Saturday, June 30, 2007

of oyako donburi & anpan – eating meat & age of enlightenment

A week or more ago, Channel 8 just finished the documentary series on its Wed 10:30pm slot of the documentary series made by CCTV – The Rise of Great Nation -大国崛起 – Daguo jueqi. One of the reasons this documentary made headlines the world over was because it presented a very refreshing perspective on how the Chinese intelligentsia viewed the rise of the other nations over the past 500years - with a unbiased , non-nationalistic and objective focus.

The 7th episode – 百年维新 – A Hundred Year of Reform - narrated the rise of Japan . It started with the appearance of the four American black ships lead by Admiral Perry at Yokosuka Bay - 横须贺 - in 1853 that forced opened the door of this isolated island nation, the restoration of political power to the Emperor after a lapsed of 600year rule by the Shogunate, and thence the raise of modern Japan to the present day economic superpower.

An liner in the documentary that mentioned that the Emperor Meji fist lead the population in eating beef - made me to recall this article on how the Japanese started to eating meat.

What we know now as authentic Japanese food did not have as such long and regal beginning as the Korean Palace cooking or the Chinese food culture. Sukiyaki, tempura, teppanyaki, ramen were foreign import. The Japanese started to eat meat only from 1872, for they had been a vegetarian nation for the previous 1,200 years by government decree.

Here then is the translation of the article on how the Japanese first started on eating meat :-

Oyako don – needless to say as everyone knows - is a dish where the chicken cube cooked with egg is laid on top of a bowl filled with rice.

When pork replaces chicken, and cooked with egg, this donburi it is called ta-nin-don -他人don . The naming of these two dishes comes about sort of a matter of factly. Well, how would the donburi be called when it is beef with egg? In the Kanto region, it is called the – kai-ka don - 开化don - Enlightened donburi. Why was it named as such?

When Japan entered the Meiji Period (1868-1912) , the Western system, technology, thoughts and lifestyle became popular. (quote from the textbook used in primary school social study ). This is so called the Age of Enlightenment ( the enlightenment of civilization). In such places as Tokyo, Osaka, Yokohama the people cut off their topknot and put on Western attire and increasing number of people took to eating beef. ( ref: 前揭教科书).

Hamburger and Beef-donburi shops are found at every nook and corner nowadays. Eating beef has become a very intimate part of our existence. However, it was not so long ago that the Japanese first started to eat beef. In 1872 (Meiji 5th year) , the Meiji government abolished the edict on a ban of meat eating which had been in force continuously for a thousand two hundred years. Beef eating then started together with the dawn of the Age of Enlightenment.

Bye to way, when the government edict t on forbidding meat eating was abolished, the fact was that the citizen did not happily devoured meat. Due to the influence of Buddhism, it was thought that meat was unclean. And there is such a gossip –

In the Motomachi area of Yokohama, there was a person named Nakagawaya K ( 中川屋 嘉兵卫) who started a shop selling beef to foreigners. Nakagawaya informed Fukuzawa Yukichi (福泽论吉)- “From now onwards, it will be an age where everyone will eat beef’. He also opened a shop in Tokyo.

However, it was no mean a task to slaughter a cow then. The area was cordoned off with ropes tied to 4 bamboo & gohei - 御敝 (notation: white paper cutting used in Shinto religious rites ) were hung around it . After the meat had been removed, the bones and organs were buried in the ground and sutra chanted over it (reference: 桶口清之 - 梅干 to 日本刀 – Umeboshi to Nihon katana (Chu) Yodensha - ). This was how things were then, and meat eating did not spread as easily to the wider population.

Emperor Meiji then came on at this juncture. For the sake of the Age of Enlightenment, he took upon the initiative to eating meat. Emperor Meiji disliked meat. As there were many occasions to dine with the Westerners, he could not abstain from eating meat. In order to set an example to his citizens, it was said the he bitterly took on to eating meat.

Among the other kinds of Western food which made their appearance during the Age of Enlightenment there was one which Emperor Meiji took a liking to. It was ice-cream.

During the Age of Enlightenment, bakeries gradually started their trade. However, it almost had no business at the beginning. It did not suit the taste of the Japanese who had over the centuries been used to eating rice. And out of it came anpan – a hybrid of bread an manju. Anpan was an invention of the Japanese during the Meiji period. The Japanese has since time antiquity adapted things foreign to make it suit to them. From the first Western food that stared with meat eating in the Age of Enlightenment, the Japanese have since reformed the food to suit to their taste and it has since spread among the populace.

