On the week of International Women’s Day, I’d like to share some fun links about one of my favorite subjects: the intersection of food and gender.
First is Felicity Hughes’s “New-Style Ramen Targets Female Noodle-Lovers,” which ran in Japan Pulse on 5 March 2011. Hughes discusses the recent boom in “ramen for women”: both ramen shops’ attempts to attract female customers and ramen shops/menu items that are reported to be popular with women. Ramen has the image of being “men’s food”—I remember the crowds of salarymen gathering outside the ramen stands at Hirakata Station but never saw any women in their ranks. Since the way we think about food is, in part, due to gender socialization, seeing how restaurants attempt to draw in a female clientele is a lesson in gender-based marketing. On one hand, I’d be happy to be able to enjoy ramen without fear of a sodium-induced heart attack; on the other, I find the dishes meant to target female customers play into societal pressures on women concerning youth, beauty, and cuteness.
Because there is a difference between marketing and consumption (we are not passive receptors of marketing, after all), I decided to check out the Women’s Ramen Club (女性ラーメン部) blog, the online version of the eponymous magazine. The blog, which contains over 50 reviews of ramen restaurants, is written by magazine editor Kiyori Matsumori, guitarist mitchy, and fabric-store owner Amano Sachiko and is “a blog for women who love ramen to introduce this food.”
One particularly interesting line in a review was that a restaurant has “a menu with women in mind” (女子を意識したメニュー ). Judging from the reviews written, a female-friendly shop has a good atmosphere, a fairly balanced sex-ratio (read: feels safe), and creative, healthy fare. There’s even a category on the side-bar to read reviews of restaurants owned by women (女性店主).
I admire the work of the Women’s Ramen Club to break into this male-dominated field, but I see no reason why men shouldn’t also want to enjoy healthy, interesting ramen or want to patronize female-run businesses. This is an excellent resource for Japanese-speakers regardless of sex, and I know where I’ll be researching restaurants for my next trip to Kanto.