Apologies for being away so long. If I haven’t been on this thread, I haven’t been on the Forum itself.
As always, thanks to Hisashi for explanations of many related aspects of Japanese food, past and present, military or not. These encourage me to find more about them, and also to look for broad similarities in other armies or societies. Such comparisons may help better understanding, especially in an international Forum.
- Of course there is natural chance of mistakes, but I am learning better how to judge sources and use them with due caution. Not only about food or military -– this problem happens in many English-language general writings about Japan..
It makes me re-read and re-write many times before I post. But discussion is better for it, to whatever degree. Indeed, this is true for many long-running threads. Just as Marcus noted that international members can use this Forum to improve their general English conversation, so I too have learned on it how to write better.
Even for an audience I have never actually been sure of, but happy to write for. With the invaluable help of Hisashi as teacher, I always imagined the size of his ‘class’ here is larger than it seems.
hisashi wrote:. . . Shellfish, shrimp, and squids are typical ingredients of 'Seafood Curry' in Japan. Streamlined fish with spine have been cooked in more traditional style. In other words, we do not care fish in stew have bones, but we feel inconvenient if we have bones in curry rice.
This seems to fit the quote about kare raisu
as a favorite easy meal that many Japanese enjoy in casual setting. The concept has became known as “comfort food” in the US, though I don’t know if there are similar terms in other countries. Often, comfort foods are the common home-cooked dishes that a person (or people) liked when growing up. These are wanted with no inconvenience in cooking or eating them
Richer dishes of washoku
(Japanese cuisine) may have traditional rules of serving and eating, and fish bones may be expected in them. But curry comes from yoshoku
(Western cuisine) and thus does not have such rules? It can be easily cooked, and casually eaten. What first made curry convenient for military meals, does so today for modern civilians.
The meat version seems the more common picture of Japanese curry, even here in this thread, whether in old IJA/IJN days or today. I suppose Japanese seafood curries also date back to then, even if not as well-known to foreigners? For one thing, I had imagined it as one way to cover the taste of unpopular whale meat, if used for that.
This difference Hisashi told about fish bones also sounds a little like a difference between officers’ and soldiers’ meals in garrison. Or maybe more so, the difference between officers’ and sailors’ meals in the Navy? That is, officers' meals had finer dishes, but which were less convenient to cook and serve –- including cuts of meat or fish with bones. On the other hand, enlisted men’s meals were quickly cooked in large amounts, so they had to be more convenient by nature –- and boneless.
hisashi wrote:Bodara (tara stick), salted and dried pollack, is a typical Japanese preserve food which needs steepening [in water] . . . In military or not they must wait a day or so to remove salt.
sounds close to stockfish
from northern Europe, dating back to the Middle Ages -– and is probably just as old?
- Originally stokkfish in Scandinavia, stockfish was cod preserved by cold dry wind (but not needing salt). If kept dry, it lasted for long time like hardtack biscuits. But one telling says that in return, it had to be well-beaten with a hammer, scraped, then soaked in butter or mustard. Whether in Japan or Europe, preserving cheapest salt meats or fish was a seasonal protein reserve that survives in modern cuisines.
Food histories are often happy, but not always. The salt cod (bacalhau) common today in Caribbean and Brazilian cuisine was also cheap food for African slaves shipped to those colonies for hard labor. Colonial New England also exported salt cod to Europe, and in both places it was a commoner’s food. Probably bodara was also common in old Japan the same way? And for the same reasons, it would be good for soldiers’ rations.
I haven’t yet found the reference from a Japanese officer, saying that each IJA field soldier packed a small piece of dried fish as emergency ration(?) If so, this sounds comparable to the iron rations of Western armies, normally eaten only when ordered by their officers.
hisashi wrote:My late mother (born in 1932) told me of prewar life; if they bought a salted salmon or amberjack as a whole, they at first picked it with a dish under its bottom. Dips of salt, with fish oil, poured out of strongly salted fish. For a few day they waited to eat them and enjoyed salty oil with bowls of rice.
We in the Philippines do similar but with small salted sardines we call tuyo
. These are typically cooked with vinegar, lime juice, or oil. Sometimes a little of the latter gets spooned onto the rice –- as I remember my own late mother did too (1925-2008).
- I would expect to find the same done in other parts of rural SE Asia. Often, anyone living on certain basic foods, with few extras, will tend to cook them in similar ways. Ordinary civilians and common soldiers historically ate simple diets. From their viewpoint, a flavored oil dressing might be a small treat, that would stand out in memory this way.
That might be why Hisashi and I remember our mothers liking them, in those days when food was less luxurious than now. So, too, might IJA field soldiers of that time, coming from backgrounds harder than those of today.
hisashi wrote:Many diaries written in the front would be lost. But so many military men wrote recall after the war. But any piece of the writing justifying the war or showing sympathy to the war would bring dispute in, so many of them were privately published and circulated among veterans, families, etc. But still huge amount of them survived. For military buffs, the real problem is that they have not been intended for them. So many recalls refer mainly of individuals the author owe or made friend, and spend too little lines on those wanted by military buffs.
