OISHINBO A la Carte – The Joy of Rice by Tetsuya Kariya and Akira Hanasaki (a J!-ENT Manga Review)

November 30, 2009 by  

The award winning manga that has captured the attention of Japanese readers since 1983 and is still ongoing today.  ‘OISHINBO A la Carte – The Joy of Rice” is another enjoyable release and features more on Japan’s rich history of rice and its importance to the people of Japan.   Highly recommended!

Image courtesy of © Tetsu KARIYA and Akira HANASAKI.  All Rights Reserved.

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MANGA TITLE: OISHINBO A la Carte – The Joy of Rice

STORY AND ART BY: Story by Tetsu Kariya, Art by Akihara Hanasaki



RATED: T for Teen

Released: November 2009

As part of the celebrations for its 100th anniversary, the publishers of the Tozai News have commissioned the creation of the “Ultimate Menu”, a model meal embodying the pinnacle of Japanese cuisine.  This all-important task has been entrusted to journalist Yamaoka Shiro, an inveterate cynic who possesses zero initiative – but also an incredibly refined palate and an encyclopedic knowledge of food.

Each volume of Oishinbo follows Yamaoka and his colleagues through another adventure of their quest for the Ultimate Menu.  Now, the highlights from the hundred-plus volume series have been selected and compiled into A la Carte Editions: bite-sized chunks of story arranged by subject that add up to a full-course manga meal!

In this volume of Oishinbo, Yamaoka and company look into the single most essential food in Japanese cuisine: rice.  Cultivated for millenia, a staple meal in itself and the basis of countless other dishes, rice is an important component not only of the Japanese kitchen but also of Japanese culture.  When Yamaoka is asked by Tozai’s head chef for help coming up with a new rice dish, what starts out as a simple culinary request rapidly grows into a disquisition into the past, present and future of Japan’s food culture.

The long running manga “Oishinbo” (which means “The Gourmet”) is a popular best-selling manga series published by Shogakukan which has been ongoing since 1983.  The series have sold 1.2 million copies per volume annually and have sold more than 100 million volumes as of Jan. 2009.

Written by Tetsu Kariya and art by Akira Hanasaki, the series has won multiple awards and has had a successful anime TV series run from 1988 through 1992.  And now the series is being released in the United States from Viz Media through their Viz Signature.   Because there have been so many volumes, Viz has selected chapters from the popular manga and will separate each volume release by cuisine topic.

So, far the following manga been released:

  • Oishinbo A la Carte – The making of food, beverages and utensils
  • Oishinbo – Sake
  • Oishinbo A la Carte – Ramen & Gyoza
  • Oishinbo A la Carte – Fish, Sushi and Sashimi
  • Oishinbo A la Carte – Vegetables

“Oishinbo” revolves around the employees of the newspaper Tozai News with its employees commissioned to create the “Ultimate Menu”, a model meal that embodies the pinnacle of Japanese cuisine.  Both Shiro Yamaoka and Yuko Kurita are in charge of the project and throughout each chapter, the series is broken down to several types of dishes or food related items and how each dish is created.

Meanwhile, his father, who Shiro has had an estranged relationship for years after his mother’s death, the world renown founder and director of prestigious Gourmet Club and Japanese pottery creator, Kaibara Yuzan heads the “Supreme Menu” for a rival newspaper. So, both Shiro and his father are known to butt heads many times.  With Kaibara looking at his son as a person with a lacking knowledge of cuisine but Shiro, never to stand down against his father, proving that he knows more than his father thinks.

The characters featured in “OISHINBO” are:

Shiro Yamaoka – A journalist for Tozai News who knows his food and how things are created but he is estranged from his father, a prominent artist and founder and director of the Gourmet Club.  He despises his father because of the death of his mother.  Yamaoka was trained from a young age by his father, Kaibara.

Kaibara Yuzan – The father of Shiro Yamaoka is a prominent artist and founder and director of the Gourmet Club.  Because of his prominent stature, all restaurants fear him and thus feel the need to create perfect food for him.  Estranged from his son Shiro and despises him for destroying all of his paintings and pottery worth tens or hundreds of million yen.  A man widely revered for his sense of taste and feared for his ferocious temper.    He heads the “Supreme Menu” project for Teito Times, rival paper to the Tozai News that his son works for.

Yuko Kurita – Knowledgeable about food and partner of Shiro.  She learns a lot from him.

