Black Kewpie and Little Black Sambo: Reading Juvenile Food Culture in American-Occupied Japan


This paper aims to explore the hitherto underexamined topic of juvenile food culture in American-occupied Japan (1945–1952) by analyzing Kuronbo Sambo (1949), a Japanese translation of Helen Bannerman’s The Story of Little Black Sambo. Just like other Japanese translations of Bannerman’s tale, the story of Kuronbo Sambo also starts with Sambo, the protagonist, facing the danger of getting eaten by tigers, but the tigers turn into butter; Sambo’s mother uses it to make a feast, and Sambo and his family consume them as dinner. Using the dialogue translation in the 1953 Japanese version of Bannerman’s tale as a thread, Erica Kanesaka Kalnay highlights the relation between the racial imaginary of Little Black Sambo and the kawaii, or “cute,” aesthetic of postwar Japan. Yet I want to highlight a different dimension that is found in the Japanese translation, that is, a figure of Sambo drawn into the text: a black Kewpie. He appears as a black-colored version of Kewpie—the logo mascot of the first Japanese brand of mayonnaise, not butter, with the same name. While the work reproduces the prewar concept of Little Black Sambo, Kuronbo Sambo, I contend, situates the narrative at the intersection between race and food through the black Kewpie, creating a new subtext. By analyzing the visual representation of Sambo, in addition to materials related to Kewpie at the Celluloid House Yokohamakan and Daicel-Ijinkan, this paper argues that Kuronbo Sambo points to a shift in children’s food culture in postwar Japan.

Author Information
Nominerdene Enkhbayar, University of Tsukuba, Japan

Paper Information
Conference: IICAH2024
Stream: Literature/Literary Studies

This paper is part of the IICAH2024 Conference Proceedings (View)
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To cite this article:
Enkhbayar N. (2024) Black Kewpie and Little Black Sambo: Reading Juvenile Food Culture in American-Occupied Japan ISSN: 2432-4604 – The IAFOR International Conference on Arts & Humanities – Hawaii 2024 Official Conference Proceedings
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon