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Essay

Gourmet television

By Patrick St. Michel

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The topic of TV can be a divisive one among Westerners living in Japan. Get a bunch of them together and bring up the topic, and you are sure to hear a lot of complaints about domestic broadcast options. One frequent complaint sticks out ― so many programs are just about food, and how delicious it is.

I agree with this observation, but it also happens to be the reason I enjoy tuning in to most Japanese TV programs. I want to see shots of delicious-looking dishes, and I get a kick out of people expressing their love for a perfectly cooked meal.

That’s one of the reasons I’ve spent the last two months tuning into Kodoku no Gurume (Solitary Gourmet) every Friday night around midnight on TV Tokyo. The show follows a middle-aged salaryman (played by actor Yutaka Matsushige) as he eats alone in restaurants. Inspired by a famous manga of the same name, it’s a simple concept that results in surprisingly captivating TV, and one that has become a hit on Twitter.

Part of that is because Matsushige is a funny performer, and can turn the internal monologue of a man chowing down on curry into captivating television. But I’ve been just as focused on the shots of the food itself, and the joy Matsushige’s character takes in eating every bite.

That Kodoku no Gurume highlights real places in Tokyo and beyond only makes it all the more exciting. I’ve actually trekked out to restaurants highlighted on the show to enjoy their food ― even if the wait to get in after the latest episode takes two hours or more.

And I’ve realized Kodoku is just the tip of the iceberg for me. All of my favorite Japanese shows devote at least some time to celebrating cuisine. When friends diss TV here for being too food-centric, I always wonder if something’s wrong with me. But really, I think they are just being too cynical and should embrace their belly more.

It’s not like Japan is the only place where food plays well on the small screen. The United States has two channels entirely devoted to food, with countless programs popping up elsewhere. One of the most praised shows on Netflix over the last few years, Chef’s Table, looks at world-famous chefs, and is full of stunning shots of fancy dishes. Then you have something like the popular Top Chef, a cooking competition centered entirely around who can make the tastiest and most visually stunning meal.

Maybe I’m alone among my friends here in loving food shows, but that’s fine as watching them makes me feel all the better. I just wish Kodoku No Gurume didn’t air at midnight ― it’s tough to find good food that late.

グルメ番組

日本に住む外国人の多くは「日本のテレビ番組は食べ物ばかりだ」と不満を言う。ところが、筆者はそんなグルメ番組が大好きで、最近は『孤独のグルメ』にはまっている。

The Japan Times ST: May 25, 2018

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2018年6月29日号    試読・購読   デジタル版
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