Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition
Oral Presentation Session
Drawing on fieldwork in restaurants of Japanese haute cuisine in the Kantō and Kansai regions of Japan, I analyze the applicability of the English language word “craft,” the Japanese kurafuto, and Japanese concepts including shokunin (“craftsperson”). In contemporary Japan, the word craft (kurafuto) is increasingly used to describe and market value-added food products like beer, coffee, and meat. Some Japanese artisans adapt the English language word “craft” to describe the artisanal aesthetic of their products as though they are outside of market considerations. Interestingly enough, cooks and chefs do not use the concept, a trend that parallels the relative lack of attention to cuisine as craft in English language discourse and scholarship. In spite of this reluctance, Japanese foodways and chefs have experienced a rise in cultural status concomitant with a recognition of the skilled work involved in their production. Examples include the successful registration of Japanese foodways as intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO and the Japanese government’s bestowing the title of Person of Cultural Merit for contributions in the realm of food culture for the first time.
Why does there seem to be resistance to the notion of cuisine as craft, while food products seem to be easily accepted as craft goods? How does the Japanese context compare to English language ones? How does the recent elevation of foodways in Japanese society relate to craft ? I consider these questions in light of what this case study can tell us about markets, value, aesthetics, and the agency of producers.