Spotlight Issue - April 23, 2001
Japanese tradition, cuisine inspire Brau
By Carolyn Gonzales
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 peoples problems, and with food being central to
human relationships, all the issues have recipes for all kinds of cooking. Theyre
very popular with young men, she explains.
Food plays an important role in Braus 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,
Brau would also like to write a book about food in Japanese song and storytelling,
and maybe even a cookbook. Shed also like to write a brochure to help
locals navigate Albuquerques 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 Braus 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.
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 isnt 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.
University of New Mexico
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