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Good to Fight, Good to Eat, Good to Think: Food Disputes in Premodern Japanese Texts



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Follador, Elena 


This thesis analyses part of a corpus of premodern Japanese texts usually referred to as irui-gassen mono (“tales of battles between nonhuman beings”). More specifically, it investigates texts that describe disputes between anthropomorphic foods and drinks. This thesis shows the multifarious nature of these texts, whilst rejecting the accepted definition of this corpus as parodies of war tales (gunkimono), which pigeonholes them as a fixed literary category akin to a genre. In doing so, this thesis contributes to research on premodern Japanese literature, anthropomorphism, and food culture. Chapter 1 focuses on the oldest text that describes a battle between edible protagonists, Shōjin gyorui monogatari, arguing that it is not a parody of Heike monogatari and does not mock warfare and war tales. It proposes, rather, to interpret Shōjin gyorui monogatari as a kind of educational book that included didactic content in a fictional framework and made parodic use of literary conventions of gunkimono to present such content in a more engaging way. Chapter 2 undermines the idea that descriptions of battles lie at the core of irui-gassen mono, examining the sub-theme of vegetarian vs non-vegetarian dishes. It argues instead that the theme of dispute is adopted to display a plethora of characters in two opposing semantic categories, as a different kind of monozukushi (list, catalogue). It also demonstrates that the parodic use of literary conventions of gunkimono is not a consistent stylistic feature. Chapter 3 contends that the anthropomorphism of the foods is aimed to elevate them as protagonists of literature and not to diminish the warrior class. Consumed also on paper, the edible characters contributed in building and reinforcing readers’ identities by promoting cultural literacy, for instance mapping the culinary landscape of Edo and teaching children about social practices and rituals around food and alcohol. Chapter 4 presents texts that contain a variety of didactic content, ranging from Buddhist concepts to tea ceremony, from snacks and confectioneries to medical knowledge. It also explores how the anthropomorphic characters are rendered both verbally in the written text and visually in the illustrations and how the interplay between the different degrees of human/nonhuman hybridism could enhance the readers’ learning experience.





Moretti, Laura


Premodern Japanese literature, Premodern Japan, Anthropomorphism, Food, Cognitive literary theory, Parody, Muromachi period literature, Edo period literature, Food studies


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge