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Japan Global Issues Series: "Why the Fishhead Faces Left and Other Tales: Learning from Food Workers in Japan"

Thursday, October 7, 2021 - 5:15pm

Merry White, Boston University

Annenberg 110

An ongoing study of the experiences of food workers in Japan – domestic, industrial, artisanal and more – includes stories of people who work in food as craft, art, and drudgery, as cultural script, family engagement, and environmental and nutritional work. The skills, the tools, including the body of the worker engaged in culinary work, and the materials, ingredients and their sources, are elements in the engagement with food production. Seeing a factory worker gaze admiringly at the transparent tubing carrying carrots and onions down to the cooking units, hearing a farmer exhort his cow to win the wagyu contest, and watching a housewife at dawn fill bentos for her family as she worries that they won’t eat her healthy foods, we note how workers create value and meaning in their work, their products and in themselves. The discussion will include the global spread of “Japanese food” and its transformations and redefinitions in that movement. The fact that in Italy and in France Japanese chefs are present in many restaurant kitchens also speaks to the reputation of Japanese culinary prowess. And we will learn why the fish faces left.

Dr. Merry White (Department of Anthropology, Boston University) conducts research in contemporary social and cultural topics, particularly in urban studies in Japan and the U.S. Her teaching includes courses on the city of Boston: one course on Boston’s neighborhoods, social change and urban politics and one on Boston’s food histories through ethnicity and immigration. She also teaches courses on Japanese society, women in Asia, and the anthropology of travel and tourism. Dr. White’s past work includes books on Japanese education (The Japanese Educational Challenge, Free Press), internationalization (The Japanese Overseas, Free Press and Princeton UP), adolescence and popular culture (The Material Child, Free Press and University of California Press), family and social policy (Perfectly Japanese, University of California Press) and the social and political functions of urban spaces (Coffee Life in Japan, University of California Press). She has also published work on food workers, on education and international development, women in Japan, and two cookbooks, Noodles Galore and Cooking for Crowds (both Basic Books). In addition, her work includes essays on food and culture published in Gastronomica, (University of California Press), and writing and presentations in other journals and media. Her work on Japan won her the Imperial Award, the Order of the Rising Sun, from the Japanese government in 2013.