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War and Food and Manga

“Manga is a cradle to grave phenomenon,” says Deb Aoki, writer for Anime network and Publisher’s Weekly. “It’s a visual storytelling medium that people enjoy from the day they first start reading or enjoying pictures to the day they die.”

“Japan has this history of visual storytelling,” continues Aoki, who is also a cartoonist. “Even Japanese language is pictorial. The character for yama looks like a mountain. The character for river looks like a stream. They come from pictures.” Manga follows this trend, representing about 40% of all books published in Japan.

“Manga is a medium like movies is in America,” adds Aoki. “In Japan, the movie industry is not developed, not as high budget. A lot of the story telling talent is in manga. The best selling Manga artists are multi millionaires; they’re celebrities. Kids say ‘I want to be a manga artist.’ They call manga artists ‘sensei’ – like you’d call a doctor or another professional. They regard a manga artist with that level of respect.”

“There’s this [Japanese] concept, Otaku,” says Sylvan Mishima Brackett, chef and owner of Rintaro Restaurant in San Francisco. “Otaku is a deep, passionate enthusiasm about some obscure part of the universe. Manga tend to cluster around very specific Otaku. It’s a place where people can brush up on the hyper-specifics of their enthusiasms.”

“Practically every interest has a manga dedicated to it,” says Brian Zhong, a member of Anime FX at San Francisco State University. “Shooting pool, swimming, high school basketball, gambling, sex. There’s manga everywhere. The poster in the subway system telling you not to grope people is a manga.”

“Food manga, gurume manga, gourmet manga, is one of the major genres within manga that’s just been growing exponentially,” says Nancy Stalker, Professor of Japanese History and Culture at the University of Texas at Austin. She wrote a paper called Gourmet Samurai: Changing Gender Norms in Japanese Food TV that we saw her deliver at the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery in England last summer. Her paper inspired us to look into the world of war and food and manga for this season of Hidden Kitchens: War and Peace and Food.

Food Wars, Detective Glutton, Soldier of Food

 Food manga, Nancy told us, first appeared in the 1980’s when the Japanese economy was very strong. One of the first, Oishinbo, ran for over 20 years and became the basis for an animated series, as have many manga since. Nancy reeled off a list of manga: Food Wars, Soldier of Food, Wakakozake, Detective Glutton, Solitary Gourmet, Criminal Grub, Cooking Master Boy, Antique Bakery, High Plains Gourmet, Nobunaga No Chef… Conflict and cooking lie at the heart of each one.

Take Nobunaga No Chef (Chef of Nobunaga), for example. A young chef at a contemporary high-end hotel wakes up in the late 15th century on a battlefield during Japan’s century of civil war. He becomes the chef of a very notorious warlord – Oda Nobunaga. The young chef uses his culinary skills to increase the morale of Nobunaga’s warriors. His cooking is so powerful he is able to lure enemy combatants off the battlefield with the smell of grilled meat.

“There always has to be conflict in manga, especially in food manga,” says Zhong. “There is not any real peace in manga. If there is peace it’s really short, maybe one or two chapters, then back to war right afterwards. War produces content.”

Food_Wars_Volume_1“Food Wars, called Shokugeki no Soma Cooking War, is in the best selling manga magazine in the world,” says Aoki, “all boys read it.” The hero is a boy named Soma. “He’s like your classic Shonen manga hero,” says Aoki. “Spiky red hair, 16 years old. A little full of himself. He’s been working at his family restaurant for years. But his father is like, ‘Ah you’ll never beat me!’ So Soma is frustrated ‘I can never beat my dad, why? Why?’”

His father sends Soma to an exclusive cooking academy where all the top chefs train. Aoki describes Soma’s fellow students: “One guy who specializes in smoking food, another who specializes in cooking game. Another who is into molecular gastronomy. Very sophisticated concepts that are being introduced to school age kids.

“How do they make this food manga appealing to boys?” asks Aoki. “The artist was originally known for doing soft core porn comics. When Soma cooks something really delicious, people put it in their mouth and they are so overcome with ecstasy that their clothes explode off. If the food’s not good enough, then the guy still has his clothes on. So you see these girls eating something ‘Oh it’s so good I can’t stand it’ and their clothes explode off. The headmaster, even he gets overcome with joy and his clothes explode off.”

