10 Nov Life Before (Boxed) Lunch in Japan
Eric C. Rath (History, University of Kansas)
Tuesday November 10/ 2015 4:00 PM
Lunch is both older and newer in Japan than we might imagine. The midday meal is said to have become a norm by the 1700s when most of the population finally broke with ancient precedent to dine at the middle of the day. However, the notion that ancient courtly and religious practices prevented people from satisfying their growling stomachs deserves reconsideration. In the early twentieth century in some locales farmers consumed four, five, or even six meals a day, so it is illogical to assume that their forebears, who labored equally as hard, would deny themselves food energy at noon time.
But eating a midday meal — or even several of them — is not the same as creating and having lunch. Lunch was a new category of meal, a modern custom introduced through Western culinary culture by cookbook writers in the early twentieth century. The history of lunch can be traced through changing approaches to creating obentō, the packaged meals that have become synonymous today with “boxed lunches.” My talk reviews early modern and modern bentō cookbooks in the context of the history of lunch in Japan charting how fancy boxed meals evolved into prosaic packed lunches, which still retained a distinct culinary flair when resources, creativity, and energy allow.
Sponsored by the Dept. of East Asian Studies Langauges & Cultural Studies, the East Asia Center, and the IHC’s Reinventing Japan Research Focus Group.