Current Weather
The Spy FM

In Japan, Food Can Be Almost Too Cute To Eat

Filed by KOSU News in World News.
January 29, 2013

From an early age, Japanese kids are taught to “eat with your eyes,” and this emphasis on the visual delights of food can be found in all aspects of Japan’s vaunted culture of cute.

Take children’s television, for example. Some of the most beloved cartoon characters in Japan are based on food items.

One favorite is Anpanman, or “Bread Man” – a superhero whose head is made out of a sweet roll filled with red bean paste (yeah, we’re a bit baffled, too). Anpanman spends most of his time running around, saving starving children by letting them take bites out of his oh-so-delicious head. His friends include Shokupanman, whose head is made from a piece of sliced white bread, and Currypanman, whose head is made from a piece of — you guessed it — curry-filled bread.

This obsession with cute food manifests itself in all sorts of ways. Take, for example, Hannari Tofu — the cutest chunk of soybean curd you’re likely to encounter. The character pops up on a range of plush merchandise — from stuffed animals to key holders — advertised to be “as soft as tofu.”

Debra Samuels, a chef and author of My Japanese Table, used to live in Japan with her family. She says it didn’t take her long to realize how tightly everyday life revolved around visuals, especially when it came to food.

After her young son started complaining that the peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches she was packing for him weren’t “cute enough” for kindergarten, Samuels started embracing the Japanese food aesthetic.

She began carving apple wedges into the shapes of bunnies. She added “baloney bangs” to sandwiches with faces.

“The first thing you do when you look at something is to see whether you want to eat it or not. It’s very important in Japanese culture,” she tells All Things Considered host Audie Cornish, adding, “Kids learn this from a very early age.”

And from an early age, Japanese kids also get some pretty excellent school lunches, called kyushoku. Served to all first through sixth graders, these standardized meals serve a similar purpose as school uniforms. As Samuels explains, “Everybody gets the same lunch. There are kids that are traumatized because their lunches are not as cute as their neighbors’.”

These school lunches are locally grown and usually made from scratch. They’re so yummy that, as The Washington Post reported earlier this week, some kids ask their parents to recreate the meals at home. And they’re healthy, too, which has encouraged some parents to ring up schools for the recipes. It’s hard to imagine the same thing happening in the U.S.

By the way, if you’re curious about how school lunches compare around the world, check out this slideshow from our friends at Shots. Eat your eyes out, folks! [Copyright 2013 NPR]

Leave a Reply

10AM to 11PM On Point

On Point

On Point unites distinct and provocative voices with passionate discussion as it confronts the stories that are at the center of what is important in the world today. Leaving no perspective unchallenged, On Point digs past the surface and into the core of a subject, exposing each of its real world implications.

Listen Live Now!

11AM to 12PM The Story

The Story

The Story with Dick Gordon brings the news home through first-person accounts. The live weekday program is passionate, personal, immediate and relevant to listeners, focusing on the news where it changes our lives, causes us to stop and rethink, inspires us.

View the program guide!

12PM to 1PM Fresh Air

Fresh Air

This one-hour program features Terry Gross' in-depth interviews with prominent cultural and entertainment figures, as well as distinguished experts on current affairs and news.

View the program guide!

Upcoming Events in your area (Submit your event today!)

Streaming audio and podcasts

Stream KOSU on your smartphone

Phone Streaming

SmartPhone listening options on this page are intended for many iPhones, Blackberries, etc. with low-cost software applications available to listen to our full-time web streams, both News on KOSU-1 and Classical on KOSU-2.

Learn more about our complete range of streaming services

We're perfecting the patient experience - Stillwater Medical Center