Themed Thursday: The Role of Food in Korean and Japanese dramas

Bibimbap, Kimchi, Jjigae, various Banchan

Food is one of my favorite drama genres. When you watch a lot of dramas, one after another, it is easy for all the languages and cultural nuances to fade into the background. Food is always a reminder that I am watching something unique about each of these cultures and there is always something new to learn from them.

Here in America food is not often a part of television shows. When I was new to Asian drama watching, I was absolutely thrilled that they had entire dramas that revolve around food. I wanted to spend some time to reflect on the role of food in Japanese and Korean dramas. Food has been used in many different ways in Asian dramas but here are 4 ways I like to categorize them.

Food as a comedic element

My Girlfriend is a Gumiho (2010)

Food and eating scenes have often been used in comedic settings. In Korean shows, it is not uncommon to see individuals devour large quantities of food. The most memorable one was in one of my first dramas, My Girlfriend is a Gumiho. The heroine is a fox and has an voracious appetite for meat, specifically “cow”, as she likes to call it. The comedy that ensues as the, broke hero, tries to keep up with her insatiable hunger was a significant part of plot and definitely the most humorous.

Another drama, where food played a major role, was the Japanese comedy 1 Pound no Fukin (2008) about a boxer whose greatest weakness is food. We learn that, despite being a good athlete, he often loses matches because he is unable to concentrate on the match when he sees food. A big part of the drama is about him trying to overcome this challenge.

Food as the backdrop or setting

Oh My Ghostess (2010)

Sometimes food becomes part of the background or setting of the show. In these cases, large parts of the show, takes place is restaurants or bakeries. Making food might not be the focus but there is always food around. Both Oh My Ghostess and Flower Boy Ramen Shop are set is restaurants where one lead teaches the other to cook.

Flower Boy Ramen Shop (2011)

 

 

 

Antique (2001)  is one of the most visually appealing food shows out there. A combination of good-looking guys, delicious looking pastries, with a hint of mystery. The recent popular Japanese drama, A Girl and 3 Sweethearts (2016), focused on the business aspects of food where all main characters were involved in different aspects of running the restaurant.

 

Food for Pleasure

Let’s Eat (2013)

This might be my favorite use of food in dramas. Sometimes eating scenes are used to show the pure pleasure of enjoying good food. Let’s Eat is the one of that first dramas that come to mind when a K-Drama fan thinks of the genre. This show is often called “food-porn”. Just as it sounds, you get to watch people eat delicious food for 16 episodes as they argue about how each meal is best enjoyed.

Splash Splash Love (2015)

This is one of my favorite dramas. Splash Splash Love isn’t about food but it has some of the most memorable scenes of individuals enjoying food. This is a time-travel love story about a high schooler who ends up in the Joseon Era. She spends time teaching the king mathematics. In two separate incidents, the girl introduces the king and the queen to modern, instant food. The looks of surprise and enjoyment on their faces as the king tries instant noodles and the queen tteokbokki (Spicy rice cakes) are absolutely precious.

As K-Drama fans might notice, both these dramas star my ultimate K-Pop bias, Yoon Doo Joon of Highlight, a real-life foodie. I find so much pleasure in enjoying a good meal so it makes me greatly happy when I see others feel the same way.

Food as the Heart of the Drama

Finally we have those shows where food is the heart and soul of the drama. These are dramas that really represent the food culture of these places. It provides the viewer with insight into the role of food in the lives of people. Here are three dramas that have taught me a lot about food.                                                                                                                              

Fermentation Family (2011)

Fermentation Family is about a restaurant that specializes in kimchi (spicy fermented cabbage). Every episode begins with the story of a different type of kimchi and the parallels between the dish and the lives of the characters.

Shinya Shukodo (2009) is one of the most well-known Japanese dramas and has spanned 4  seasons. It is about a diner that opens at midnight. The eatery has no menu and features only one dish per night. Every episode tells the story of one of the diner’s patrons as it relates to that night’s special dish.

Gochisousan (2013) translates to “thank you for the meal.” It tells the heart-warming story of one’s woman’s love and passion for food. The drama follows her life from childhood to old-age as she moves from one region of Japan to another and tries to incorporate both cultures into her cooking.

The essence of the story is captured by a quote, “To crave for food is to have the will to live; the stronger the craving the greater the will.”

These are just some of the dramas that have watched. There are so many more to watch. I am always happy to get to at least know about some of these foods that I might never have a chance to experience in real-life.

Do you like food dramas? What makes them so enjoyable to you?

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Yaoi: Boys’ Love and the Women Who Love Them- Part 2

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Yaoi Manga  
                             Courtesy: Danny Choo                                   https://www.flickr.com/photos/dannychoo/8276325511

 

Yaoi/ BL (Boys’ Love) is not without criticism. Not all these stories are happy and rosy. In fact, one of the biggest criticisms of BL is that they are often tragedies. When looking for reviews one of the first things viewers ask is, “Does it have a happy ending?” More than half the time the answer is no.

Personally, I find them to be still worth watching because the stories are just so touching. When I need a good cry, nothing does it better than a good Yaoi love story. Yesterday I took the plunge and started watching the Thai drama special, Grey Rainbow. In terms of cinematography and acting, its probably the best I have seen in BL. But I am preparing myself for the tears.

Rape and other violent sexual acts are not uncommon in BL works. The Chinese drama/ novel Addicted is a good example of violence in relationships. As a society, we consider this unacceptable behavior, yet Addicted is one of the most popular BL dramas out there.

