月☆ New Year's!

    Posted by Shaun

    ☆Excuse me while I have fun showing off my ability to type symbols using the Japanese input on my computer.☆ ♬♪♫

    Yeah, that was unprofessional. Now let's get with the program.

    The last couple days, I've gotten to experience Japanese New Year's traditions. New Years is called "o-shougatsu" in Japanese. By the way, when I write "ou" when I'm transliterating Japanese, you pronounce it as a long "o" sound. The best way to type it would be to put a line over the "o" but, while my showing off above would suggest otherwise, I'm not really sure how to type that. You can also transliterate it as "oo" but I always want to read that sound as the "oo" in words like "gooey" instead, so I prefer the "ou." At least it makes you stop and think about how to pronounce it.  Plus it mimics what you would type on a keyboard to write Japanese:  お  o しょう shou が ga つ tsu. There's also a distinction between おお oo and おう ou, even though I think for the most part they're pronounced the same. For example, the city Osaka actually has a long "o" at the beginning but it's an "oo," not an "ou." Of course, we decide to throw the whole program out the window and make no distinctions about long and short sounds when we're writing Japanese place names and stuff in English. Tokyo also has long "o"s, of the "ou" variety.

    I hope you enjoyed your hopefully educational but completely uncalled for tangent of the day. Maybe I'll manage to stay on topic for the rest of the post.

    First of all, the other day I watched an incredibly, incredibly sad movie with my host sister Arisa. It's a Korean film that's called 私の頭の中の消しゴム, The Eraser in My Mind, in Japanese. According to Wikipedia, the Korean title translates to A Moment to Remember. I'm not sure how much to tell you that won't spoil it because when I watched it, 1) I didn't know the title and 2) Arisa just told me "It's a sad one, so we'll need tissues." It begins with a chance meeting between a company employee and a construction worker, and the story follows their romance and their life together, but the young woman suddenly begins to have problems with her memory. I recommend it, even though it was so sad, because the story seemed really sensitive and well-executed, and I liked the characters. I'm not sure if you can find it with English subtitles or not. I watched it in Korean with Japanese subtitles. I didn't understand every word, but I could read a lot more than I thought I could. At the same time, I think it says a lot about the power of the film-making that I could be so moved by a story that was not in my native language twice over.

    I can't remember which day we watched the movie. I'm pretty sure it was the 30th, because we started it at midnight and didn't finish until 2am, so then I slept until like 12:45 and then spent all of the 31st up until dinner time updating this blog.

    The 31st was New Year's Eve, so we had a big dinner together as a family (minus my host brother. Apparently he was out with his friend(s)). I ate way too much and ended up with a huge stomach ache in the middle of the night, thanks to the karaage.

     Sushi, tomato and cream cheese thing Arisa made, karaage and something like an egg roll, and cake!

    After we ate, we watched Kouhaku Uta Gassen. Kouhaku is a big singing competition that plays in NHK every New Year's Eve. I'm not sure how the competition part works, but it was fun to watch all of the over-the-top staging and dances and to see if I recognized the songs. They also had subtitles for all of the songs so when I did recognize one, I could sing along! It ended up being just me and Arisa watching because everyone else fell asleep, and she was really surprised when I occasionally recognized something. It was also a fun way to be exposed to a lot of the popular music from this year all at once.

    Kouhaku continued until just a little bit before midnight, to leave time for people to go visit their local temple/shrine (I'm not sure which because we didn't do this). We just stayed put. The noisy countdown didn't really seem to be a thing, which was a little disappointing to me. I did a little quiet cheer to myself and then went to go take the first shower of the new year and go to sleep.

    I ended up sleeping until like 12:30, so the next morning for brunch I ate zoni (soup with mochi chewy rice cakes in it) and osechi ryouri (special New Year's food) in my pajamas. I liked the zoni all right, but the rest of the osechi ryouri was really salty and therefore hard for me to eat first thing in the morning/afternoon. It's the first special food I've eaten in Japan that I've really not enjoyed. After my huge stomach ache from the night before, it was hard to get excited about more eating. We watched Enchanted, because apparently Missus really likes that movie. I can't remember the Japanese title, but it's some sort of literal translation of "enchanted," like "covered by magic" or something.

    The rest of the day was really uneventful and kind-of depressing for no particular reason. More of my yo-yo-ing Japanese confidence.