Food and war: Occupation shapes a Nation

Since Japan opened to the West in the nineteenth century, food has been an element of its international identity. “Traditionally the eating of four-legged creatures was proscribed by Buddhist belief,” says Stalker. “The Emperor first publicly ate meat in 1873. Eating beef was seen as something that would help build the national physique and make the Japanese more like westerners.” In order to compete with western soldiers, the Japanese military began to introduce more beef, more meat and fat, into the diet of the soldier to help build a strong army.

The modern manga industry came into being after World War II. It started with Osamu Tezuka, creator of Astro Boy, who was influenced by Walt Disney. “That American content was brought over by the American Occupation,” says Leyla Aker, Senior Vice President of Publishing at Viz Media, a company that specializes in Japanese graphic novels and anime. “During the American occupation of Japan a large portion of the Japanese population was subsisting on hand-outs given by the American forces.”

There were severe shortages of food during the Occupation and all foods were strictly rationed. When the circumstances of the war became dire many people resorted to eating bark from trees and replacing sawdust and wood dust in recipes for flour. Many Japanese died of starvation.

Miles Thomas, Brand Manager at CrunchyRoll, remembers an anime called Grave of the Fireflies. “One of the most evocative films I’ve seen, about two orphans during World War II who are starving, hungry. They steal food, trying their hardest to survive. There are these candies that this girl really likes in this metal tin. This girl’s entire world.”


“It really makes you think about the darker side of food when people don’t have enough of it to survive,” adds Tiffany Chen who is also a Brand Manager with Crunchy Roll. “For a long time, World War II was just a history you studied in class. I never really felt connected to it personally. A lot of young people actually don’t even know about the atomic bomb. After watching this film, it was a pretty sobering moment.”

In the manga, Yakitate!! Japan, the family of a young boy named Kazuma grows rice. Kazuma’s grandfather insists every morning that they eat a traditional Japanese breakfast—miso soup, rice, natto. But Kazuma and his sister want to eat bread, Aker tells us. “Their grandfather who lived through the Occupation and the war is like, ‘Are you crazy!? Why would you eat bread for breakfast the stuff is gross!,’ There’s this picture of General MacArthur holding a roll and saying, ‘Eat This!’” Kazuma learns to make a unique Japanese bread that he calls “Ja-Pan” that is so good his grandfather finally comes around. “Ja-pan” is a reclamation; something negative becomes delicious and distinctly Japanese.

Oishinbo: Japan and Culinary Nationalism

Oishinbo, one of the oldest of the food manga is very popular with adult men, Aoki tells us. “The main character is this scrappy reporter. His father is this snooty gourmet who sets up this ritzy gourmet club for only rich people. They have dueling palette battles.” Oishinbo is written by Tetsu Kariya who is very opinionated about food. The manga creates drama about different food issues – about growing it and cooking it. “It’s kind of controversial,” says Aoki. “He defends eating whale meat, the history of it, how delicious, how dare anyone tell us not to.”

“Tetsu Kariya has a very progressive, political stance,” adds Lorie Brau, Associate Professor of Japanese Foreign Languages and Literature at the University of New Mexico, “He embeds these social messages inside his manga.” One of Oishinbo’s chief concerns is foreign influences. How do you maintain the important aspects of your culture while still engaging with the world at large? The manga uses food as a lens to address Japan’s place in the world.

There is a kind of culinary nationalism in a lot of these manga. One of the issues between Japan and the US as Japan recovered economically in the 80s was competition and trade wars. In an Oishinbo episode called Rice Wars, an American diplomat wanted the Japanese to buy American rice. Brau says, “The character, Yamaoka Shiro explains how important rice is as part of everyday Japanese life, not only as a food, but rice is holy in a sense. Rice farmers are protected. They just have a sacred place in Japanese society.”

