Japanese Mothers and Obentos: The Lunch-Box as Ideological State Apparatus

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Japanese Mothers and Obentos: The Lunch-Box as Ideological State Apparatus by Mind Map: Japanese Mothers and Obentos: The Lunch-Box as Ideological State Apparatus


1.1. "obentos are highly crafted elaborations of food...Mothers tend to expend inordinate time and attention on these obentos in efforts to both please their children and to affirm that they are good mothers" (Allison 250)

1.2. "the practice of the obento situates the producer as a women and mother, the consumer, as a child of a mother and a student of a school...Both mother and child are being watched, judged, and constructed" (Allison 250)

1.3. "obento as a routine, task, and art form of nursery school culture are endowed with ideological and gendered meanings that the state indirectly manipulates" (Allison 251)

1.4. "pleasure and creativity for both mother and child are also products of the obento" (Allison 251)


2.1. "How we see reality...is also how we live it...the conventions by which we recognize our universe are also those by which each of us assumes our place and behavior within that universe. Culture is...doubly constructive: constructing both the world for people and people for specific worlds" (Allison 251)

2.2. "Louis Althusser...has encouraged the conceptualization of power as a force which operates in ways that are subtle, disguised, and accepted as everyday social practice" (Allison 251)

2.3. "two major structures of power in modern capitalist societies...(Repressive) State Apparatus (SA)...power that the state wields and manages primarily through the threat of force. Here the state sanctions the usage of power and repression through such legitimized mechanisms as the law and police....a second structure of power- Ideological State Apparatus (es) (ISA). These are insitutions which have some overt function other than a political and/or administrative one" (Allison 251)

2.4. "the ISA exert power not primarily through repression but through ideology. Designed and accepted as practices with another purpose...the ISA serve not only their stated objective but also an unstated one - that of indoctrinating people into seeing the world a certain way and of acccepting certain identities as their own within that world" (Allison 251)

2.5. "Disguised and screened by another operation, the power of ideology in ISA can be both more far-reaching and insidious than the SA's power of coercion" (Allison 251)

2.6. "ideology is so potent because it becomes not only ours but us - the terms and machinery by which we structure ourselves and identify who we are" (Allison 251)


3.1. "As has been remarked often about Japanese food, the key element is appearance...Presentation is critical: not to the extent that taste and nutrition are displaced...but to the degree that how food looks is at least as important as how it tasted and how good and sustaining it is for one's body" (Allison 252)

3.2. "Nothing large is allowed, so portions are all cut to be bite-sized, served in small amounts on tiny individual dishes, and are arranged...in an array of small, separate containers" (Allison 252)

3.3. "Visually, food substances are presented according to a structural principle not only of segmentation but also of opposition. Foods are broken or cut to make contrasts of color, texture, and shape...This oppositional code operates not only within and between the foodstuffs themselves, but also between the attributes of the food and those of the containers in or on which they are placed" (Allison 252)

3.4. "The container is as important as what is contained in Japanese cuisine, but it is really the containment that is stressed, that is, how food has been (re) constructed and (re) arranged from nature to appear, in both beauty and freshness, perfectly natural...the injunction is not only to retain as much as possible, the innate naturalness of ingredients...but also to recreate in prepared food the promise and appearance of being 'natural'" (Allison 252)

3.5. "This naturalization of food is rendered...by constantly hinting at and appropriating the nature that comes from outside....[and] to accentuate and perfect the preparation process to such an extent that the food appears not only to be natural, but more nearly perfect than nature...Thus, by naturalization, nature is not only taken in by Japanese cuisine, but taken over" (Allison 252)

3.6. "It is this ability to appropriate 'real' nature...and to stamp the human reconstruction of that nature as 'natural' that lends Japanese food its potential for cultural and ideological manipulation" (Allison 252)

3.7. "The first order of language...thus emptied of its original meaning, is converted into an empty form by which it can assume a new, additional, second order of signification...however, the primary meaning is never lost. Rather, it remains and stands as an alibi , the cover under which the second, politicized meaning can hide" (Allison 252)

3.8. "Overarching all these more detailed codings are two that guide the making and ideological appropriation of the nursery school obentos most directly: (1) there is an order tot he food; a right way to do things, with everything in its place coordinated with every other, and (2) the one who prepares the food takes on the responsibility of producing food to the standards of perfection and exactness that Japanese cuisine demands...In these two rules is a message both about social order and the role gender plays in sustaining and nourishing that order" (Allison 251)


4.1. "rituals and routines surrounding obentos in Japanese nursery schools present, as it were, a third order, manipulation. This order is a use of a currency already established - one that has already appropriated a language of utility...to express and implant cultural behaviors" (Allsion 253)

4.2. "In modern capitalist societies such as Japan, it is the school...which assumes the primary role of ideological state apparatus" (Allison 253)

4.3. "knowledge and ideology become fused, and education emerges as the apparatus for pedagogical and ideological indoctrination" (Allison 253)

4.4. "In practice, as school teaches children how and whit to think, it also shapes them for the roles and positions they will later assume as adult members of the society...Knowledge thus is not only socially constructed, but also differentially acquired according to who one is or will be in the political society one will enter in later years" (Allison 253)

