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A man isn't necessarily what he eats (or cooks):. Assessing Japan's televisual culinary masculinities. T.J.M. Holden. Department of Multi-Cultural Societies Graduate School of International Cultural Studies Tohoku University Sendai, Japan. Structure of this Paper. Introduction

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a man isn t necessarily what he eats or cooks

A man isn't necessarily what he eats (or cooks):

Assessing Japan's televisual culinary masculinities

t j m holden
T.J.M. Holden

Department of Multi-Cultural Societies

Graduate School of International Cultural Studies

Tohoku University

Sendai, Japan

structure of this paper

Structure of this Paper

  • Introduction
  • Japanese Masculinity in the Academic Literature
  • Japanese Television and Food Discourse: a précis
  • Characteristics of Televisual Masculinities
  • Alternative Conceptions of Televisual Masculinity
  • Conclusions
themes discussed
Themes Discussed
  • Elements of the Dominant Discourse about men
    • Power: via competition
    • Authority:
      • Masculinity as executive function
      • Masculinity as profession
    • Ownership: (masculinity as possession)
  • Japanese Masculinity: the idealized version
  • Status in a binary universe
  • Markers of male and female identity
  • The role of media institution in constructing this dominant conception of male identity
  • Food as a central communication vehicle
  • Masculinity as production:
    • The man-made world of TV
  • The (de-limited) female televisual space
  • Freedom: masculinity as agency
  • Imagined Men: free of structure
  • The Multiplicity of masculintity
this paper s purpose

This Paper’s Purpose

1.Demonstrate the degree to which discourse about masculinity courses through Japanese food shows

2. Show that while there are a range of masculinities that are depicted

3. In the end these masculinities all generally adhere to a “hegemonic conception” of masculinity

4. And female and alternative gender identities are subrogated or excluded

5. These conceptions of identity are reinforced and/or determined by the role of the media institution

this matters because

This Matters, because…

  • TV has a diffusion rate of 100%
  • Is viewed by virtually every Japanese person every day
  • It outpaces other popular forms of information processing:
    • newspapers (86%)
    • cell phones (73%)
    • the Internet (27%)
  • Collectively, media consumption is the third largest activity engaged in by Japanese during the day (behind “sleep” and “work”)
  • It has been reported that, on average, at least one TV set plays 7 to 8 hours a day in each Japanese dwelling
  • Personal viewing rates per day approaching 225 minutes.
  • A recent European survey ranks Japan second worldwide in terms of daily TV viewership.
tv food identity and masculinity
TV, Food, Identity and Masculinity

And, as I have shown in other work (Holden 2003), TV food shows are

  • Ubiquitous, and
  • A dominant means by which identity discourse transpires

While masculinity is but one component of identity, it is a major one.

ii japanese masculinity in the academic literature
II. Japanese Masculinity in the Academic Literature

To date, the discourse about Japanese masculinity has been nearly univocal:

  • confined to the social type “salaryman”
  • the urban, middle class, white-collar worker

Held as the stereotypical image from 1960s

  • e.g. Vogel (1963), Plath (1964)

Into the 1990s

  • e.g. Rohlen (1974), Allison (1994)
roberson and suzuki 2003 8
Roberson and Suzuki (2003:8)

The salaryman is but an idealized version of Japanese masculinity.

Its wide currency may be explained because it articulates with other powerful “discursive pedagogies”:

  • capitalist employee
  • state taxpayer
  • family provider
three inclinations characterize the dominant discourse
Three “inclinations” characterize the dominant discourse
  • (Inter-personal) authority
  • Power
  • Possession (especially in relation to women)

These align easily with conceptions of men as:

    • Workers
    • Members of power structures
    • Protectors, and “bread-winners”.
no singular version of japanese male identity
No Singular Version of Japanese Male Identity

Consistent with a general, quiet revisionism that has transpired in Japanese studies since the 1980s

  • e.g Lebra and Lebra (1986), Moeur and Sugimoto (1986), Harootunian (1989), and Befu (2000)

Japan (and Japanese identity) is not reducible to a single class, gender, geography, ethnicity, occupation, or generation.

associating masculinity with particular sites
Associating Masculinity with Particular Sites
  • i.e. inside corporation or outside home.
    • consistent with Hall (1994), who theorized that identity ought to be decoded within institutional contexts
  • For most researchers of Japanese masculine identity those institutional contexts have centered on the state, the workplace and the school (Connell 1995).
  • The reverse is true for female/femininity:
    • Associated with the locus of home
focus on media institution
Focus on Media Institution

Non-institutional theorization of identity is an important maneuver, but in this paper I focus on the media institution.

