“Osen”: a Manga That Conveys Japanese Food Philosophy and Tradition
There is a concept that is called “Shokuiku (Food education)”.
This concept promotes an idea that selecting and eating one’s food properly is the basis of growing a healthy person. This concept is widely adopted, for example in instructions at Japanese kindergartens. Valuing traditional dishes as a part of the culture and passing them down correctly is also a part of Shokuiku. This time, we would like to introduce “Osen”, a manga that describes Japanese culture with an emphasis on “food”.
Yoshio Ezaki is a young man, who is expected to succeed his family’s Japanese inn operation. As part of his training, he was employed at “Issho-an”, a restaurant touted as one of the best in the industry with its long established history.
The beautiful maître d’ of the restaurant is Sen Handa. Though usually lazy and loves drinking, she is capable of providing a top-notch, superb hospitality when it is necessary.
This is a humanity drama of this woman and people around her, featuring her multi-talented efforts made for the sake of customers and other people, in the areas of food, ceramics and so on.
1. Sen Handa
She is the protagonist of this story, known as “Osen”.
She is the female maître d’ of Issho-an, an expensive Japanese restaurant with a long established history, and she succeeded the former maître d’, her mother.
She is beautiful, knowledgeable, and quietly strong-willed. She is an exemplary Japanese lady, “Yamato nadeshiko”, at first glance.
However she deeply loves drinking, and she usually works mainly by drinking together with her customers.
But when her restaurant is in a tight spot, she manages the kitchen well and responds to difficult customers in a sincere, but resolute attitude.
She is such a popular person that there is a fan club in the neighborhood, admiring her beauty and personality.
With her deep, extensive knowledge in Japanese food and traditional arts, she creates her shop signs and dishes, and plows the field herself.
On the other hand, she lacks in commonsensical knowledge, and cannot even operate general cooking devices such as a microwave oven.
2. Yoshio Ezaki
He is a young man, a quasi-hero and the storyteller.
Originally in order to receive training as a successor of his parents’ Japanese-style inn, he works as a live-in bookkeeper of the Issho-an.
Because he is a kind, considerate nice youth, he is trusted by Osen and his colleagues at the Issho-an.
But otherwise he is an ordinary person without special talents or skills.
Maybe because he is working as a live-in employee, he performs chores as Osen’s butler, accompanying her and carrying her bags when she goes out for daily shopping and so on.
3. “Chinpin-do”, Real Name Unknown
He is the owner of “Chinpin-do”, an antique shop specialized in the ceramic art.
He is a boor with an appearance of a gorilla, brusque with a sharp tongue. But once it comes to the antiques and ceramic arts, he is a well-known leading appraiser in his industry.
He trusts Osen’s keen sense of aesthetics and love for ancient arts, and he voluntarily sells good ceramics to her every now and then. Also, sometimes he may rely on her appraisal skills.
He is divorced and has a grown daughter, who is living separately.
This manga is drawn like woodblock prints, with strong contrasts between strong lines and weak ones, and it captures essence of Japan, giving a simplistic impression to the readers. The tone of this story is not formal, including many silly jokes and sometimes seductive laughs. The basic pattern of this story is to revolve around everyday troubles and resolutions, with Osen in its center.
The main subject of this work is Japanese food.
Its scope is broad, and it covers a wide variety from cuisine prepared with the finest ingredients difficult to obtain, to home cooked dishes prepared in ordinary households.
This story appears to be praising “Japanese tradition” and “Japanese culture”, but what underlies this story is “consideration for other people”. People in the story strive to create a place that is comfortable for everyone concerned, not only considering the feelings of customers that enjoy the dishes prepared for them but also the feelings of those who prepare the dishes. Such sentiments encompass the plates on which the food is arranged, or room decorations, and it expands to include the Japanese culture as a whole, such as sake, ceramics and calligraphies. This story teaches us that such “Omotenashi no kokoro”, the heart of hospitality, is most important above all.
This story helps you get a deeper understanding of local cooking and arts that are rooted in each place and have been handed down from ancient times in Japan. But the underlying theme, human connections, is a universal subject that is believed to be relevant anywhere in the world. It is something everyone in any nation has, and this story is trying to convey its message through Japanese culture.