Spotlight Issue - April 23, 2001

Japanese tradition, cuisine inspire Brau

By Carolyn Gonzales

Lorie BrauLorie Brau has long been fascinated with ancient Japan – its traditions, folklore, music and theater. Her classes in Japanese popular culture and everyday Japan blend old and new.

Brau, an assistant professor in Japanese in the Foreign Languages and Literatures Department, hails from the east – not the Far East – but rather from Pennsylvania. Blau has a Japanese style office (small) in Ortega Hall. Its decor represents Japan old and new. One poster shows the various styles of Kabuki make up. Kabuki is one of the major classical theaters of Japan -- not exactly Saturday Night Live Kabuki theater.

A poster on the opposite wall is an example of Anime, or Japanese animation, popularized in the U.S. through Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball Z and Pokemon.

“Many students are drawn to my courses because they are interested in martial arts, Anime, or in manga, wickedly funny comic books that have been published since about 1983. The comics come out weekly and feature a hero, in this case a reporter,” says Brau, flipping through a current issue.

“The hero solves people’s problems, and with food being central to human relationships, all the issues have recipes for all kinds of cooking. They’re very popular with young men,” she explains.

Food plays an important role in Brau’s life, too. She earned her PhD in Performance Studies from New York University in 1994. While in New York she worked as a caterer and ultimately wrote her dissertation about the performance art of Japanese food. She is currently working on a book about Japanese gastronomy.

“The Japanese, like Americans, have borrowed a lot of cooking styles. Tempura came from Iberian influence. ‘Pan’ is bread in Japanese – they got it from the Portuguese. Sweet potatoes came to Japan from the New World. The foods have been adapted for their own taste through their inventiveness,” she says.

Brau would also like to write a book about food in Japanese song and storytelling, and maybe even a cookbook. She’d also like to write a brochure to help locals navigate Albuquerque’s Oriental grocery store, Ta Lin. “They have a fabulous assortment of foods to try,” she urges.

Dancing is one way Brau keeps the cuisine art from showing on her diminutive frame. “I take Salsa lessons at The Cooperage and Tango lessons at the Rio Grande Dance Factory,” she says.

Not all of Brau’s understanding of all things Japanese comes from study. “I first went to Japan in 1976. My first real interest developed through the shamisen, a three-stringed instrument used in Kabuki. I learned to play it and I also studied Japanese dance,” she says.

Brau acknowledges that to gain an understanding of the rich and ancient traditions of Japan is a long process.

Brau performs Rakugo, a 400-year-old Japanese comedy style of storytelling.“I spent 19 months in Tokyo and Osaka learning about Rakugo, or Japanese sit-down comedy. I was learning it as a kind of anthropological study, but those who study it take years to learn its intricacies,” she says. She says that as an apprentice she spent time going to storytelling theaters, listening – and maybe doing a little social drinking.

Other duties included serving tea and folding Kimonos for the master. Brau would like to teach more culture classes and is quick to point out that an understanding of Japanese language isn’t a prerequisite for her culture courses.

Whether explaining the rich history of the Tale of Genji, a Japanese classic dating back to the year 1020; or making a point about popular Japanese music or a gourmet manga, Brau introduces the life, culture, tradition and cuisine of the Far East to the western world.

The University of New Mexico
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