George Solt "How Did Ramen Become Japan's 'National Food' (Kokuminshoku)?" 10/16/2014
This lecture is given by George Solt, Assistant Professor of History at New York University. In the 1980s, ramen in Japan shifted from a food eaten primarily by industrial workers seeking affordable and speedy nourishment, to one consumed by fashionable youths as a means of entertainment. As ramen dining became a form of mass entertainment, the demand for a stabilizing historical narrative concerning the origins of the dish arose, generating a litany of books, documentaries, and a Museum dedicated to promoting the merits of the noodle-soup by building on tropes of national singularity and regional idiosyncrasy. Why did ramen achieve national symbolic status in this era, and what can be gleaned about the relationship between food, mass media, and labor by studying this transformation? In attempting to address these questions, the talk will consider the connection between the macro-economic shifts affecting the Japanese labor economy in this era (i.e. hollowing out of industrial labor through mechanization and relocation of plants overseas) and the transformation in the cultural milieu associated with the consumption of ramen. The aim is to identify the logic behind the transformation of a food custom associated with a specific subgroup into a national tradition by the popular media.