What does my tummy feel like eating today?

The Solitary Gourmand orders all the yakitori

Kodoku no Gurume, episodes 1-7

  1. On a whim, I ordered a Goro Inogashira figma. I knew nothing about the character, but the idea of an action figure in a salaryman suit with a bowl of rice and a pair of chopsticks was just too good to pass up. It arrived last week and it is even better than I’d hoped. It’s ridiculous and brings a smile to my face. So that prompted me to look up who he is, and the description of the “story”, Kodoku no Gurume (The Solitary Gourmand), was perfect: a middle-aged dry goods importer visits small restaurants where he eats alone and doesn’t say very much.
  2. I like eating alone. It’s one of life’s great pleasures. (In fact, I’m typing this while I sit alone at a Korean restaurant eating fried chicken and drinking beer.) There is a weird stigma associated with solo meals; a lot of people seem to be afraid to be alone in public, as if it was a marker of social failure. Bullshit. Enjoying your own company is really important, and taking the time to enjoy a meal and your own thoughts for a while is wonderful. Goro relishes this time to himself, and the show shares his internal monologue while he eats so that we can vicariously experience his pleasure.
  3. Goro eats a lot. He usually orders two dishes, plus rice. In one episode, he decides to go to a tonkatsu restaurant, so he orders both fried chicken and fried pork — and then when he sees someone order ginger pork, he decides to order a second meal, plus an extra bowl of rice. I love him. (I have no idea how he stays rake thin, though, given that he gorges himself every meal.)
  4. At one point he drops in to visit an old friend, a mentor really, who got him into the import business. He is surprised to discover that his friend is now a trans woman. I was seriously worried when this was revealed — Japan’s gender politics are still fairly reactionary, and I thought a show about a salaryman based on a 20-year-old manga would be a trainwreck. I was pleasantly surprised to see Goro treat his friend warmly, and to present a clear “live and let live” message at the end of the show. I’m not going to suggest the portrayal of a trans character was ideal, but the show is clearly pushing against the stifling conservatism of Japanese society.
  5. The real joy of the show is that Goro approaches Tokyo neighbourhoods as a tourist would — it’s as much a Tokyo travel show as it is about food, and they even show a map so viewers can visit. The premise of each episode is a business meeting with a client here or there, after which he wanders around to find something to eat. He prefers small, family-run restaurants, so he is showing a side of Tokyo you certainly wouldn’t find in a guidebook. After the credits roll, each episode concludes with a short clip of the manga’ author, Qusumi, visiting the same restaurant and eating a meal. His genuine pleasure at sharing these little gem restaurants is evident in his broad smile. Next time I visit Tokyo I’m going to bring a list of these restaurants with me.