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Goin’ Japanesque!

5 Select Food Anime or Manga Showing Transition in Japanese Society

This time I will introduce five food manga that reflect transition of era in Japan from the 1980s to recent years.

Please read this while imagining how Japanese people’s lives were at the time.


1. “Oishinbo”

1983 to 1990
The economic expansion in Japan was heating up toward a bubble economy! It was a time when people started looking for high-quality food.

Shiro Yamaoka and Yuko Kurita work in the culture section of Tozai Shimbun newspaper, and they are the main characters of the story.

Their newspaper starts a series of articles titled “The Ultimate Menu” to commemorate the company’s history but its rival newspaper Teito Shimbun starts “The Supreme Menu”.

The two newspaper companies have a history of rivalry and they start competing again in the Ultimate vs the Supreme Menu as well.

It was in 1983 that “Oishinbo” was first published.

Regenerated from the devastation of the World War II, Japan went through a steady economic expansion and the frenetic pace never showed any hint of slowdown.

This manga may reflect an aspect of such an era and many dishes that appear in this work use extremely high-quality ingredients.

This work is the origin of food manga in Japan, and it triggered a trend in the country for many people to seek gastronomic experience.


2. “Osen”

1990 to 2000
There came a time when people started showing renewed interest in traditional Japanese food.

The main character is Sen Handa, nicknamed as Osen, who is maître d’ of Issho-an, a long-established restaurant that serves traditional Japanese cuisine.

This manga features uniquely Japanese culture since the old days, particularly on Japanese food and ceramics that are related to serving food.

For the detail of this manga, please refer to my article in the past. Article on “Osen”

Around the 2000s when “Osen” was first published, the economy has shifted to a recession in Japan.

Food manga up to that point did not care about whether food was Western or Japanese, but works that cherish traditional Japanese ingredients and cooking like “Osen” started to appear.

The economic bubble has burst and people’s interest in food went back to the starting point, the traditional Japanese food.


3. “Meshibana Deka Tachibana”

Beginning of 2000
People started reconsidering food culture that suits their normal way of living.

“Tachibana”, a dull middle-aged detective of Josai Precinct is the main character.

He passionately talks about his burning interest in food involving his colleagues, bosses or suspects while he is off duty, in the lunch break, or even when he is questioning a perpetrator.

In this work discussion of cooking method is nowhere to be found.

All the food that appears in the story is either dishes served at real restaurant chains in Japan (e.g., “Gyudon (Beef Bowl)” at Yoshinoya) or commercially available food that can be easily purchased at supermarkets.

This manga is established on the theme of how to enjoy prepared dishes deliciously.

The Japanese economy is depressed and the number of single people is increasing, and this manga appears to reflect such an aspect of the modern society.


4. “Hana no Zubora-Meshi”

2000 to 2010
An era when scenes from ordinary people’s life started to receive more spotlight.

“Hana Komazawa”, a housewife, is the main character of the story, and her husband has moved away alone due to a business transfer.

She works part-time, but she is a homemaker.

Taking advantage of her husband’s absence and her living alone, she explores dishes that can be easily prepared with familiar ingredients around her but still taste great.

This story focuses on ingredients and dishes that everyone can readily obtain and cook.

And the character eats the dishes she prepared at home in a carefree manner without anyone watching it, thus not worrying about her manners.

This manga depicts scenes of what everyone has done at least once if they are living alone.


5. “Toriko”

Around 2010 to a recent year
Food manga moves to a new dimension.

The story unfolds in a time called Gourmet Era.

The earth is overflowing with various ingredients and dishes that have been created in this world are beyond our imagination in the reality.

A young chef Komatsu works at Hotel Gourmet in such a world and he starts an adventure in search of new ingredients with a famous gourmet called Toriko.

This work shows a further evolution of food manga.

Foodstuffs in the story are imaginary ingredients such as “fugu whale” and “regal mammoth”.

The story develops far beyond common sense; for example, one cooking involves an ingredient that attacks and kills the cook unless it is handled in a certain time limit, or another dish, when eaten, allows a lost arm to regenerate. 

And the biggest characteristic is that the story turns into a comic featuring battles, which is uniquely Japanese.

Since 2010, perhaps around the time of Toriko’s appearance, works featuring imaginary dishes and ingredients are on the rise (such as “Dungeon Meshi” and “Kutei Dragons”).


Even when we look at only food anime/manga, we can easily see that they are clearly reflecting the way Japanese society is and how it has changed.

Of course, you can say other anime and manga are also reflecting the mood of the society.

For those who wish to live or work in Japan in the future, just by watching anime and manga you can gain a very useful, realistic learning.

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Berial the Demon

About the author

It has been over 40 years of reading manga in the deep world of manga. Japan’s manga has an endlessly wide variety of genres. I will be recommending special manga for you to read from such infinite amount of works.

View all articles by Berial the Demon