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A common theme in Japanese cartoons (manga and anime) is having a protagonist that has a big appetite and the ability to eat a lot. We see examples of this in Dragonball and One Piece.

Gokou and Luffy eating a lot

Historically, manga was heavily influenced by Western culture. Yet it's uncommon to see American cartoon characters stuff their faces with food and enjoy it as much. The only example I can think of is Jughead from Archie Comics.

Jughead comics cover with a lot food

My questions are, why do manga characters love to eat so much food and where does it originate from? Is there something specific to Japanese culture and food?

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    Another example in Western cartoons would be Scooby and Shaggy but even though the show is named for him rarely is the hero or protagonist shown eating much at all in Western culture. Another two examples of eating massive amounts of food in Anime is Naruto and Hei from Darker Than Black. – Kevin Howell Mar 14 '12 at 13:45
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    Don't forget Vash the Stampede form Trigun. He not only eats loads but drinks too much too. – Jared Tritsch Nov 7 '12 at 8:18
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    Question, it this common to only sci-fi/fantasy manga, or is it common to all manga? Second question: does it make this question off-topic? – AncientSwordRage Nov 7 '12 at 10:57
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    @sunpech I can recall some manga where this happens and its not sci-fi or fantasy based. I'm only concerned if this trope is present outside of our remit, not whether its on-topic due to your line of reasoning. Also, as far as I'm aware, most anime/manga would be considered 'unrealistic', Even if not sci-fi or fantasy. – AncientSwordRage Nov 7 '12 at 12:13
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    @Pureferret I see you opened up a meta question. I'll try to answer it there then. meta.scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/2399/… – spong Nov 7 '12 at 13:47
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Actually (of course this is just coming from personal experience) it's an Asian cultural idea that food is a very important part of life. If you really do some research about say, Chinese culture you will notice how much more important and precious food/eating is to them compared to Western people. This is why in Japanese anime, Korean manga, or whatever it is you're reading/watching; eating is very strongly depicted and you should also notice how happy the character(s) is/are when they are eating food.

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    +1 I do see that in Asian culture that older generations prefer their children to eat more and be even slightly big, as this is a sign of class and wealth. – spong Mar 14 '12 at 2:01
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    -1 because this is a gross over-simplification that's not even really that true. It is certainly true that many Asian cultures have retained a positive view of excess fat on the body, which most Western cultures have lost; but it's just not true that food and eating is considered more important or more precious in the East than in the West. Any Italian nonna will happily hold a candle to a Chinese mama in shoving food down her surroundings’ collective throats any chance she gets, for example. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 28 '16 at 21:20
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Food is important in many cultures; the point is not that Asia is more pro-food than the West, just that the food culture there involves an interest and appreciation of food in peoples' lives that is absent in much of the Western world. Compare for example the trope in American TV and movies where people go to a restaurant and sit there and talk, never actually eating. The tendency for matriarchs to encourage others to eat more is just one facet of food culture, and not the one under discussion here. – Era Apr 7 '16 at 21:17
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    @JanusBahsJacquet: Ditto for the Traditional Irish Mammy, who's joy is "feeding" her family and who cooks and serves as though her mission is to ensure her family become morbidly obese. – Binary Worrier Apr 8 '16 at 6:52
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    @BinaryWorrier A good chunk of my family is "old world" European. As a kid, if there was plate showing, food was put on it for you. I think that it's part of a cultural memory of "eat well now because we don't know if there will be food tomorrow." – ShadoCat May 19 '17 at 17:31
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+250

Most Shōnen shows, at least, are probably following Dragon Ball Z

Dragon Ball Z was the starting point for a great deal of the anime that followed it. Many of the best-known anime draw heavily from Dragon Ball Z, by direct admission of the creators.

One Piece was so inspired, according to Wikipedia.

Naruto was also probably influenced by Dragon Ball Z:

Masashi Kishimoto: At some point between second and fourth grade I got into Akira Toriyama Sensei’s Dr. Slump anime and Dragon Ball manga. I loved his characters. I was especially attached to Dr. Slump’s Arale and Dragon Ball’s Goku.

Of course, both of these shows feature heavy eaters. Here's Naruto, for example:

enter image description here

Never underestimate the influence of a single trailblazer. Where Dragon Ball Z goes, dozens or hundreds of other anime will follow, and that includes big eaters.

Another factor could be the preeminence of Japan in competitive eating

If there is some component of Japanese culture that led to the portrayal of huge eaters in anime, it is most likely the popularity of competitive eating.

The most famous competitive eater in the world hails from Japan: Takeru Kobayashi.

That would be this guy:

enter image description here

Yes, that really is one mouthful for him.

Of course, Kobayashi postdated Dragon Ball Z. However, he certainly could have inspired a lot of anime since then.

More importantly, the popularity of competitive eating in Japan predates Kobayashi's arrival. The show TV Champion started in 1992, and often featured eating contests. From the previous link:

Shows with eating contests have traditionally been very popular in Japan. Prime Time shows like Food Battle Club and TV Champion are sometimes among the top ranked shows in their time slots. Shows with contestants slurping down bowls of ramen and inhaling 6-foot-long hot dogs were very popular until 2002, when a junior high school student died after choking on a bread while engaging in a speed eating contest with friends at lunch time. After that all eating competition were yanked form television in Japan.

