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Japan-in-Asia Cultural Studies Program

  • kristinaiwata

"Sporks, Chopsticks, and Morality Politics"

Dr. Nathan Hopson (University of Bergen)

October 13, 2023, 13:00-14:30

Rm 131 (School of Humanities)


This presentation shows how the morality politics surrounding the material culture and etiquette of eating reflect tensions about national identity. In other words, I argue that we are not only what we eat, but how. My case study is Japan’s national school lunch program, a critical site of “making Japan.” Schoolchildren and teachers eat identical meals in their classrooms, serving and cleaning up after each other. The program was nearly universal in public elementary and middle schools by the 1960s. Meals were mostly bread, milk, and soup, stew, etc. The cheap, multipurpose, and hygienic spork was the standard utensil. In the mid-1970s, when rice was added to the menu, the spork became the villain in a morality play about children’s eating habits and Japan’s future. Culturalist pundits warned that sporks hindered development of the special dexterity, cleverness, and sensitivity that made Japan superior among the nations of the world. Instead of the ugly, clumsy, foreign spork, they advocated that children use chopsticks, the epitome and fount of Japan’s elegant and elevated culture.

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