-- such formal institutional sites are heavily implicated in the gender-identity calculus

-- no different than the state, corporation or family – media (such as TV) provide the ideational and “physical” context within which masculinity is represented and through which it is reproduced.

on message beyond message
On-Message/Beyond Message

Consistent with what has heretofore been alleged about masculine identity in Japan, there is a widespread hegemonic masculinity on display.

At the same time (and significantly), that hegemonic masculinity is not played out through the aegis of the corporate worker.

iii japanese television and food discourse a pr cis
III. Japanese Television and Food Discourse: a précis
  • Unlike other countries (in which food shows are generally confined to specialty cable channels, or else a particular hour on a particular day), Japan’s food shows can be found on at least one commercial station during “golden time” on multiple days of the week.
    • Example: Dochi no ryori show (“Which One?!: Cooking Show”)
  • In past years, there has been either a food-themed show or a show with a regular food segment every day of the week in prime time.
    • Example: SMAP X SMAP
food in an ancillary role
Food in an Ancillary Role

For instance:

  • morning “wake-up” programs which discuss urban culinary trends or local village festivals
  • travel shows which present the foods of target destinations that can be consumed
inadvertent food discourse
Inadvertent Food Discourse

Cases in which food serves as an incidental, but prominent background feature;

Present during dramas, quiz shows, newscasts, sporting events, and the like.

  • Food is also pervasive in TV advertising
  • Found to account for as much as 20% of all ads broadcast in a one month period (Holden 2001).
concluding about food on tv
Concluding about Food on TV

All considered, it is impossible to view food discourse as a trivial or negligible element in Japanese televisual communication

Food is present on virtually every channel, every hour, every day of the week, throughout the broadcast day.

iv characteristics of televisual masculinities
IV. Characteristics of Televisual Masculinities


Rather than simple sets of stereotypical differences between classes tagged as “male” and “female”, masculinity and femininity clearly emerge as social constructions: sets of reproduced practices and performances that mimic and support a system of power.

1 power masculinity as competition
1. Power: Masculinity as Competition

Shows like Dochi employ a discourse of contestation, dominance, and subordination.

  • They operate in the vernacular of power.

The conflictual, competitive discourse is one normally associated with games

  • not unlike Iron Chef, with its clock, rival combatants, teams of specialists, sideline announcer, play-by-play and color commentators, and final judges.
the link to sport
The Link to Sport
  • Competitive shows adopt the rhetoric, the visual, contextual and practical tropes of sport

–“an institution created by and for men,” (Messner and Sabo, 1990)

    • an institution whose practices service the reproduction of hegemonic masculinity.
  • Gender is cast in terms of combat; conflict
  • This discursive practice is not limited to 2 shows
    • It is found across the board
pushing the boundaries of gender
Pushing the Boundaries of Gender

In keeping with the notion that gender is not simply reducible to male/female categorizations, there are those Japanese food shows in which women battle one another for judges’ approval.

  • When they do, these females adopt the vernacular of (hegemonic) male discourse
2 authority i masculinity as executive function
2. Authority (I):Masculinity as Executive Function
  • In Gender Advertisements (1976), Goffman identified “executive function” as a role (of elevated position, control and authoritative action) that men adopt when paired in ads with women.
  • This also can be found in food shows
    • All activity flows through men or else beneath their commanding gaze.
    • Masculine guidance can take two guises:
      • (1) Host
      • (2) Chef
1 host
1. Host

The host role is clearly defined (and circumscribed):

  • hosts greet guests
  • Interview them about their lives
  • Solicit their opinions (about life and food)
  • Ensure that attention is accorded to the chef’s (often backgrounded) work in the kitchen
  • Facilitate the flow between and balance these various elements.

Important among the last is timekeeping and scheduling

  • Hosts determine when final judgments will be rendered
  • Also, as guardians of continuity, they verbally validate results tendered by chefs or guests.
    • They exert administrative control over the communication event.
mixed hosts gender ranking
Mixed Hosts = Gender Ranking

The male takes the lead; the female follows his direction

  • Example: “Chūbō desu yo” (This is the kitchen).
  • Man is called “host”; Woman is called “Announcer”
  • Typical Interplay (at the end of every show):
    • After eating the prepared dish with the guest, the host says “Now, Ms. Kimura…”
    • Ms. Kimura (the “announcer”) turns to the guest for his or her final evaluation.
    • Once the guest has responded, the male host affirms the judgment: “for this dish… one and a half stars!”
    • Then the male takes the lead in a post-mortem on the dish’s preparation and success or failure in leading to the final result
2 chef
2. Chef

Innumerous shows the chef adopts the executive function by instructing the host and/or guests in the ways of food preparation.

