Steamed rice and snot

On U.S. 101 and in S.F. Chinatown

By William Wetherall

First posted 27 December 2005
Last updated 1 January 2006

See also Natto, Rice, and Harakiri.


Jessica Hall
The Kissing Blades
New York: Signet, 2003
Volume 3 of "White Tiger Swords" triology
Genre: Romantic Suspense

Kameko is on the run. She goes to Sean for help, knowing his capabilities from a previous encounter. She allows herself to be raped by him when he is in a drunken stupor. He can't remember doing anything. She can't forget how utterly good it had been.

He declines to help her. She kidnaps him with his gun and her own fur-lined lovers' cuffs. They head up U.S. 101 for San Francisco. On the way, he gets his gun back but agrees to help.

Though their minds are on the missionary and other positions, they put their mission first. They take refuge at a sleezy motel simply to rest, eat, and plan. While she showers, he gets some food at an "Oriental market" down the road. (Pages 140-141)

"What's this?"

"Grilled salmon, miso soup with spring onion and tofu, steamed rice, seaweed, stirred egg, and some honeydew." He handed her a Styrofoam cup filled with green tea.

"I see." Kameko leaned over and picked up a sheet of dried seaweed. "You like Japanese food?"

"I've never tried it, but the man at the market said this was a traditional breakfast. He even had his wife warm up what needed it." He checked the containers. "Did I miss something?"

"I really wouldn't know."

He glanced from her to the food. "But you're Japanese."

She signed. "Sean, I've lived in the United States since I was nine. My idea of a traditional breakfast is an Egg McMuffin."

"You're kidding."

Her lips curled. "Do you have Irish coffee with your corned beef and cabbage in the morning?"

"Only on Mondays." He felt like an idiot. "I'm sorry."

She poked around the containers. "At least he didn't sell you any natto."

He opened the orange juice he'd gotten for himself.

"Natto's no good, I take it?"

"Natto is fermented soybeans. It smells to high heaven, and looks like acorns laced with snot." She shuddered. "Hurry and wash up, and let's eat."

Character or caricature?

On the surface the scene is contrived to reveal character, both Sean's and Kameko's. Sean views Kameko as "Japanese" and expects her to crave Japanese food. But she's been in America so long she can't stand the stuff any more than he can.

Sean is a former Army CID officer, alcoholic but masculine and heroic. Throughout the novel he is shown to be somewhat of a clown. By this point, though, it clear he is not stupid.

Why, then, would he think that Kameko is craving for "grilled salmon, miso soup with spring onion and tofu, steamed rice, seaweed, stirred egg, and some honeydew" -- and of course a cup of green tea in a "Styrofoam" cup? All of which he happened to find at an "Oriental market"? And which sounds like the description of a well-planned meal on a well-edited English menu?

It appears that Sean has gotten Kameko the Japanese food out of a genuine desire to surprise and delight her. You might think here response was also in character -- except that there are "curled lips" throughout the story, and she is not the snarling type.

Throughout the story, there are also so many mentions of things "Oriental" having nothing to do with character that one has to question the need for the nasty remarks about natto. Is it Kameko's voice, telling us how totally "un-Japanese" she has become? Or is it Hall's voice, telling us how she herself feels -- or how she thinks the reader ought to feel -- about natto?

Classical team play

Sean and Kameko, though ostensibly two characters, are really a team -- an outsider/insider duo -- that works together like a single protagonist. One is a tourist, the other a tourguide. One is ignorant, the other knowledgeable.

Such teams practically define fiction that features characters associated with two countries or races or classes or abilities. The duo must overcome barriers, including differences. In this story, as in most Steamy East fiction, one is a man, the other a woman. He is white, she is yellow, and they are lovers.

Sean's American ignorance about Kameko makes him a foil for her to explain who she is -- as though he didn't already know. His apparent ignorance about Japanese food is a foil for her to both explain natto, and then express an opinion about it.

In the larger flow of the story, however, the natto scene is one of many that are there simply because the Hall seems to get off on the sort of comment Kameko (Hall) makes about natto. Natto is on every American tourist's list of something not to expect to like about Japanese food.

Perhaps Hall wants the reader to believe that she has tasted the stuff and been repelled. Perhaps she expects that some readers will have had the same experience, and sympathize with Kameko's repulsive characterization of a food that some people in Japan like and others don't.

It's called seppuku

Kameko is everywhere confronted with misinformation she feels compelled to correct. This scene comes early in the story, when she is being questioned by police as a material witness when she reports that her young shop assitant has been kidnapped. Police find a bloody sword they think Kameko used to kill the girl. (Page 21)

"And you said this sword is Japanese, right? How did you know that?"

"I'm Japanese." She almost added that her father had collected them, but decided that would only make matters worse. Her father had been the head of a well-known crime syndicate.

The detective pulled out a pack of cigarettes and offered her one before lighting up. "Your people like to do some pretty gruesome stuff with swords, don't they? Like that hara-kiri thing, right?"

Meko recoiled from his exhaled smoke. "It's called seppuku, it's a form of ritual suicide, and my people stopped doing it about five hundred years ago."