Daizo Ohara – Publisher of Tozai News

Hideo Tanimura – Director of Tozai News Art & Culture Department

Tomio Tomii – Deputy Director working under Tanimura

Tojin Toyama – A legendary ceramicist and gourmet

Mantaro Kyogoku – A wealthy businessman and gourmet

Seiiichi Okaboshi – Chef/owner of a sushi shop and Shiro’s local hangout

Tokuo Nakugawa – The head chef for Gourmet Club

For this latest volume of “OISHINBO A la Carte”, the stories are broken up in chapters that relate to rice.  Here is a spoiler-less summary of each chapter:

  1. Recipe: Scallop Rice – Featured in one of the stories of this volume, a recipe featuring photos (in color) of how to prepare scallop rice.
  2. FIRST COURSE – A Remarkable Mediocrity – An earlier story featuring Kyogoku Mantaro (The wealthy businessman), as Tozai news tries to get the millionaire to lend his Renoir for the Impressionist Art Exhibition through food but accidentally offending him.  Can Yamaoka win him back?
  3. SECOND COURSE – Brown Rice vs. White Rice (Part One) – A group of the judo women’s team must incorporate brown rice into their diet but they dislike it.
  4. SECOND COURSE – Brown Rice vs. White Rice (Part Two) –  Yamaoka must show Takeko Miyamoto, supervisor of the Buiku Women’s College Judo Team of why their version of brown rice is not good.
  5. THIRD COURSE – LIVE RICE – Yamaoka try to help Arakawa-san how to cook rice (using a rice mill) to please her boyfriend’s mother.
  6. FOURTH COURSE – Companions of Rice – Yamaoka must convince the deputy prime minister why they should not import rice to Japan.
  7. FIFTH COURSE – The Matsutake Rice of the Sea – Mantaro has a bet with his friend/rival on who can cook the best Matsutake rice but something bad happens to his friend.
  8. Oishinbo Day-by-Day – Tetsuya Kariya talks about the act of eating rice and comparisons of Japan, Chinese and South Korea when it comes to eating certain food with rice.
  9. SIXTH COURSE – No Mixing – Tozai News chef and employees want to include mixed rice into the menu but the publisher Oharo Daizo is against it.
  10. SEVENTH COURSE – The Season for Oysters– Yamaoka must prove to his boss why oysters are better in the Summer and also learning of scallops with rice.
  11. EIGHTH COURSE – Rice Ball Match (Part One) – The Ultimate Menu (Tozai News) challenges the Supreme Menu (Teito Times)  in a rice ball competition.
  12. EIGHTH COURSE – Rice Ball Match (Part Two) – The Ultimate Menu (Tozai News) showcases their rice ball recipes to the judges.
  13. EIGHTH COURSE – Rice Ball Match (Part Three) – The Supreme Menu (Teito Times) showcases their rice ball to the judges.

Also, included at the end of the main chapters is a “Notes on the Text” which explains certain panels and meaning of certain Japanese words.

I absolutely love “OISHINBO A la Carte”.  Any fans of Japanese cuisine can also read this manga and just be amazed of how enjoyable, how witty, how smart each story is written.  Not only are the readers engrossed by the characters, especially the rivalry between Shiro and his father Kaibara Yuzan, you really learn about the Japanese perspective of cuisine and also preparation.

With “OISHINBO A la Carte – The Joy of Rice”, this latest volume is quite interesting as in previous volumes, there was more focus on competitions between Tozai News (Ultimate Menu) versus Teito Times (Supreme Menu).  But in this volume, with rice being so important in the Japanese diet, there is more focus on the history of rice in Japan and its importance.  We get to learn about Yamaoka and Japanese who worry about importation of rice, we learn about the differences between short-grain and long-grain rice and also how the environment is hurting certain ingredients that Japanese loved with rice but is now becoming rare in today’s society.

The latest volume of “Oishinbo A la Carte” was once again enjoyable.  Just to remind everyone that because the manga series has been around since 1983, there was just no way the complete series could be released in the US.  So, Viz Media chose to separate each volume based on a food item/ingredient or beverage.  So, you do miss out on the romantic storyline but nevertheless, the focus is on the food and for the most part, each volume is informative, educational and also very enjoyable to read.

Overall, each volume of “OISHINBO A la Carte” has been magnificent and this latest volume is just as enjoyable as the previous releases.  Highly recommended!

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