Society for East Asian Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
At the beginning of February, a generous portion of refrigerated shelf space in Japan’s convenience stores and supermarkets is taken over by a ritual food that, until relatively recently, few people had heard of—let alone eaten—ehomaki. Ehomaki, pricy, oversized sushi rolls containing auspicious ingredients, are purchased by consumers who will wolf them down for good luck on the first day of spring (Risshun). Once confined to small region west of Osaka, ehomaki and the gustatory practices that accompany them now constitute a national food event and major seasonal marketing campaign for Japanese food retailers.
While it may be tempting to write off ehomaki as a culinary gimmick with a short shelf life, closer examination of this food and its commercial trajectory reveals how a complexity of conditions, interests, and technologies make and remake food. The following paper follows the circulation of a particular ritual food to better understand the ways a local dish becomes a national phenomenon, a canvas for taste and distinction and a flashpoint for social debate about postindustrial desire and wastefulness. At stake in this study is more than simply what an oversize sushi roll says about the domestic circulation of local practices, but how the climate of consumption in Japan is shaped by notions of familiarity and convenience, waste and want, and ongoing discussions of national identity.