Everything appears crisp and neat with each part kept in its own place two tiny

Everything appears crisp and neat with each part kept

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Everything appears crisp and neat with each part kept in its own place: two tiny hamburgers set firmly atop a bed of rice; vege- tables in a separate compartment in the box; fruit arranged in a muffin tin. How the specific forms of obento artistry-for example, a wiener cut to look like a worm and set within a muffin tin-are encoded symbolically is a 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 OBENTOS 205 fascinating subject. Limited here by space, how- ever, I will only offerinitial suggestions. Arranging food into a scene recognizable by the child was an ideal mentioned by many mothers and cookbooks. Why those of animals, human beings, and other food forms (making a pineapple out of an apple, for example) predominate may have no other ra- tionale than being familiar to children and easily re-produced by mothers. Yet it is also true that this tendency to use a trope of realism-casting food into realistic figures-is most prevalent in the meals Japanese prepare for their children. Mothers I knew createdanimals and faces in supper meals and/or obentms made for other outings, yet their impulse to do this seemed not only heightened in the obenm that were sent to schoolbut also played down in food prepared for other age groups. What is consistent in Japanese cooking gener- ally, as stated earlier, are the dual principles of manipulation and order. Food is manipulated into some otherform than it assumes either naturally or upon being cooked: lines are put into mashed pota- toes, carrots are flaked, wieners are twisted and sliced. Also, food is ordered by some human rather than natural principle; everything must have neat boundaries and be placed precisely so those bound- aries do not merge. These two structures are the ones most important in shaping the nursery school obento as well, and the inclination to design realis- tic imagery is primarily a means by which these other culinary codes are learned by and made plea- surable for the child. The simulacrum of a pineap- ple recreated from an apple therefore is less about seeing the pineapple in an apple (a particular form) and more about reconstructing the apple into something else (the process of transformation). The intense labor,management, commodifica- tion, and attentiveness that goes into the making of an obento laces it, however, with many and various meanings. Overarching all is the potential to aes- theticize a certain social order, a socialorder which is coded (in cultural and culinary terms) as Japa- nese. Not only is a mother making food more palatable to her nursery school child, but she is cre- ating food as a more aesthetic and pleasing social structure. The obentr's message is that the world is constructed very precisely and that the role of any single Japanese in that world must be carried out with the same degree of precision. Production is de- manding; and the producer must both keep within the borders of her/his role and work hard.
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