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Eating the World: Restaurant Culture in Early Twentieth Century Japan

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image of European Journal of East Asian Studies

In this paper, I examine the rise of Western-style and Chinese-style dining in early twentieth century Japan, and the role multicultural eating played in the process of turning Japan into a modern, mass society. I argue that the new dining facilities not only played an important role in the mass entertainment of the urban population, but also that they facilitated the rise of a completely new consciousness among Japanese people, connecting them to a world beyond. Food serves here as a medium for identifying the agency of China and the West in the process of Japan's self-definition. The popularity of Western and Chinese cuisine in interwar Japan denotes the cultural implications of imperialism in East Asia. The eagerness with which the Japanese masses engaged in 'eating the West' and 'eating Asia' suggests an ambiguity in the position of Japan at the time—a coloniser with a consciousness that had been colonised by the West.


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