It is almost mandatory that writers of fiction about Japan, if they mention samurai or swords, find an excuse for telling the reader that "harakiri" is called "seppuku". Here the excuse is a scene that provides some foundation for Kameko's reaction to Sean when he brings her Japanese food for breakfast.

While sympathetically dramatizing Kameko's response to the detective's "your people" remark, ventriloquist Hall makes her "Japanese" dummy Kimeko insist that seppuku ended half a millennium ago -- around 1500 or so -- the beginning of the 16th century.

In fact, the 16th century was ravaged by civil war. And seppuku was typically an act, first described in Chinese literature, committed on a battlefield when faced with immanent defeat. And from the 17th to the middle of the 19th centuries, under the Tokugawa shogunate, seppuku was the legal form of self-execution for members of the samurai caste -- to say nothing of those who, since the Meiji period, have found reason to disembowel themselves, including Mishima Yukio.

Hall resorts to the typical alien writer's ploy of validating "facts" about Japan by putting them in the mouths of either a "Japanese" or a non-Japanese "Japanologist" (or someone else who has "gone native"). It is not clear why Kameko -- who had left Japan when a child, no matter that she was the daughter of a sword-loving gangster -- should know anything about the history of seppuku. But Hall cannot cast doubt on the veracity of her heroine's "knowledge" about "her people" -- for only by using an "Asian" voice to authenticate "Asia" can writers like Hall fabricate "Asia" on the fly as they spin their tales of romance and adventure.

Sacks of steamed pearl rice in Chinatown

A few pages later, Hall squeezes the Japanese breakfast scene for another opportunity to slap the reader in the face with a word she exotifies with italics and elliptically glosses. Sean and Kameko are walking up Grant Avenue in San Francisco, looking for trouble, but first just looking. (Pages 157-159)

Walking into Chinatown was, as always, a shock to the senses.

 . . .

The sidewalks resembled any found in major Asian cities -- crowded with narrow-eyed, dark-haired people with a wide range of exotic features and skin tones. Voices around them chatted in Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, and a dozen other Asian languages and dialects.

 . . .

"Are you hungry? I noticed you didn't eat much breakfast."

"It was the seaweed, I think. Next time, we get Egg McMuffins." Sean paused to study the racks of roast duck displayed in a food market window. Beneath them, customers sorted through open bins of imported specialty vegetables and mushrooms, and selected huge sacks of gohan and natural rice. Further back were the livestock cages. "I can't imagine the appeal of watching your food swim, skitter, or cluck before you eat it."

"Me either." Meko had thought the unfamiliar environment would intimidate Sean -- here, he was definitely the alien -- but he seemed to be enjoying himself.

The odds that someone in Japan will eat a breakfast like the one described by Hall is very small. The chances of finding a huge sack of "gohan" -- anywhere in the world -- is zero.

Hall's exotification of "rice" is proof that she is faking it. She has already contrived a long scene (pages 57-64) in which one of Kameko's yakuza brothers performs a tea ceremony for an ungrateful tong rival. The scene is sprinkled with esoteric words related to tea ceremony, all italicized and accompanied by commentary. Now she wants the reader to know that all those narrow-eyed, dark-haired people like rice, that markets in Chinatown sell two kinds of rice -- and that she, Hall, knows her rices.

Who knows what she means by "natural rice" -- unpolished, or uncooked? Whatever. But "gohan" is a Japanese word for steamed rice. In the context of Japanese cuisine, "gohan" refers to short-grained (pearl) rice steamed to a degree of stickiness that enhances taste, and facilitates eating rice from a bowel with chopsticks, or making sushi and riceballs -- in contrast with the drier steamed long-grained rices associated with most other Asian cuisines. Moreover, "gohan" almost always refers to steamed rice served in a bowl -- whereas rice served on a plate, and eaten with a spoon or fork, is usually called just "raisu".

Uncooked rice is called "kome" in Japanese, and "kome" usually refers to polished grains. Hulled but unpolished rice is called "genmai" -- literally "brown rice" hence sometimes "natural rice".

People buy "kome" -- not "gohan" -- in big sacks at markets. One might well find sacks of pearl rice in Chinatown -- produced in California, and called "kariforunia mai" in Japan. But people would laugh at the very idea of a huge sack of gohan.

There are, in most convenience stores in Japan today, small containers of freshly steamed rice that merely need heating in a microwave -- intended for people who don't want to steam a pot of rice for just themselves. There are also, in most markets, small packages of freeze-dried steamed rice that one reconstitutes with boiling water -- again, most likely bought by busy singles.

Rape fantasies in USA and Japan

Perhaps the most interest aspect of The Kissing Blades is the that both Kameko and Brooke, a CID investigator, resist aggressive, rape-like attacks -- until which point they find themselves so excited that they wantingly submit and even take the lead. Kameko submits to Sean. And Brooke, a hardcore feminist repelled by Kinsella, an FBI chauvanist pig assigned to work under her on the investigation into the missing White Tiger swords, cannot help but surrender to his overpowering advances.

