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Emmaline Cotter
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A Compendium of Beloved Blogs from the Literary Food Community
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Dean Wong "Seeing the Light" Book Launch at Wing Luke Museum
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Open Call: Submit to Ghosts of Seattle Past until April 30th
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Hurricane Story revisited
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TexMextern Reviews: Masculinity in the Time of Cholera
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SIFF Special: Most Likely to Manipulate
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A Tale of Two Noodles
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Spine Poetry
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It's Time We Started Talking About Section Break Markers
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Kodawari Can Render the Prosaic Profound
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The High Art of Smelling Books
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Pike Place Location Opening and Lizard Telepathy Fox Telepathy Open House
Staff
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Indie Book Publisher Opens Office/Retail Space in Seattle's Pike Place Market
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Q&A with "A Commonplace Book of Pie" Author Kate Lebo and Illustrator Jessica Lynn Bonin
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Viewed Sideways: a collection of essays by Donald Richie
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Review: The Beautiful One Has Come (Suzanne Kamata)
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The JET Program's Finest Hour
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Chin Music Press
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Blog Entry
Kodawari Can Render the Prosaic Profound
Cali Kopczick
August 27, 2014

Whats your kodawari? The word, a Japanese term literally meaning obsession but carrying connotations of incredibly specific personal tastes, seems to have a sort of magical power. Creating or consuming something according to your kodawari can make even the most ordinary aspect of your day a matter of deep importance, high ritual. Take, for example, gourmet rāmen. In an article this spring from Satomi Fukutomi, a researcher from the Center for International Studies at the University of St. Thomas,* the author proposes that the kodawari of producers and consumers alike are responsible for the elevation of the humble rāmen dish to a gourmet status.

In the article Bottom-up Food: Making Rāmen a Gourmet Food in Tokyo, Fukutomi divides Japanese rāmen joints into three categories: old school, new wave, and franchise. While franchises are seen as nothing more than factory-line fast food, and new wave shops drive towards a more stylish, upscale kind of rāmen, the old school is where kodawari really comes into play. At a hole-in-the-wall rāmen shop, the owners deep dedication to their craft turns the simple, traditionally lower-class dish into a profound and personal aesthetic statement. Kodawari could come out in the way the chef greets the customers, the way the tables are arranged, or even the way the ingredients are smattered into the pot.

In response, Fukutomi says, rāmen aficionados (sometimes called raota, or rāmen otaku) are guided by their own kodawari in responding to the dishes. Take a moment to parse that out, because in todays world of factory production and mass consumerism, thats a pretty big deal. Rāmen aficionados, in following their kodawari, are following their personal tastes and methodologies rather than culturally-guided ideas about whats hip, delicious, or worthy of reverence. Thus, an entire community of aesthetics and ritual springs up around what might otherwise be a blip on the day-to-day radar, a cultural throwaway. Customers line up for hours to eat a (very) quick bowl of noodles; chefs obsess about the volume of customer greetings and the arrangement of garnishes; and together they shape a rāmen culture that defies culinary logic.

But what about the world outside of rāmen? What about the world outside Japan? Kodawari is a Japanese term for a Japanese concept, and its hard to say offhand that theres quite the same ethos in America. Then again, the idea of foodies avidly pursuing unique dining experiences, and of offbeat, artisanal restaurants that take the long way around for the sake of their principles, thats something you can find all over the world. Is it still kodawari? And if so, how are the kodawari of artisans and consumers popping up outside Japan? In America, we might point to the coffee brewers of Seattle, pizza pie rivalries on the East Coast, or the obsessive and idiosyncratic ways of Southern barbecue culture. Theyre points of regional pride, sure, but viewed as manifestations of kodawari they become even more. They become an experiential, lived, (delicious) democracy. As Fukutomi implies with the title of the article, the adherence to personal taste adds up in a bottom-up account of cultural tastes and preferences. If not everybodys kodawari aligns, having kodawari in respect to something at least marks that something as worthwhile and meaningful, and when many people have kodawari for something, it becomes a cultural touchstone as well as a platform for deep and personal interaction with the world and people around you.

Do you have kodawari for something? Do you think its a transferable concept across cultures? Discuss.

*Satomi Fukutomi (2014) Bottom-up Food: Making Rāmen a Gourmet Food in Tokyo, Food and Foodways: Explorations in the History and Culture of Human Nourishment, 22:1-2, 65-89, DOI: 10.1080/07409710.2014.895563

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