The Solitary Gourmet represents how food affects the common man, the consumer. Nancy describes the show saying, “We see Goru, a kind of a middle aged salary man, an everyman, very much a loner. He’s rejected personal relationships, marriage. Goru’s primary emotional relationships are with the food. The biggest problem he faces in life is where to have lunch on any given day.”

Yaweh: Manga for Young Women

There is a different subset of manga targeted at young Japanese women called Yaweh about homosexual love affairs. “Boys love” is one of the most popular sub-genres of manga. “Antique Bakery features a cast of tall, thin elegant beautiful young men. They all work in a western style bakery,” Aoki tells us. “Women fall in love with them because they are so handsome. But they’re not available,” says Brau. “But the cakes are available so they make many young women happy.”

 What Did You Eat Yesterday? has become a very popular manga for recipes. The manga tells the story of a gay couple, one of whom is a lawyer, the other a hairdresser and the lawyer is very intent on creating economical, delicious meals for the two of them.

The Herbivore Man: Manga and Gender Norms

“In the last 10 years Japanese demographics have been shifting,” says Nancy. “Fewer and fewer people are getting married. The rate of unmarried men ages 30 to 34 climbed from 21% to 47%. For women it jumped from 9% to 34% in a decade. The media has come up with this term “herbivore men” Urban men in their 20 and 30’s who are more into fashion and culture than women. Rejecting flesh, therefore they are herbivores. Other conservative pundits say “well, it’s the increase of carnivorous women, women who are too aggressive and focused on their career and refuse to become a full time housewife they create the herbivore man. This is changing men’s relationship with food. They have to increasingly be responsible for their own meals. That is being reflected in these dramas that show a kind of everyman develop a sense of culinary confidence.”

Aoki tells us that Manga like Oishinbo and Food Wars in a way represent a war within people to be their best. “There’s honor in fighting to be the best you can be. That if you’re going to do it you’re going to be the best damn one doing it. The way of the sword, the way of the chef.”

Hidden Kitchens: War & Peace & Food is made possible in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities



Recipes from Anime & Manga

“Fake Pork Roast (Gotcha Pork)”

From Sean Stanlick’s Food Wars Recipes in Real Life blog



-6 white potatoes.
-3 Eringi mushrooms. or substitute with 1/4 of a head of cauliflower.
-1 large white onion, or 2 medium white onions.
-1 sprig of rosemary.
-Butter. I suggest 2 tablespoons (30ml), but you could always used a bit more.
-2 packs of thick-cut bacon.
-1 Cup, or 250ml of red wine. We used a Pinot Noir since its preferable for cooking.
-1/4 cup, or 60ml of sake. Any sake that is labeled as “sweet” should do.
-2 tbs, or 30ml of soy sauce.
-1 spring of parsley or any garnish.

  1. Peel the potatoes and cut into quarters or halves, depending on size
  2. Chop the mushrooms or cauliflower and onions
  3. Steam the potatoes and cauliflower until soft (15-20 min for potatoes, 10 minutes for cauliflower)
  4. Pan fry onions and mushrooms/cauliflower in 1 Tablespoon of butter until caramelized.
  5. Mash the potatoes into small chunks in a large bowl. Do not mash too much, you want to avoid it being frothy in order to form it to shape.
  6. Mix in the onions and cauliflower until the ingredients are even in the bowl.
  7. Pick the rosemary off its stem. Set aside.
  8. Add a few sprinkles of salt to the top of the bowl.
  9. To form the fake roast, let the mix cool until touchable and mix into a log shape.
  10. Wrap the “roast” in two packs of thick cut bacon. Wrap fully and avoid leaving any gaps so the potatoes will not seep out.
  11. Tie the roast with twine. Intertwine the rosemary afterwards.
  12. Bake at 375 degrees for 30-45 minutes or until bacon is golden, turning halfway.
  13. Boil 1 cup of wine in frying pan for ~10 minutes until wine is reduced.
  14. Add butter, sake and soy sauce. Continue to cook for 2-3 minutes.
  15. Remove twine and rosemary from roast. Pour the finished sauce onto the roast. Garnish with parsley and serve.

