Who needs a roomful of people on New Year when one can happily eat alone? A Japanese TV program aspires to show just that.
In Japan, New Year’s Eve is often celebrated with families gathered around the television watching comedy or game shows. But this year, Japan offers its overworked, overwhelmed salarymen a temporary escape from harsh reality.
“The Solitary Gourmet” will air a New Year Eve’s special for the first time that features a character named Goro Inogashira who travels to the Setouchi and eats to his heart’s content without the cumbersome company of people.
Japan is a country notorious for overworking its employees. The expectation for men is to get high-paying jobs in companies and spend the rest of the days of their lives in the same office and their nights drinking at pubs with their superiors. Japanese salarymen hardly see their families during the week.
That is why Inogashira has become a role model for many Japanese people. The middle age man is a self-employed salesman of furniture imported from Europe and is free from the cumbersome responsibilities of a corporate life. He travels around the country selling his wares and when he gets hungry, stops at small eateries to relish the local cuisine. He even has a sweet tooth — something that is considered unmanly in Japanese society. He also asks the restaurant staff how to best eat his meal to get the maximum flavor out of each dish. His obvious enjoyment in food shows he is liberated from the demands of work and the audience can share in his enjoyment.
“Salarymen are corporate slaves who work tirelessly for their companies and their families,” said critic Ushio Yoshida, who works for Tokyo Shimbun newspaper. “But Inogashira has escaped this slavery. That's why he's a hero to many people.”
In the food-obsessed island, “The Solitary Gourmet” has helped remove some of the stigma surrounding eating alone.
Actor Yutaka Matsushige, who plays Inogashira, said he did not understand why people were so interested in watching a middle-aged man eating alone. He believes it’s the depiction of the slowly sizzling meat and steaming bowls of soup that is the star of the show. But for many people in Japan, watching the liberating lifestyle of Inogashira is a joy on its own.
The show is based on a manga series that became popular in the 1990s and was translated into French and Spanish. Its creator, Masayuki Kusumi, will appear on live television before the show is aired.
The show also inspired men in their 30s and 40s to write online about their own experiences while visiting the very real restaurants that Inogashira patronizes. But now the show is a favorite of younger men and women too.
That’s because his choice of eating at simple, ordinary restaurants show that a person can find happiness without a lot of effort, wrote Hiroyoshi Usui of Sophia University in Tokyo.
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