AbstractJapanese food first became the focus of serious attention in the United States during the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905), when Japan’s victory over the Russian empire signaled that nation’s arrival as a new world power. This newfound interest had nothing to do with gastronomy. The conviction driving it was that diet and preventative health care in the Japanese military, which had been critical to its unexpected success, could serve as models for the United States. Military doctors, home economists, dietitians, businesses, vegetarians, and physical fitness fans joined this discourse, each with their own agendas. Many participants were women whose advocacy linked the supposed innate feminine propensity for nurturing and care giving with a shared faith in science to solve the problems facing the modern world. All believed Japan’s rice, vegetable, and fish-based diet contributed to the exceptional physical strength and stamina of the Japanese people because, unlike their own, “it was plain, rational, and easily digested, metabolized and assimilated.” More enthusiasm than knowledge in their claims, but this mattered little since the goal was not to popularize Japanese culinary culture, but to reform U.S. eating habits. This article examines the American discourse on Japanese food and health and how it shaped and reflected domestic political, social, and economic priorities in the 20th Century’s first decade.
Journal of American-East Asian Relations – Brill
Published: Sep 8, 2021