Sensing Bodies at the Center in Today’s Traditional Japanese Restaurant Kitchens

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This article examines high-end traditional Japanese kitchens and their increasing acceptance of new technologies such as digital steam convection ovens, and new bodies such as female and non-Japanese cooks. It particularly focuses on the effects of these changes on the bodily techniques of the apprentice cook (itamae shokunin). By installing new technologies and machines, restaurant kitchens specializing in ‘traditional’ Japanese haute cuisine have lessened their dependence on human bodies whose senses have been professionally trained through years of apprenticeship. In admitting Japanese female and foreign cooks, traditional Japanese kitchens have also begun loosening a once rigid hierarchy. Such changes have been accompanied by the emergence of explicit cooking instructions and the creation of more precise recipes. Based on interviews with chefs and cooks, and observational fieldwork in professional kitchens in Kyoto, this article shows that recent changes do not constitute a simple replacement of sensory-reliant human labor with mechanized production methods. Rather, the value of Japanese haute cuisine today continues to depend on the labor of bodies whose senses have been honed in the hierarchical space of the traditional kitchen.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalJapanese Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Jan 2
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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