Japan's obsession with food TV is rooted in its gourmet boom, beginning in the 1980s, when the strong economy encouraged mass consumption of expensive foods and foreign cuisines. Gourmet TV dramas are often based on a popular manga comic and typically reproduce hegemonic gendered food norms, with professional male chefs embodying food authority and expertise often acting as protagonists. In recent years, however, several popular new TV series have introduced a new gender archetype: masculine loners who care deeply about traditional or home-style foods, so-called B-kyū gurume (second-class gourmet) cuisine. This article analyzes four such recent programs and argues that the emerging “gourmet samurai” archetype resonates with audiences because of the recent elevation of B-kyū cuisine and, more fundamentally, the steep decline in the marriage rate, a topic of intense media speculation. The expanding ranks of Japanese singles suggest that many men now face increased responsibilities for choosing or preparing their own meals. The everyman heroes of these shows offer role models to the growing cadres of unmarried men, encouraging them to become manly connoisseurs or cooks of simple, traditional foods and conveying the message that food knowledge and pleasure is as acceptable and satisfying a pursuit as romance, career, or family.
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