In 1997, Hirofumi Nakajima won the world's most famous hotdog-eating contest, and he, Kobayashi, and Kazutoyo Arai won many more times in the succeeding years. Miki Sudo, although an American, spent much of her childhood in Japan, and won the woman's division of this same contest.

According to George Shea, the president of Major League Eating:

Japan has a long tradition of eating contests. By that, I mean a couple of decades. In the early 1980s, Japan sent a couple of eaters to Coney Island and they won a few contests. So the [championship prize] Mustard Yellow Belt was in Japan and was actually lost over there for several years because the defending champion didn’t come back. Finally, in a special one-on-one competition in 1993, American Mike DeVito beat Japan’s Orio Ito, winning the belt back for the United States. Then Hirofumi Nakajima won it back for Japan in 1997. American Steve Keiner won once in 1999. And then there was Kobayashi.

As far as I can tell, many in Japan have been hooked on eating contests since before even Dragon Ball Z. And with the ascendancy of Kobayashi over the last decade and a half, eating gags were bound to become more common in Japanese anime.

Benkei...A Mythological Basis?

Benkei is a popular Japanese folkloric character, a warrior who would not be out of place in an anime or manga. He is said to have held a bridge, killing 999 soldiers sent against him. According to a Handbook of Japanese Mythology, his strength was that of a hundred men, such that he could hammer an anvil into the ground or dislodge a temple bell with a kick. But perhaps more worth noting is what it says about Benkei's tremendous appetite:

His price for returning the bell (he agreed to return it only after the intercession of his abbot) was a satisfactory meal. His depredation emptied the temple's larder and cellar. The cauldron from which he ate can still be seen in Miider today. He was not, apparently, a dainty eater, and the marks of Benkei's teeth are are on the cauldron still.

Mythological or religious antecedents can have a powerful effect on culture, with Christ being the inspiration for a whole array of self-sacrificial heroes, or Gilgamesh inspiring pretty much everyone. Benkei is a fairly popular character. Could his appetite have been the inspiration for early anime characters with bottomless stomachs?

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  • I just love that this post has attracted that awesome image of the sausage eating guy! – Möoz Apr 8 '16 at 2:59
  • Yes it is nice. – Adamant Apr 8 '16 at 3:03
  • The post is going up... – Adamant Apr 8 '16 at 5:44
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I always thought that Goku was eating lots of food because he was working out really hard - just think about how hungry you would get bench-pressing planets.

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    Eating is also part of how a Saiyan (and other DB characters) heals. It is explained in the (US editions) manga that a Senzu bean (what they use in DB to "heal" wounds quickly) is enough to fill your stomach up. Hilarity ensues when Yajirobe grabs a handful and scarfs them down, and gets a stomach ache. – Dylan Yaga Mar 14 '12 at 16:38
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Being an Asian myself, I think I've got some ideas about your questions. It's very common in Asia to meet people with very small appetite (trust me, I have many Asian and non-Asian friends, so I know the comparison). The general phenomenon is Asian people with big appetite often feel pressured by their peers to eat less than they want to so it becomes a secret outlet for these kind of people (including me) to find comfort in watching people eat to their heart's content in Manga.

Besides, if you Google you will see Japanese almost have the lowest weight index in the world so I guess being having big stomach experiences more discontent when surrounded by people who eat healthy portions routinely.

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  • I think it's also interesting that the Japanese in general have a great diet and are considered the healthiest country on Earth. – spong Nov 8 '12 at 0:28
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The idea permeates Asian cultures because the belly is the reservoir for chi (the body's energy/universal energy), which mixes in with medical/spiritual practices throughout the region. Strong characters/people have large appetites because they have a vast reservoir to fill/draw from. Kinda like with Naruto chakra stuff but not. I think it is also more like; main characters don't have big appetites because it is a quirk, but they had the potential and power with-in because of their appetite!

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It depends on the anime or its author. Luffy and Goku eat too much because they train/fight very hard, but for example in

  • Rurouni Kenshin
  • Hellsing
  • School Rumble
  • Inuyasha (no sure at all)
  • Yuyuhakusho
  • the image of Escaflowne

the characters are shown to be eating normal portions.

I think it's more a part of the character's personality, for example in Dragon Ball just the Saiyans eat that way (and Vegeta with manners seems to eat a lot less but actually he also eats a lot), or in One Piece, Nami or Robin never eat too much.

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I don't know if Oda has stated it for sure, but, Luffy could be eating a lot due to the way his devil fruit affects his body. He is a paramecia, and their powers tend to be all over the place, and somewhat complicated, regardless of the fact that they are the most common fruits to be found.

As we've all seen, Luffy is the one who mainly fights the strongest opponents, and overexerts himself to the point of having his body almost break down countless times, and we see a good example of that in Thriller Bark, when he passes out.

It's also a habit he picked up as a child, since he used to eat a lot when he lived with Dadan. Anyway, Luffy uses a lot of energy fighting people, especially since he started spamming the hell out of Gear Second and Gear Third, after Eines Lobby, do you have any idea how much energy he's losing?

Of course he'd need to eat that much, and it's mainly high proteins, which is why he eats a lot of meat, because his entire body needs it.

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The Sentai shows use this trope as well. The Leader, usually the Red Ranger, almost always has an outrageous appetite, and will more than once recover from injury with a massive meal. As in other media, it's done for laughs.

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I always just assumed it was because most popular shonen anime was inspired by Dragon ball. The characters inherit Goku's appitite (as well as being stupid but really strong.)

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