    But yesterday (1/2) was a lot of fun. I went shopping for a warmer coat near my house and just when I was about to get really frustrated and disappointed, Lynne emailed me back so I went to hang out with her and Eric. We ended up in Akihabara because I admitted I hadn't really explored there yet, and I happened to stumble upon a nice, warm, purple (!) winter coat on super-duper-new-years-sale. We were walking to a store Lynne wanted to go to when we happened to pass an Aoki suit store. On one of the racks in front of the store were winter coats for 1590 yen!  And since they were outside, I could actually tell how warm the coat was when I tried it on. I'm really pleased with it. So far the only problem I've had is that it can be too warm! So it should serve me really well on my cultural practicum in cold, snowy Minakami. I also found a manga that I can actually read, and it's more entertaining than the short story anthology I was trying to read, plus it's easier to hold open on a train. It's called Silver Spoon, and it's by the author of Full Metal Alchemist. It's about this guy who goes to an agricultural high school. I'm not really sure why yet, though, since he doesn't seem to want to be a farmer. There's a really cute baby cow that will hopefully become a reoccurring character, too.

    After I got back from Akihabara, Arisa and I headed to a party at Tamaki-san's house. It was a lot of fun, as usual with that group. I met a lot of new people and I'm still not sure how they were all connected to each other. They were all loud and very enthusiastic. There was one older woman who kept asking me if I'd ever eaten all these different things she was trying to offer me. "Have you eaten mochi?" Err, yes, it was o-shougatsu the other day. Everyone ate mochi. "Have you eaten anko?" Yeah, okay, I have. Sam was totally sick of mochi, because while my host family just ate new year's food once and was done with it, apparently Tamaki-san's family has been going for the more traditional "eat osechi ryouri for days and days" approach, so Sam even had mochi for breakfast. Then his (apparently rather drunk) host dad comes up and is like "Want some age-mochi?" (Fried mochi) "Here, I'll go make everyone some!" So, Sam got another bowl of mochi set in front of him, much to his dismay and our laughter.

    We also played some sort of traditional card game for fabulous prizes (read: real money). I'm not sure what the game is called. Basically, there's a deck of cards with pictures and some sort of verse written on them, but we didn't use the verses at all in the game we were playing, just the pictures. Some cards had samurai (we called them futsuu normal or seifu safe... or occasionally "UGH THIS GUY AGAIN!"), some had monks (bozu), and some had princesses (hime). All the cards were stacked up in the middle of the table, and each person took turns drawing a card from the top of the deck. If you drew a samurai, you kept the card. If you drew a monk, you had to surrender your hand to the discard pile. If you drew a princess, you got to claim the first discarded hand on the table and you got to draw again. The goal was to get the biggest stack of cards by the time all the cards ran out. Since whether you kept or lost cards was pretty much up to chance, the game could change at any given moment. There where times when someone would have a huge hand, then draw a princess card, and then for their second draw, get a monk and have to give up everything they'd collected, which gave someone else the opportunity to take their big pile if they drew a princess. The one round that I won, I drew four princesses in a row, and everyone blamed it on Sam's bad shuffling, so as they went around the table, everyone kept saying "Bozu, Sam no sei," (Monk, Sam's fault!) and basically blaming whatever they drew on Sam. Sam's response was to insist that it was "Sam no keikaku," (Sam's plan). Too bad he didn't win that round.

    We were playing for otoshidama, which was real money (!) in cute envelopes. It started out that each envelope had 1000 yen in it and there were a lot of envelopes. Eventually we decided to raise the stakes by combining three envelopes into one and mixing that 3000 yen jackpot in with the rest of the envelopes. I guess we all really wanted money but got sick of playing the game because the stakes kept getting higher and higher so there were fewer, fatter otoshidama envelopes. My one win was in the 1000 yen stage and so was Arisa's, but Sam won 8000 yen over the course of several rounds. Home team advantage? One of the relatives ended up begging extra money off of Tamaki-san because she only won 1000 yen and then proudly announced her prize for ichiban kawaisou "most pitiable." It was a really entertaining party.

    I think today was the last of the New Year festivities. I went to a mochitsuki (mochi-making) event with one of the Waseda clubs, Niji no Kai. You make mochi by taking steamed rice and pounding it with a big wooden mallet until it gets soft and stretchy. Then we ate it with different kinds of toppings. My host family kept telling me that every year there's 119 calls (the Japanese 911) around New Year's from people choking on mochi, so I made sure to eat slow.

    I didn't actually get to try pounding the mochi because I wasn't assertive enough, but I did pose with the mallet afterwards. Man that thing was heavier than it looked!

    Akemashite omedetou 明けましておめでとう everyone! Congrats on a new year! Let's make it a great one!
    My resolutions are to 1) speak Japanese without fear and 2) make at least one Japanese language friend before I leave.