Chūbō features a short segment introducing a resident apprentice in one of the chef’s kitchens.

  • Almost always these chefs-in-training are young men in their early twenties.
  • In every case to date, these young men are depicted receiving commands from elder male employers.

Here again, then, Japan’s food shows cast men and masculinity in a discourse of authority.


Only in cases of desserts and kateiryōri (home cooking) are the featured chefs in Japan’s food shows women

  • In short, women are associated with the following:
    • “Sweet”
    • Soft
    • Peripheral or de-centered (i.e. not associated with main courses)
    • Less sophisticated or elaborate
    • Specialists in meals served in the private (rather than out in the public) sphere.

As a consequence, viewers are apt to perceive “chef” as a male role and, logically (following the significatory chain), see men as culinary authorities.

2 authority ii masculinity in profession
2. Authority (II):Masculinity in Profession

Expert knowledge is another way that the executive function is communicated in cooking shows.

  • Chefs on these shows offer opinions, advice, explain ingredients, techniques and strategies
  • Like the direction of stage and culinary activity, this is another function that is performed predominantly by men
ways in which expert is communicated
Ways in which “Expert” is Communicated
  • Invocation of the title “chef”
  • Deference paid by hosts to cooks on TV
  • Clothes (markers of professional association)
    • guest chefs never fail to appear in the starched white aprons and toques of those who cook for a living.
  • Chef’s resume
    • In Japan, where organizational affiliation is one of the significant markers of legitimacy, food shows introduce their kitchen authorities not simply by name or age, but by schools trained in, countries apprenticed in, and current organization now working.

This discursive formation is framed institutionally, in terms of economy and social sanction.

status in a binary universe the comparison with women
Status in a binary universe:the comparison with women

Although Butler (1990) – along with Foucault (1980) – counseled us to move beyond simplistic binaries, the structure of meaning in Japanese televisual productions is predominantly dualistic:

  • Creating sign-pairs of male/chef and female/not chef
  • In this way, what is present – what is communicated, what “exists”– is:
    • an absence of females in the role of “chief cook”
    • the banishment of women from public kitchens – either as professional or apprentice.

All of this can produce the view that women are not cooking authorities; that “chef” is a male identification, rather than a female one.

women in cooking shows
Women in Cooking Shows

Women who appear in Japanese cooking shows are most often featured in one of two ways:

  • As “talento”(entertainer)
  • As “housewife”

In the case of former, women seldom, if ever, offer culinary advice, and their cooking duties are mere props to their true identity: as star, singer, sex symbol, or actress.

In the case of the latter, women prepare foods and engage in activities associated with the private domain of the household.

example iron shifu housewife
Example: Iron Shifu (housewife)

A take-off on Iron Chef

This variety show features female guests, all former entertainers, now married.

The show has a number of components:

  • two rounds of quizzes
    • one centering on food customs
    • another concerning ingredients, nutrition and calories
  • a round in which kitchen skills are on display.
example iron shifu housewife35
Example: Iron Shifu (housewife)

Typical Tasks:

One week, a task involved whipping cream, after which sticky hands and quivering fingers were made to thread three needles, in succession.

Following this ordeal, contestants were asked a battery of personal questions regarding life with their husbands (e.g. where was their first date, what was the first present they received from their husband, when is their wedding anniversary).

Once all of these tasks are completed, the two highest scoring guests (measured in terms of fastest time through the obstacle course and most correct quiz answers) are pitted against one another in a cook-off.

example iron shifu housewife36
Example: Iron Shifu (housewife)

The finalists are given thirty minutes to prepare a meal in the katei (or “home-cooking”) style.

Like its namesake, Iron Chef, one featured ingredient must be integrated into the menu.

An addition stipulation (since it is katei style) is that one of the courses must be served with rice.

A panel of “experts” (including a president of a cooking school) serve to judge the winner

the importance of iron shifu
The Importance of Iron Shifu

In numerous ways Iron Shifu embodies elements of the masculine hegemonic discourse:

  • competition,
  • expert evaluation, and
  • female cooks associated with private (home-made) food.

