Gavin H. Whitelaw - Associate Professor of Anthropology, International Christian University; 2014-2015 Visiting Scholar, Reischauer Institute, Harvard University
Japanese food is edible soft power. From “global sushi” to the basics of the obentō lunch box, Japan’s food culture is (again) taking part in transforming the American diet. But in Japan, what is the engine of culinary innovation and arbiter of mass cultural taste? The answer may lie not in artisanal Kansai kitchens or Tsukiji fish market stalls, but on the shelves of the corner konbini (convenience store) Konbini are a critical focal point of changing foodways in Japan. They are the 24-hour lunch counter for people on the go and a surrogate refrigerator for consumers seeking a bite of the familiar and the new. This presentation draws on one researcher’s gustatory participant observations of konbini social life to reveal the cultural construction of a cuisine and the inroads this unlikely institution is making on contemporary Asian culinary culture.