Coming to Like Foreign Beef: The Cultural Politics of Beef Production and Consumption in Modern Japan

Tatsuya Mitsuda

3Keio University, Tokyo, Japan

As the economic importance of East Asia has risen, food historians of modern Japan have begun to reassess their field. They are gradually moving away from an overt focus on the impact of the West to considering the influence of a broader range of Asian countries in the construction of Japan’s foodways. Nowhere is this revision more needed than in the history of meat – a key food to the modernization of the Japanese diet – which has typically depicted the rise of meat-eating as a western practice. Much of the problem with this understanding is that it concentrates on the domestic scene and on consumption: it fails to consider how Japan relied on supplies from foreign countries to achieve its goal of increasing the population’s demand for animal-derived foods. Focusing on beef, which was historically regarded as the most superior meat, this paper takes a social and cultural historical approach to understanding how a taste for cattle and beef imports from Australia, Korea, and China was constructed. Characterized by complications and contradictions, the paper will reveal how the rise of meat-eating in Japan bore witness to a cultural politics in which tastes were weaponized as arguments in support of a variety of interests.

Tatsuya Mitsuda’s research spans the intertwined social and cultural histories of food and animals, with particular reference to the German and Japanese experience in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He is currently writing a book on the history of sweets and snacking in Japan and a monograph on the history of infectious animal diseases in Germany.


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