It also casts women in overtly-domesticated roles that differ in multiple, stereotypical ways from those accorded to men.

In this way, patriarchal gendered discourse is reproduced.

markers of male and female identity
Markers of (Male and Female) Identity

In the few shows in which women actually instruct while they cook, they are given a different appellation than men: “riyōri kenkyu ka”

– literally “food researchers”.


  • this appears to undercut their status as authority
  • tends to soften the impression left when a woman is offering advice to a male announcer or host.
not so in reverse
Not So in Reverse

When women are instructed and a man is in the tutelary role, there is no shying away from:

  • affixing the title “chef” or “sensei” (teacher)
  • providing his professional affiliation
  • clothing him in professional garb
example ai no puron 3 the love of three aprons
Example: Ai no ēpuron 3(the love of three aprons)

Three young (generally sexy) talento are assigned the task of preparing a particular dish (for instance, apple pie) without benefit of a recipe.

The final product is then presented to a panel of (generally) male entertainers.

The program’s website explains that the “women must make the dishes for these men with love”.

The bulk of the show involves generally critical comments made by male hosts upon the three women’s food productions.

Thereafter, the dishes are assessed by a professional (male) chef.

  • His comments, though generally respectful, aim at improving the women’s effort next time out
    • with the implicit assumption that there will be a next time.
3 possession masculinity as ownership
3. Possession:Masculinity as Ownership

Since the 1950s, Japan has manifested a succession of trinities of desired goods: objects to be possessed

In Japanese food shows, ownership is one of the major elements of discourse

  • The chefs are introduced on the premises of restaurants they have founded, manage and maintain.
  • Cameras capture them either outside the door of their business or else inside, in the dining area.
  • Invariably, they proudly bow in greeting and offer some remarks of invitation.
  • Viewers are treated not only to tours of their kitchens, but are shown menus, sample the décor, drink in the ambiance, and even watch the chef as he prepares, then consumes his product.
chef more than cook
“Chef”: More than Cook

The chef becomes something more than a food preparer:

  • host in his own right
  • commander of a world of his own invention
  • interviewee.

His status as owner lends an additional power to his countenance.

He is not only executive, not only employer, not only expert; he is also landholder, proprietor, and business owner.

the element of class
The Element of Class

In Japan, for historical (social class-based) reasons, these are quite powerful statuses to hold.

And it goes without saying that these are roles held almost exclusively by men – at least in the Japanese televisual universe.

departures from the hegemonic discourse of authority power and possession
Departures from the hegemonic discourse of authority, power and possession
  • Masculinity as Production
  • Masculinity as Agency
1 creation masculinity as production
1. Creation:Masculinity as Production

Ortner’s (1974) famous assertion that women are nature and men are culture is reflected in the televisual world described here:

  • For, the male world is “made”; it is a world invented, produced, rendered and controlled.
  • In Japan’s food shows, the key producers are generally all male.
the man made world of tv
The Man-Made World of TV

(Food and televisual) production transpires within an institutional context (media)

And, within that context, a (generally) organizational structure.

Such a structure is “man”-made;

  • it is a humanly constructed, artificial environment, configured to confer status and facilitate the expression of power.
    • Which generally is to male producers
the de limited female televisual space
The (De-limited) Female Televisual Space

By contrast, women – who are so often associated with the “natural realm”– have televisual roles that are generally of nurturer or consumer.

As such, their job is to facilitate food production (as hosts) or else serve as end-users (as guests)

explaining exceptions
Explaining Exceptions

Certainly, exceptions can be located

– as in the case of the Iron Shifu or“3 aprons” shows, described above.

In each case, however, production is for purposes supportive of a patriarchal frame:

  • Satisfying the dictates of male hosts or
  • Proving one’s capability of providing an amenable home for a husband.
2 freedom masculinity as agency
2. Freedom:Masculinity as Agency

It could be argued that men – no less than women -- exist within a clearly delineated, bounded structure

  • The chefs are often depicted as members of organizations (as in the case of the Tsuji performers)
  • The chefs are depicted as proud possessors (creators, owners, executives) of (“man-made”) structures
yet men are relatively independent
Yet, Men are (Relatively) Independent

This image of attachment must be counterbalanced by images of independence often communicated by Japanese media productions

Gill (2003:145): “Japanese male fantasies frequently stress the mobile: the sportsman, the traveler, the man of action, the magically endowed superhero.”

imaging men free of structure
Imaging Men, Free of Structure?

