Ultimately this out come and the mothers role in it was how the obento was

Ultimately this out come and the mothers role in it

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Ultimately this out- come and the mother's role in it, was how the obento was judged in my experience. The aestheticization of the obentW is by far its most intriguing aspect for a cultural anthropologist. Aesthetic categories and codes that operate gener- ally for Japanese cuisine are applied, though ad- justed, to the nursery school format. Substances are many but petite, kept segmented and opposed, and manipulated intensively to achieve an appear- ance that often changes or disguises the food. As a mother insisted to me, the creation of a bear out of miniature hamburgers and rice, or a flower from an apple or peach, is meant to sustain a child's inter- est in the underlying food. Yet my child, at least, rarely noticed or appreciated the art I had so labo- riously contrived. As for other children, I observed that even for those who ate with no obvious "fussi- ness," mothers' efforts to create food as style con- tinued all year long. Thus much of a woman's labor over obento stems from some agenda other than that of getting the child to eat an entire lunch-box. The latter is certainly a consideration and it is the rationale as well as cover for women being scrutinized by the school's authority figure-the teacher. Yet two other factors are important. One is that the obento is but one aspect of the far more expansive and continuous commitment a mother is expected to make for and to her child. "Kyoiku mama" (edu- cation mother) is the term given to a mother who executes her responsibility to oversee and manage the education of her children with excessive vigor. And yet this excess is not only demanded by the state even at the level of the nursery school; it is conventionally given by mothers. Mothers who manage the home and children, often in virtual ab- sence of a husband/father, are considered the fac- tor that may make or break a child as s/he ad- This content downloaded from on Fri, 14 Feb 2014 02:28:12 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
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JAPANESE MOTHERS AND OBENT7S 203 vances towards that pivotal point of the entrance examinations.17 In this sense, just as the obento is meant as a device to assist a child in the struggles of first ad- justing to school, the mother's role generally is per- ceived as being the support, goad, and cushion for the child. She will perform endless tasks to assist in her child's study: sharpen pencils and make mid- night snacks as the child studies, attend cram schools to verse herself in subjects her child is weak in, make inquiries as to what school is most appro- priate for her child, and consult with her child's teachers. If the child succeeds, a mother is compli- mented; if the child fails, a mother is blamed. Thus at the nursery school level, the mother starts her own preparation for this upcoming role. Yet the jobs and energies demanded of a nursery school mother are, in themselves, surprisingly con- suming.
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