Oishinbo-style Miso Ramen

serves 4



3 Tbsp. hatchō miso
3 Tbsp. Sake
2 Tbsp. sesame oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 large shallot, finely chopped
6 oz. ground pork
4 scallions, finely chopped
4 large shiitake mushrooms, finely chopped
½ cup katsuobushi (tightly packed)
1 quart water
4 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 lb. fresh ramen noodles
Chinese chives (optional)


The trick to successful stir-frying is speed. The ingredients are cooked over a high flame as quickly as possible, so make sure you prepare all your ingredients beforehand and have them within arm’s reach. As you cook the pork and vegetables they will release their moisture; evaporating that liquid is what gives the food a rich, concentrated flavor.

  1. Mix the miso and sake together thoroughly and set aside. Put the sesame oil in a wok and turn the heat to high. Add the garlic and fry it for about 30 seconds or until it begins to release its aroma.
  1. Add the chopped shallot and ground pork and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring constantly.
  1. Add the scallions and shiitake mushrooms, and fry the ingredients for about 1 more minute. Stir in the miso and continue cooking until the liquid in the pan has been almost completely evaporated. (The mixture should still be moist, however, not dry.) Turn off the heat and set aside.
  1. Bring the quart of water to a boil in a medium pot. Put in the katseobushi, turn off the heat, and let it stand for 2 minutes. Strain the dashi through a sieve lined with cheesecloth. Add the soy sauce to the dashi, stir, and set the pot over low heat to keep the soup warm.
  1. Bring a large pot of water to a roiling boil. Add the ramen noodles and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until they are just al dente. (If you’re using dried noodles, follow the cooking time instructions on the package.) Drain the noodles and immediately divide them into four bowls. (If you’re preparing the noodles ahead of time, rinse them under cold water before setting them aside.)


6. Pour the soup over the noodles in each bowl and top them with the miso-flavored

Yakitake!! Japan Rice Cooker Bread

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Humanists & Scholars

Nancy K. Stalker, PhD
Associate Professor
Japanese History and Culture
University of Texas Austin


Lorie Brau, PhD
Associate Professor
Foreign Languages and Literatures
University of New Mexico


Eric C. Rath, PhD
History Professor
University of Kansas


Andrea Horbinski, PhD Candidate
History Department
University of California Berkeley


For additional academic references, please see the following publications:

Brau, Lorie. “Oishinbo’s Adventures in Eating: Food, Communication, and Culture in Japanese Comics.” Gastronomica 4, no. 4 (2004): 34-45.

Rath, E. C. (2010). Food and Fantasy in Early Modern Japan, University of California Press.

Rath, E. C. (2010). Japanese Foodways Past and Present (E. C. Rath & S. Assmann, Eds.). University of Illinois Press.

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Ibuki, Yoshido Brothers

Food Wars, OST

Variations on Japanese Children’s Songs, Mayumi Hama

Grave of the Fireflies, OST

Traveler in the Wonderland, Susumu Yokota

Oishinbo theme song


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Sylvan Brackett

We have collaborated with chef Sylvan Mishima Brackett on various Kitchen Sisters’ projects throughout the years.  The man is a true artist and visionary in every endeavor he takes on.


Sylvan was born in Kyoto, Japan and grew up outside of a small town called Nevada City in California.After graduating from Reed College, he cooked in restaurants in Portland, Oregon and the Cote d’Azur, France. He returned to California to work at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, for six years as Alice Waters’ assistant and then as the restaurant’s first Creative Director, in charge of special dinners and events.


Sylvan now owns an Izakaya in San Francisco called Rintaro.   In 2015, Bon Appétit named it one of the “Best New Restaurants of the Year.”


Many of Rintaro’s menus are inspired by vintage Japanese matchbox covers.

Hear more from Sylvan Brackett


Grave of the Fireflies

In the aftermath of a World War II bombing, two orphaned children struggle to survive in the Japanese countryside. To Seita and his four-year-old sister, the helplessness and indifference of their countrymen is even more painful than the enemy raids. Through desperation, hunger and grief, these children’s lives are as heartbreakingly fragile as their spirit and love is inspiring.



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