This type of changes in the cultural life of the Japanese will be discussed over the next seventeen episodes.

Photograph: eating beef nabe dish (reference: Kodansha – History of A Century of the Meiji Era ) .”

References :

1) Taihen data, nikusyoku no hajime, - On eating meat - Oh! What a troublesome start.

Kyokasho ga oshienai rekishi – 2 , Nobukatsu Fujioka, JUYUSYUGISHIKANKENKYUKAI, 2005 - History that is not taught in the school textbook – 2 .

Artice first published in Sankei Shinbun Chokan - Sankei Newspaper morning daily. The Sankei newspaper is known for its nationalist, extreme right view. On the translation - E&OE.

2) The Rise of Great Nation -大国崛起 – Daguo jueqi, CCTV

- A 12 episode documentary by CCTV & discussion on the web -;;


Friday, June 22, 2007

the wedding - eerto, modern desu-ka, western desu-ka

Date : 16th June, 2007, SATURDAY
Time : 12:30pm

Was walking past the CHIJMES Hall and saw a wedding crowd, and thought it was a local wedding. However on getting nearer it was not English that I heard but a familiar tongue. On closer look, the mannerism of the folks had a certain uniqueness that distinguished and identified them – the orderliness of the crowd as they line in front of the new couple while the groom was delivering a thank-you speech on the steps of the church hall, the little nod of their head as the listen, the way the ladies carried their handbag with the arm upright instead of across the chest and the way that they covered their mouth with their fingers as they giggled.

Just as one would be able to pick out our own kind while traveling overseas when we hear Singlish, one seems to be able to discern that the crowd here was uniquely Japanese.

The bride and groom though, were not in the traditional wedding kimono, they were dressed smartly in the western wedding gown and made a perfect match.

Among the gathering were two middle aged couples. They were probably the parents of the bridge and groom, here to attending the wedding of their children. The attire of the gentlemen further indicated that this wasn’t a wedding of a local couple. Though the coat and tie is becoming the de rigueur attire, never mind if it is unsuited to the hot and humid climatic condition, one would hardly see someone wearing a morning coat to a local wedding.

For, the gentlemen were in morning coat, vest & cravat, and it brought to mind the Ascot in the movie My Fair Lady. The morning coat or cutaway stood out with its long tailcoat. It is not uncommon for the parents of the bridge and groom to wear the morning coat during the wedding ceremony in Japan. It is also a formal wear in other occasions too.

When ever a new cabinet is formed, the Prime Minster of the day would assemble his members for a group photograph on the grand stairway of the Diet, with the ministers in morning coat and tie. The latest of such group photograph was that of the Abe cabinet.

It was from the age of Meiji Restoration (1868 to 1912) -Meiji Ishin 明治维新 - that the Japanese went with a single minded aim to emulate and learn from the West – be it in technology, political systems and in fashion.

While the Chinese needed a revolution, that of 1911 that overthrew the Qing Dynasty – 清朝- (1644-1912) to enforce the cutting off of the pig tail among the masses ( though it stated off as a symbol of subservience to the Manchu rulers, it became an object of endearment ) , the Samurai clan, - led in adoption of western fashion, some thirty years earlier.

(The samurai belongs to the bushi - 武士 – the elite among the 4 classes of the feudal society 士农工商 - warriors, farmers, craftsmen, and traders - and with the merchat class at the bottom of social hierarchy) .

The samurai took the lead in cropping off their status symbol – the chonmage (丁髷, ちょんまげ) – the topknot head dress that is still worn by the Sumo wrestlers today - and adopted Victorian and Edwardian high fashion. Morning dress coat, tall hat and spotting a moustache came into vogue in the Japanese society.

However, beneath this symbols of westernization – in attire and technology, the Japanese have always pride themselves that they have adopted only the outer trappings of the west, by in sprit and in soul, they have retained their uniquely Japanese character. The Yamato Spirit – 大和魂 – Yamato Damashii. – is still very much alive and kicking among them. Well, as they say in Japan – we are modern but not western.

As a student in Japan, we used to comment and compare the Japanese and her society with the rest of the East Asian societies. We used to joked that while the Japanese was modernized they were not westernized. And comparatively the Filipino seemed westernized but not very modernized.

This makes one to ponder - what kind of society are we becoming on this little island. We are westernized, maybe too westernized perhaps. Do we already have amongst us a class that is westernized but not modernized? Or perhaps as they would liken it to . . a banana. Much that is uniquely our culture and tradition has been eroded and faded, sigh!


1) Morning coat;

2) Chongmage;