For men (and presumably most TV viewers), the majority are tied to structures of “permanence and stasis” (ibid:146);

They pine for an alternative model of existence

–a model offered by the television shows.

This model is less embodied by the chefs who run their own businesses

  • rather it is in the aegis of the entertainers and guests who saunter onto the food show stage, seemingly unencumbered; free of institutional affiliation or organizational layering.
an alternative version of masculinity
An Alternative Version of Masculinity
  • Although film and literature occasionally provide such images, in general, this is a version of masculinity that strays far from the quintessential salaryman
  • The TV version views male identity in terms of autonomy and individually-oriented existence.
  • Despite having little referent in reality, it is persistently cropping up in televisual productions.
appearance versus reality the world beyond the screen
Appearance versus Reality:the world beyond the screen

In fact, though, in Japan today, organizational work still accounts for upwards of 70% of those employed.

The same applies for day laborers and casual or part-time workers.

In show after show, however, workers – within or on the margins of “organizational society”– are never invited to sit at the TV table.

vi conclusions
VI. Conclusions

What these discrepant versions may tell us about contemporary Japanese society.

tv s widest angle masculinity s multiplicity
TV’s Widest Angle:Masculinity’s “Multiplicity”

Not infrequently alternative masculinities surface on Japanese TV

  • This is particularly true of Food shows and food advertising
example dochi
Example: Dochi

On Dochi one encounters:

  • an obese wrestler from Hawaii;
  • a waif-like singer from Japan’s longest-running boy’s band, SMAP;
  • a forty-something producer in scruffy beard, blue jeans, signature cowboy boots and ten-gallon hat;
  • a Japan-raised, blond-haired, grungy, earring-studded Canadian;
  • an elderly actor with assiduously trimmed goatee, adorned in yukata (traditional male kimono).
so too for alternative genders
So, too for Alternative Genders

In ads and TV shows, it is not uncommon to encounter:

  • transgendered men
  • female masculinities
b the illusion of freedom
B. The Illusion of Freedom

The consumer-performers on food shows reproduce a myth of masculine (and feminine) freedom that in actuality doesn’t exist.

Almost all of the food consuming-performers on screen belong to invisible corporate structures which book them onto these shows, not only to reap money, but more importantly, to gain further exposure for them, their popular cultural product.

In its stead stands the more hegemonic, structurated model of masculinity that pervades almost all of Japanese society today.

c the tight focus of televisual masculine identity
C. The Tight Focus of Televisual Masculine Identity

Aside from the gender performativities mentioned above, numerous contexts are absent from the screen in which masculinities are generally re/produced.

  • For instance, save for the simulated kitchens in which chefs toil, workplaces are almost entirely absent.
  • Missing, too, are homes – where parenting occurs.
  • Class also is invisible – as are men who are unemployed or else under-employed.
  • Not surprisingly, the homeless are non-existent.

In short, there is so much that bears on masculinities that televisual productions ignore, deny, or banish from public view.

whither the sarariman
Whither the Sarariman?
  • The discourse that does appear in these productions serves to present, interpret, translate and/or modify masculinities.
  • Absent from the frame is the one masculinity emblematic of Japan – the salaryman
substitutes for sarariman
Substitutes for Sarariman?
  • In their place other figures are employed to communicate masculine identity
    • tropes, codes, characters, social processes, institutions, organizational structures, and human agents
    • both visible and invisible
  • The identity conveyed is consistently organized and communicated in terms of authority, power, possession, production, and – only-seemingly – autonomy.
media effect
Media Effect
  • In this sense the media – television – is:
    • beside the point
    • but also making a point
  • The message it delivers is far from the world outside the box.
    • Which makes this phenomenon remarkable and worthy of further attention
in sum
In Sum

In thinking of the alternative masculinities and the versions of freedom presented, one is tempted to assert that the televisual reality in no way reflects the narrow, repetitive discourse of masculinity that pervades Japanese society

  • embodied by salarymen in gray suits and conservative ties.

TV’s motley mélange of free agents argues against the profile of power wielding, authoritative, possessive hegemonists that emerges in other of TV’s culinary corners

in sum65
In Sum

That said, it is important to remember:

what kind of man cooks or eats (on Japanese TV) may have little relation to what kind of man is generally thought to be “a man”