I was not sure if the soldier/sailor’s diary might be a thread on its own, because it might be short.
- In the quote from Kanagaki Robun about eating meat, it might reflect only the audience who heard his monologue –- indeed, it seemed written for that audience. By comparison, soldiers and sailors were a wider sample of Japanese men at the time. They could neither choose what they ate, nor make their opinions public. Although they would have enjoyed the meat dishes served to them, I cannot see if they thought of those as progressive, parallel to Kanagaki.
Diaries would seem to be the place for such feelings, whether about food or anything else.
- I imagined it difficult to search them in large enough numbers, just for chance of this one thought, even if it was possible. And even then, those would be in widely-scattered short mentions. But, it is noticeable that enough was written about IJA / IJN food in veterans’ recalls -- even the relative few translations quoted in this thread (with more to come).
However, memoirs naturally have more benefit of their authors’ reflections, because diaries are written more about moments soon after they happened. For my part, I know only one author (Yokota Yutaka) whose memoir was based directly on his diaries, but there must be many others in Japanese.
Earlier here I made a rough comparison between soldiers’ meals and electric lighting at home
as measure of modernity for IJA draftees of a certain time, This is similar to looking for average men’s opinions of their army/navy food.
- When I compared IJA draftees to those of WW1 US Army, it was because military buffs (in US, also) might not look at the sociology of those draftees. It’s similar to what Hisashi said about their low interest in veterans’ memoirs.
Americans as a people are long used to abundance, and their self-image of it. They often forget (in both past and present) that their abundance is not always distributed evenly. So it may be hard for them, or even strange, to think of a US draftee impressed by his rations in 1917-18. Instead, military buffs usually know many jokes, slang, and rude songs about army food when it was not good.
Hisashi noted for us that Japanese military of all ranks were relatively poor compared to European living standard. In turn, European soldiers were relatively poor to American ones then, especially in food rations. From this viewpoint it may be hardest for today’s US military buffs to truly understand an IJA soldier liking his simple food.
In all the old armies, every recruit left his home and went to new living conditions of a training base or fort. In wartime, he left his fort and went to new conditions at the front, or at sea. He kept lasting impressions of them, great or small -- whether or not he wrote them in a diary or memoir.
hisashi wrote:. . . It is true that from Buddhism moral government of the day had ordered ban on [meat] eating, but . . . [because of its strict practices,] until the last phase of medieval era Buddhist could not come into common peoples' life. It is not a balanced view to believe Japaneses in general kept out of meat-eating from Buddhist belief.
It did seem not balanced, so I quoted it with a certain skepticism of general saying -- not sure if that comes out clearly. Unfortunately this is a common pitfall of general history about many things. But maybe more so about Japanese history and culture, both military and not. Especially in English, where any such mistakes can be carried on into future writings.
- In fact, the quote from Kanagaki Robun is my only direct Japanese quote saying Buddhism opposed meat-eating. Although valuable as satire, one quote is not authoritative of course.
But although hard to prove, I daresay there were probably enough people in Kanagaki’s audience at the time who agreed with him. Otherwise, his monologue could not have worked. Satire depends on being easily understood –- apart from whether or not it is true, or agreed upon.
Compared to meat, there is enough balanced study solely about rice in Japan, from Japanese sources and published in English too (but I imagine far more is written about it in Japanese). More white rice for more people was seen as a good thing.
- Yet at the time, might eating more red meat have had some social controversy? Say, between older and younger generations of Japanese at the time. I suppose this because in 1880s-1900s, Japan’s modernization would be widespread enough to have such controversies –- as often happens in any developing country. If so, Kanagaki Robun likely saw some of it, since he lived from 1829-1894.
A few recent Western military history authors have also based their work on such study and research in Japan, using Japanese sources. Some cultural/food historians did similarly, much quoted here in this thread. But even their good perspectives may not reach into many fine points of a specialized thread like ours.
Earlier, we saw how and why the IJA increased meat in its food ration. When a people’s basic diet is improved like this -- beyond subsistence -- one author broadly supposed that it raises their ambition as a nation, along with birthrate and general health.
- In medieval Europe the advent of the moldboard plow and three-field crop rotation of beans with grains led to more food and better food. This helped raise the continental population, including that of military-age men, for the crusades and empires that followed.
Mongol conquests across Eurasia may have been helped by their wide use of dried meat and preserved horse milk, which is richer than cow milk. On the wide scale, the author compared this with the dynamism of other pastoral, nomadic peoples who ate meat and dairy.
(Tannahill, Food in History revised edition, pages 122 and 157)
Could it be said that dietary improvements helped “fuel” a rising Imperial Japan, at least on a smaller and shorter scale in the military? And later also, a Japan rebuilding in its postwar boom? In prewar the IJA / IJN had led in this, but in postwar they left a legacy in school lunch meals and some popular dishes.