Hall's sex scenes are not the sort of soft erotic vignettes that characterize some other genres of romance fiction. Her purple pages celebrate the joys of intercourse in the wake of submission to masculine force that borders on violence.

Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times, when based in Tokyo, wrote an article, published on 5 November 1995, with these titles:

HEADLINE -- In Japan, Brutal Comics for Women
OVERLINE -- Mass-Market Rape Fantasies
SUBHEAD -- Greater freedom brings crude stories of submission

Zipangu, a group of Japanese journalists and artists based mostly in New York, skewered Kristof for giving readers the impression that many Japanese women fantasize about submitting to violent sex. The following exchange took place during an interview of Kristof by Nanako Kurihara, who is based in Japan but is billed as a "representative of Zipangu in Japan". The interview was published in both Enlish and Japanese in Zipangu's 1998 book, called both Warawareru Nihonjin and Japan Made in U.S.A., which criticized the way Japan is reported in The New York Times. (Page 34)

Zipangu (Nanako Kurihara) -- When I think of American women, American women definitely have power. But at the same time, women often are requested to be very sexy. Don't you think it's a similar kind of issue? They are being the object of sex.

Kristof -- I think they are parallels. But some of the content of it, I don't think you would ever find this kind of Ladies' Comics in the States.

Zipangu -- I don't like this type of thing myself. But it's OK for other people to have such a fantasy. Talking about this in a critical way seems to be a very puritanical, American thing (laughs).

Kristof -- That's interesting. That reflects a gulf. I think Americans probably tend to be more puritantical. But I was really horrified by these. I wouldn't think they should necessarily be banned, but it seems to be encouraging violence. I was Quite horrified by it.

Zipangu -- You actually talk about that aspect. In Japan people don't report it, but then there is much less violence against women here.

Kristof -- Yeah, yeah. It's a great paradox. It's the same with television for example, you get a lot of very violent things on television and so on, and very peaceful streets. The U.S. has cleaner magazines and dirtier streets (laughs).

The U.S. also has many journalists who go to Japan -- in Kristof's case via China -- knowing less than they should about the United States -- in this case the sexual violence in American popular culture. And many Japanese, including Zipangu members, know less than they think about Japan.

See Warawareru Nihonjin / Japan Made in U.S.A. for publication details on the Zipangu book.

See Zipangu vs. New York Times for a general overview of the contents and slant of the Zipangu book.

See Zipangu's blind agenda for a revelation of the ideological standpoint of the Zipangu book, and for examples of how, in its attempt to rectify misreporting on Japan, it perpetuates some of the most common stereotypes and misinformation about the country.

A writer of many names

"Jessica Hall" is a woman who writes hot and heavy sex scenes under one name, and Christian inspirational fiction under another. This entry, from the now static Star Lines web log of S.L. Viehl, was posted about the time that The Kissing Blades was released, and the "New Cover Art" is that of its cover.

Monday, March 17, 2003
New Cover Art: Hot off the production presses.
posted by S.L. Viehl 10:27 AM archived
Fired Up: The first draft of the proposal for book three is done, so I've got that and book two ready for final edit tomorrow. Have to mull over a few points on book three but seems pretty tight now, and I came up with a wham of an ending for the trilogy. As I expected, Jo and Gray developed on me and will have to have their own book, but not right away. I also still have Brooke and Kinsella from the third book of the JH White Tiger trilogy wanting their own book. Maybe a combo of the two might work.

I'd give myself a cookie but I'm too tired. Off to bed, perchance to not dream.
posted by S.L. Viehl 1:40 AM archived

[Cut and pasted on 25 December 2005 from]

The following Penguin Group USA profile for S.L. Viehl is all over the Internet.

S.L. Viehl was raised and educated in South Florida, where she now lives with her two children. A U.S.A.F. veteran, her medical experience was gained in both military and civilian trauma centers.

Another common web profile gives more details about her life as a writer.

Sheila Kelly writes science fiction (as S.L. Viehl); romance (as Gena Hale and Jessica Hall) and Christian inspirational adult fiction. She lives in South Florida with her two children.

Sheila Viehl, her real name, has written under the names Sheila Kelly, Ann Burton, Gena Hale, Jessica Hall, Rebecca Kelly, Lynn Viehl, and S.L. Viehl. Viehl is one of the most prolific "properties" in three genres known for writers who never seem to experience "writer's block". Here is another profile, in her own words.

I write inspirational and historical fiction as a writer-for-hire (contract terms prevent me from publicizing those books), romantic suspense as Jessica Hall, inspirational fiction as Rebecca Kelly, nonfiction as Sheila Kelly, dark fantasy/vampire fiction as Lynn Viehl, and science fiction as S.L. Viehl.

Apparently Kelly uses only her real name to write non-fiction -- and a fictional name appropriate for each genre of fiction. Makes perfect marketing sense. A good Biblical name like "Rebecca" might give the wrong impression on the spine of a semi-pornographic triller. Or perhaps not. Some parts of the Old Testament are pretty embarrassing.