4.5. "The role of the state in Japanese education is not limited...to such extensive but codified authorities granted tot he Ministry of Education. Even more powerful is the principle of the 'gakureki shakkai' (lit. academic pedigree society) by which careers of adults are determined by the schools they attend as youths...school attendance has become the single most important determinant of who will achieve the most desirable positions in industry, government, and the professions" (Allison 253)

4.6. "Learning to follow directions, do as one is told...are social imperatives, sanctioned by the state, and taught in the schools" (Allison 254)


5.1. "The nursery school stands outside the structure of compulsory education in Japan...though not compelled by the state, a greater proportion of the three-to six-year-old population in Japan attends preschool than in any other industrialized nation" (Allison 254)

5.2. "the yochien (nursery school) is widely perceived as instructional, not necessarily in a formal curriculum but more in indoctrination to attitudes and structure of Japanese schooling...Children learn...how to become a Japanese student, and both parts of this formula - Japanese and student - are equally stressed" (Allison 254)

5.3. "the rules and patterns of 'group living'..., a Japanese social ideal that is reiterated nationwide by political leaders, corporate management, and marriage counselors, is first introduced to the child in nursery school. The entry into nursery school marks a transition both away from home and into the 'real world', which is generally judged to be difficult, even traumatic, for the Japanese child" (Allison 254)

5.4. "The obento is intended to ease a child's discomfiture and to allow a child's mother to manufacture something of herself and the home to accompany the child as s/he moves into the potentially threatening outside world...By producing something from the home, a mother both girds and goads her child to face what is inevitable in the world that lies beyond" (Allison 254)

5.5. "The obento is filled with the meaning of mother and home in a number of ways. The first is by sheer labor...Such labor is intended for the child but also the mother: it is a sign of a woman's commitment as a mother and her inspiring her child to being similarly committed as a student. The obento is thus a representation of what the mother is and what the child should become" (Allison 254)

5.6. "To ease a youngster into these upcoming...routines, yochien obentos are designed to be pleasing and personal. The obento is also designed, however, as a test for the child...A structure already filled with a signification of mother and home is then emptied to provide a new form: one now also written with the ideological demands of being a member of Japanese culture as well as a viable and successful Japanese in the realms of school and later work" (Allison 255)

5.7. "what once had been externally enforced now became ideologically desirable; the everyday practices had moved from being alien...to familiar....adhering to routines such as completing one's obento on time leads to not only admonisment from the teacher, but rejection from other students" (Allison 255)

5.8. "about ideology: the mechanism works when and because ideas about the world and particular roles in that world serve other...agendas that become familiar and one's own...what is taught and learned in nursery school is social order...it means organization into a group where a person's subjectivity is determined by a group membership and not 'the assumption of choice and rational self-interest'" (Allison 256)

5.9. "when the desires and routines of the school are made into the desires and routines of the child, they are made acceptable" (Allison 256)


6.1. "While the two sets of meanings are intertwined, the mother is faced with different expectations in the preparation of the obento than the child is in its consumption...The bonus for her is getting the child to consume what she has made, and the general attitude is that this is far more the mother's responsibilitiy...than the child's" (Allison 256)

6.2. "the obento is but one aspect of the far more expansive and continuous commitment a mother is expected to make for and to her child...Mothers who manage the home and children, often in virtual absence of a husband/father, are considered the factor that make or break a child as s/he advances towards that pivotal point of the entrance examinations...If the child succeeds, a mother is complimented; if the child fails, a mother is blamed" (Allison 257)

6.3. "Motherhood...is institutionalized through the child's school and such routines as making the obento as a full time, kept-at-home job...her experience doing this becomes a part of her and a statement, in some sense, of who she is...An obento therefore is not only a gift or test for a child, but a representation and product of the woman herself" (Allison 257)

6.4. "females in Japan are highly pressured and encouraged to assume as domestic manager, mother, and wife, there is, besides the endless and onerous responsibilities, also an opportunity for play...women will find play and creativity not outside their social roles but within them" (Allison 257)

6.5. "it is precisely through this work that the woman expresses, identifies, and constitutes herself" (Allison 258)

6.6. "The intense labor, management, commodification, and attentiveness that go into the making of an obento laces it...with many and various meanings. Overarching all is the potential to aestheticize a certain social order, a social order which is coded....as Japanese...the obento's message is that the world is constructed very precisely and that the role of any single Japanese in that world must be carried out with the same degree of precision" (Allison 259)

6.7. "The message is also that it is women, not men, who are not only sustaining a child through food but carrying the ideological support of the culture that this food embeds...The male is assigned a position in the outside world where he labors at a job for money and is expected to be primarily identified by and committed to his place of work...Females have remained at and as the center of home in Japan and this message too is explicitly transmitted in both the production and consumption of entirely female-produced obento" (Allison 259)

6.8. "a gendered division of labor is firmly set in place...females become a source of cheap labor, as they are increasingly forced to enter the labor market to pay domestic costs...yet are increasingly constrained to low-paying part time jobs because of the domestic duties they must also bear" (Allison 259)

6.9. "Motherhood is a state ideology, working through children at home and at school and through such mother-imprinted labor that a child carries from home to school as with the obento...Concealed within such cultural practices as culinary style and child-focused mothering, is a world-view in which the position and behavior an adult with assume has everything to do with the anatomy she/he was born with" (Allison 259)