I think this is because aggressive behavior among 2 men is easier to accept for many people. It has to do with the power dynamics. You have 2 men considered to have  equal amounts of  power. In the case of a heterosexual relationship, the distribution is not balance and the woman is often considered “weaker.” This allows women to further distance themselves from the violence and see it as slightly less disturbing than when the aggressive behavior is directed towards a woman, like themselves.

If BL involves such aggressive and almost violent themes, why is it still appealing to so many? BL is definitely targeted towards women and is therefore written to appeal to their ideas of love and relationships. BL works tend to follow the, “I-hurt-you-only-because-I-love-you” trope. Despite being an aggressive individual, the seme (“top”) is often portrayed as being actually kind and caring towards his partner. I know that I keep citing Addicted as an example but this is another case where it is a good example.

In order to cater to this fantasy of a loving relationship, we are often provided with plenty of fan-service in the form of happy and fun BTS scenes. Viewers can continue their fantasies, often “shipping” the actors in real life. There is also plenty of fan fiction written about the most popular BL couples.

There might be plenty of “deep” psychological reasons that women enjoy BL but as I see it, at the core, its a form of light erotica. Its no wonder that it appeals to women when most of the porn out there is definitely not made for them. Sometimes the viewer just wants to watch 2 guys get it on. As one viewer said “The sex is just hotter.”

Not all BL works include sex scenes. Very often all you get is one kiss scene. But the more intense the scenes, the more popular the shows tend to be. Any BL story you find on YouTube will have associated, fan-made, “hot scenes” videos to go with it. I will admit that I have watched such videos multiple times and enjoyed them.

I am sure there are many more reasons out there for the popularity of  Yaoi/ BL. Whatever one’s reasons for enjoying them are, there are others who share your thoughts. I find the BL lovers community to be pretty open and inviting much like any K-Pop fandoms. The growing popularity and increased output of BL works shows that this genre is here to stay. And as a BL lover, that’s good news because the quality keeps improving.

This was not an easy piece to write considering that many of us hide the fact that we even like Yaoi/ BL. But I am a curious person and I want to know more. Share your thoughts. Why do you like BL?

Yaoi: Boys’ Love and the Women Who Love Them- Part 1

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“Yaoi, primarily known as Boys’ Love (BL) in Japan, is a Japanese genre of fictional media focusing on romantic or sexual relationships between male characters, typically marketed for a female audience and usually created by female authors.”
-Wikipedia

Let me start off by clarifying that I am a fan of Yaoi/ BL works. They have given me some of sweetest romances (Lovesick- The Series) and most realistic portrayals of relationships (Gay OK Bangkok 1 & 2). Lately I have been on a BL spree. I set aside all my other dramas and K-Pop to devote all my free time to reading and watching BL works; everything from Chinese novel translations to movies and dramas.

I am not new to the BL fandom. I started with the Thai drama Lovesick a few years ago and could not get enough of that show. As I consumed more BL works I started to wonder, “Why do I love this stuff?” And it wasn’t just me. There seemed to be a whole community that loved this sub-genre of Asian entertainment and I wanted to know why.

I had some ideas about why I enjoyed it but there had to more to it. I took to the internet to find some ideas. It seems like I am not the only one thinking about why women are drawn to Yaoi and BL works. There is even academic interest in the matter. What started as a niche market in Japan is now popular among (mostly) heterosexual females around the world.

Here I wanted to share my personal experience with Boys’ Love and some of the other opinions I found particularly compelling. These are just popular opinions and I know there are many more out there that I haven’t touched upon. This is a very complex question so I will have to split my post into 2 parts.

The most common reason people gave for enjoying BL is that they can enjoy unique plot-lines. Many Asian drama viewers found the romance to get repetitive after watching quite a few dramas (non-BL). As a person who has watched over 150 Asian dramas, I could not agree more. BL provides diversity within the romance genre.

I watch romance to fulfill my, true-love-conquers-all, fantasy and in the typical rom-com there wasn’t much to “conquer” in order to get to the happily every after. Disapproving parents, evil second-leads, and amnesia got old. By now I have a good idea of how these challenges are going to be overcome. I needed something more exciting.

Compared to a typical drama couple, the homosexual couple seem to have much bigger challenges. Characters have a lot of struggles as they try to come to terms with their sexuality. And even after that they have to deal with a society that their relationship forbidden. As a person who enjoys watching the internal conflict within characters, I tend to be a fan of most taboo drama tropes; be it age-gap relationships or affairs. BL works give me exactly what I am looking for. The bigger the challenges, the more satisfying a happy ending is.

Let’s talk about the BL characters. It is almost expected that the main leads in a Yaoi story are good looking. Why settle for one cute guy when you can get double the eye-candy in a BL drama or movie?

While a BL story gives you 2 hot men, it also takes away the, often annoying, female lead. I, for one, find myself unable to relate to most drama heroines because of their nonsensical behavior. I am sure there are other viewers that feel the same.  For others, who relate to the female lead, they tend to constantly compare themselves to her. Their fantasy bubble bursts when they realize that the “knight in shining armor” is only going to fall for the unrealistic heroine. You take out that female lead and replace it with another male; problem solved.

Yaoi distances the female viewer from the on-screen relationship and they become a third party watching the romance happen. After all if the leads are only going to fall for men, you cannot compare or compete. This does not mean the viewer has to be completely detached. BL stories often have a seme (“top”) and an uke (“bottom”) and allows the viewer an option to be drawn to one or the other.

To Be Contin-ewed…

If you watch Yaoi/ BL and want to share your experience, please do so in the comments. I want to know more.