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

Anne Allison
Anthropological Quarterly
Vol. 64, No. 4, Gender and the State in Japan (Oct., 1991), pp. 195-208
DOI: 10.2307/3317212
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3317212
Page Count: 14
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Japanese Mothers and Obentōs: The Lunch-Box as Ideological State Apparatus
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Abstract

Obentōs are boxed lunches Japanese mothers make for their nursery school children. Following Japanese codes for food preparation-multiple courses that are aesthetically arranged-these lunches have a cultural order and meaning. Using the obentō as a school ritual and chore-it must be consumed in its entirety in the company of all the children-the nursery school also endows the obentō with ideological meanings. The child must eat the obentō; the mother must make an obentō the child will eat. Both mother and child are being judged; the subjectivities of both are being guided by the nursery school as an institution. It is up to the mother to make the ideological operation entrusted to the obentō by the state-linked institution of the nursery school, palatable and pleasant for her child, and appealing and pleasurable for her as a mother.

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