Friday was a complete night of dessert gluttony. I hope to actually write an entry about it because it�s not every day that I go to seven bakeries in one night (yes, my life is not full of continuous fooding, believe it or not) without a "Crap, did I really eat that much?" hangover the next day. You really ought to check out Melody�s blog entry since she was my partner-in-crime for the night. How nice it is to find someone to food with who�s as enthusiastic about going to bakeries as I am and who won�t mind being dragged around in the dry cold to sample all the carb-laden possibilities. It�s not just that Melody likes baked goods so much, but being new to the bakery world of NYC made me feel more helpful, like a tour guide�who gets to eat a lot of sweets and stuff.
Unfortunately, the post I�m meaning to write now isn�t food-porn specific. But if you really want one, here you go.
- Magnolia Bakery cupcake army
Moving on, I�m writing an essay about cute food in Japan, or something having to do with that. (note: When I say "cute", I'm referring to Japanese cuteness. There are many kinds of cuteness, but the Japanese one is particularly...unique? Read Cuties in Japan.) Surely many of you like Japanese snacks (and food), or maybe you are Japanese, in which case you�d probably know more about this stuff than I do. I didn�t even know that the whole kawaii culture started in the 1970s. I suppose since I was born after that, I was under the impression that things in Japan were ALWAYS MEGA CUTE.
So to give a brief overview of the history of kawaii (feel free to jump in and correct me), it started with the cute handwriting craze, or the type of handwriting we�re all familiar with today: even-lined, rounded characters, usually written horizontally. This handwriting is known as kitten writing, or fake-child writing. Although this type of handwriting was adapted by popular media, it was initially banned in some schools. (On a semi-related note, when I was in 4th grade, writing in impossibly tiny script was popular. I actually did it, although not as well as some other people. I have no idea what the point of that was, but it seems to correlate to a largely female-adapted style of �small, round, pretty letters. Except not, because itty bitty script was probably almost unreadable by anyone with slight vision problems.) Once source I read said that the kawaii movement was an act of rebellion by teenagers (not that they were the only ones who got into the culture, but allow me to generalize). While it may not be like the western notion of rebellion, usually something more extreme, maybe with a sense of danger thrown in, writing in a cute style was an opposition to the vertical, variable-width writing of before. The idea of kawaii insinuates, besides the cuteness, being helpless, passive, childlike, and pathetic, among other things. Adding cuteness and personality to goods caused people to spend craploads of money on things they may not otherwise buy, like THIS TOASTER THAT BRANDS THE TOAST WITH HELLO KITTY�S FACE (my own example), or any kind of doo-hickey that you don�t really need but you buy because it�s cute as hell. (For me, Sanrio played a heavy hand in me buying craploads of pointless cute things when I was in middle school. Of course, it�s not just a Japanese thing, but I bought like�I dunno. Really random stuff! Don�t get me started on how many Tamagotchi paraphernalia I once owned, although I feel like that�s kind of different from your general spread of Sanrio characters.)
So what�s up with the spread of kawaii? One source told me kawaii had the appeal of childhood, which makes sense to me. The difference between the longing for childhood in Japan and America (which is my only point of reference), is that while America is an adolescent country (the teenage years seem to be what people want to capture the most), Japan has the desire to go back�further. Middle school? Elementary school? Screw high school and college; what I�d really want is to go back to my pre-teens or before that. I�m sure I read this somewhere but obviously, there�s some difference between the teenage and beyond years of Japanese and Americans. It seems more stressful in Japanese society (at least the high school to college transition, from what I�ve read), where there�s much more pressure to�fit in? I�m not sure if that�s the right word, but maybe you know what I mean. I don�t plan on going into the whole life of the salary man or the role of the Japanese housewife because that would probably take a gazillion pages (besides that I don�t know much about them) and I�M WRITING ABOUT FOOD, AREN�T I?
Uh�so what does this have to do with food? I dunno. I�m having trouble coming up with a thesis (and as you can see, I�m spending my Sunday update my blog instead of actually writing my essay). This is also a way for me to get out my ideas in a semi-comprehensible manner, instead of the scribbles I wrote down and hopefully it�s not considered cheating to have a food minded audience take a look at this.
Looking at the spread of Japanese snacks, there are themes of �pastels. Chocolate. Animals. Cookies. Miniatures. While Japanese snacks are such a product of �Japanese-ness� today, they don�t really correlate with historic Japanese food culture (in my opinion; maybe I don�t know what I�m talking about!). (On another note, a lot of Japanese food is adapted from other cultures but have been so integrated that they�re Japanese, like ramen, tempura, and curry, but it seems like many snack companies started around 60 years ago.) So�wait, I don�t know what I�m talking about.
I totally ignored wagashi, traditional Japanese confectionery, until today (and I�ve been working on this essay, however slowly, since last month). I noticed similarities, such as pastel colors, small individual snacks, snacks shaped like other things, seasonal flavors. I don�t know where that fits in, but it probably does. Traditional Japanese snacks aren�t usually packaged in a particularly cute way, unlike the newer, western-influenced snacks. I guess that�s one way that they retain their �maturity? Not that all modern Japanese snacks are packaged with cute characters and bright colors, but the majority of wagashi or traditional Japanese snacks seem to have plainer packaging without bright colors. One of my most prominent memories of a snack mascot when I was little was the Calbee potato man. I could easily eat a bag of sodium-laden potato sticks. To compare, I don�t think Doritos, Tostitos, or Lays had mascots (Cheetos has a mascot, but that seems to be the exception).
What�s my point? I don�t know. I wanted to investigate the popularity of Japanese snacks. I don�t know if there�s anything very deep to them, but some people (well, Americans) will go insane at the sight of Pocky. We don�t have a domestic snack quite like Pocky; it�s a tasty, simple, sweet snack that you can easily share with other people. A lot of Japanese snacks are conducive to sharing, or giving away (like tiny, individually wrapped gummies and chocolates, which I find cute). There are American snacks like that but from what I can remember, there aren�t as many, or they�re meant for certain situations. We have those fun packs and variety chocolates but those come in bulk packages for Halloween. And there are other examples but I can�t think of them. Er. Maybe that�s not much of a point.
Oh, besides the kawaii-ness of snack food, I also wanted to talk about the cute portrayal of food characters. San-X is the ultimate treasure trove, with way too many cute personified foodstuffs, such as oranges, natto, beer, onigiri, cheese, vegetables, bread, and those freaky Nyanko kitties wrapped in food. Kamio is another stationery company with cute food related things, but I can�t find their website.
I don�t know what I�d do with that �inedible food as cute� idea. It�s just�there.
And now I�m done rambling. If you read this far, I�m really amazed and feel like I ought owe you something for having spent your time reading this. If you care to give any insight into cuteness of Japanese food, feel free to indulge me. If you�re heavily into this subject, maybe you would provide a good interview subject for me. :)
On that note, I�m also doing an essay about blogs, which is much less fleshed out than this Japanese food essay, but in a way might be easier. Or not. Actually, I�m screwed. I could probably interview some people for that one, but I should actually come up with an idea of what I�m writing about first.