Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants

Title

Baking up a shadow history: Abe Kazushiges Shinsemia and the postwar promotion of bread in Japan

Department

Modern Languages & Literatures Department

College

College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Disciplines

Arts and Humanities

Abstract

Though wheat bread was first introduced to Japan centuries ago, its proliferation throughout the country began in the 1950s thanks to undisclosed American involvement. Abe Kazushige s novel Shinsemia (2003) dramatizes this by tying the success of a breadmaker in rural northeastern Japan to local and international politics as well as to various conspiracy theories. The novel constructs the three-generation chronology of a family bakery against the backdrop of postwar Japanese history. The novel puts bread at the center of a complex narrative, including the occupying US military s covert intelligence gathering as well as discreet, US-financed efforts to promote wheat consumption as a response to years of surplus production. The novel suggests that repressed discourses continue to circulate with the bread and affect those involved. In the 1940s, Tamiya Jin used his baking skills when occupying US forces needed a baker at their nearby base. Jin s responsibilities involved far more than just breadmaking; he also conducted surveillance and gathered information on activities in the town. As the occupation wound down, Jin opened the town s sole bakery and teamed up with other local opportunists to control the activities of the townspeople. Jin and his partners passed their family businesses, along with their roles as behind-the-scenes powerbrokers, to their sons. In the novel s present, Jin s son Akira tires of the violence and seeks to be released from the network so he can be, in his words, just a baker. Fabricated rumors gradually lead to the unraveling of the Tamiya family bakery, as if to expiate the deceased Jin s collaboration with foreign occupiers. Shinsemia links bread and political maneuvering in such a way that, in this particular town, one can never be just a baker. This paper examines the repressed history of 1950s wheat promotion within Japan and the novel s deployment of this, as a conspiracy brought to light, to spin a hyperrealist tale out of the lingering repercussions of postwar bread consumption.

Conference Name

Food, feeding, and eating in and out of Asia.

Conference Location

Copenhagen, Denmark

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