Nathan Edwin Hopson

Position

Associate Professor

Belonging

Department of Foreign Languages

Research

My first monograph, Ennobling Japan’s Savage Northeast (2017) is based on my graduate research. The book asked, “What did the Tōhoku region (the Northeast) mean to Japan 1945-2011, from surrender to the triple disaster of March 2011?" This hybrid intellectual and cultural history was the culmination of research begun as a translator/interpreter in 1999. The book and related articles (2013a; 2013b; 2016; 2018a) have become foundational work for scholars seeking to understand the history of modern Tōhoku and the triple disaster.

Since then, I have turned my attention primarily to a social and cultural history of nutrition science in modern Japan, 1920-2005 (2019; 2020b; 2020a; 2021; 2023). The postwar national school lunch program and its antecedents are my key case study, but I keep getting distracted by things like fake food and sporks (and "brain bread" and Tabasco). This research will become the basis for a book scheduled for completion and submission in 2027.

I have maintained my interest in local history (2018b) while researching not just the social history of nutrition science but other culinary culture and food history topics (2018c) and the history and professionalization of nutritionists in Japan (in press). I have recently been invited to contribute a chapter to the forthcoming edited volume, Women and Medicine in Modern Japan: Sources and Critique (2025?) on this last topic. I will be writing about the fascinating life and career of Kondō Toshiko, who went from a thrice-arrested communist activist to Japan's first factory nutritionist, a health ministry bureaucrat, founder of the Association for the Improvement of Nutrition, and eventually became the most influential early promoter of the tricolor nutrition education system for children used by Japanese schools, etc.

Other in-progress work includes articles on a 1932 village-wide nutritional improvement intervention in Japan, conspiracy theories about the "Americanization/Westernization" of the Japanese diet, and the development of food-based dietary guidelines (FBDGs) in postwar Japan.

I have also recently received funding from Toshiba International Foundation (TIFO) for a multimedia, bilingual podcast series on modern and contemporary Japan. This builds on my experience as a host for the New Books Network series of academic podcasts.

Outreach

I am a host for the New Books Network of podcasts. Founded in 2007, the NBN is a consortium of author-interview podcast channels dedicated to raising the level of public discourse by introducing scholars and other serious writers to a wider public. There are over 600 hosts who produce 50-75 episodes weekly. Our 100+ channels reach a million people or so (around 5 million episodes downloaded) every month. 

I publish mostly in the Japanese Studies, Food, and East Asian Studies channels. There's a list of my episodes here. I recommend starting with: 

They'll blow your mind a little...

I contribute to the University of Pennsylvania's linguistics blog, Language Log. There, I write about Japanese-language-related topics such as cat tongues, shitshows, and doggy nationalism. Similarly, I write for the Recipes Project academic blog for "Food, Magic, Art, Science, and Medicine." Sadly, not so much magic or art in my posts, but plenty of food,  science, and medicine.

I also do interviews on topics such as the linguistic history of Pokemon, KFC and Christmas, gunboat diplomacy and shaved ice, and of course, cat tongues (in Norwegian, too). Apparently, I'm an expert?

 

Teaching

At UiB, I teach all levels of undergraduate Japanese, as well as Japanese history and research methods for the Japanese studies program

From fall 2023, we will also have an MA program, where I will focus on Japanese history (JAS302, JAS304). I welcome inquiries from prospective MA and PhD studnets interested in working on topics in and around my areas of expertise. These include modern and contemporary Japanese history, food studies, STS, and (especially the intersections of) intellectual and cultural history. Please take a look at my publications for a better idea of what that means.

Publications
Book review
Academic article
Academic anthology/Conference proceedings
Academic chapter/article/Conference paper

See a complete overview of publications in Cristin.

Single-Author Works

2025. “School Lunches (Kyūshoku): Discipline and Nourish.” Japan Food Handbook, edited by Nancy K. Stalker. MHM.

2025. “Kondō Toshiko’s Rootwork: Nutritionists, Gender, and Public Health in Japan, 1936-1940.” In Women and Medicine in Modern Japan: Sources and Critique, edited by Hiro Fujimoto, Aya Homei, and Ellen Nakamura. Routledge.

2024. “Nutritionists in Japan as a Professional Elite, 1914-1964.” In Professional Elites of Modern Japan, edited by Aleksandra Kobiljski and Nicolas Fiévé. Bibliothèque de l’Institut des Hautes Études Japonaises du Collège de France. Collège de France.

2023. “‘Humans Bring Food to Their Mouths, Animals Bring Their Mouths to Food’: The Morality Politics of School-Lunch Sporks in 1970s Japan.” Food and Foodways 31 (1): 1–21.

2021b. “Say Ohm: Japanese Electric Bread and the Joy of Panko.” The Recipes Project. June 5, 2021.

2021a. “Women, Waste, and War: Food, Gender, and Rationalization in Wartime Japanese Discourse.” In Gender and Food in Contemporary East Asia, edited by Jooyeon Rhee, Chikako Nagayama, and Eric Li, 15–38. Lexington Books.

2020d. “Ingrained Habits: The ‘Kitchen Cars’ and the Transformation of Postwar Japanese Diet and Identity.” Food, Culture & Society 23 (5): 589–607.

2020c. “Meals on Wheels: The ‘Kitchen Cars’ and American Recipes for the Postwar Japanese Diet.” The Recipes Project. October 12, 2020.

2020b. “Pulverized Food to Pulverize the Enemy!” The Recipes Project. April 16, 2020.

2020a. “Eiyō shidōsha (kitchin kā): Amerika nōsanbutsu to sengo Nihon no shokuseikatsu hensen.” JunCture, no. 11: 30–45.

2019c. “‘Daily Recipes for Home Cooking’ (1924).” The Recipes Project. April 4, 2019.

2019b. “The ‘Nutrition Song’: Imperial Japan’s Recipe for National Nutrition.” The Recipes Project. January 15, 2019.

2019a. “Nutrition as National Defense: Japan’s Imperial Government Institute for Nutrition, 1920-1940.” Journal of Japanese Studies 45 (1): 1–29.

2018d. “Хенкё Такахаси Томио: восточные Востоки и западные Запады.” Translated by Rastyam Aliev. Journal of Frontier Studies 4 (12).

2018c. “‘Fake Food: Authentic Japanese Product’—On the Rise of Visuality in Middlebrow Japanese Culinary Culture.” Japan Forum 31 (2): 1–18.

2018b. “‘A Bad Peace?’ – The 1937 Nagoya Pan-Pacific Peace Exhibition.” Japanese Studies 38 (2): 137–51.

2018a. “Takahashi Tomio’s Henkyō, The Universal Japanese Frontier (An Interpretation).” Verge: Studies in Global Asias 4 (1): 85–109.

2017. Ennobling Japan’s Savage Northeast: Tōhoku as Postwar Thought, 1945-2011. Harvard University Asia Center.

2016. “Christopher Noss’ Tohoku and ‘Survey of Rural Fukushima’: Portraits of Tōhoku a Century Before March 11, 2011.” Asian Cultural Studies, no. 42 (Spring): 139–51.

2014b. “Takahashi Tomio’s Phoenix: Recuperating Hiraizumi, 1950–71.” Journal of Japanese Studies 40 (2): 353–77.

2014a. “Takahashi Tomio’s Henkyō: Eastern Easts and Western Wests.” Japan Review, no. 27: 141–70.

2013b. “Systems of Irresponsibility and Japan’s Internal Colony.” The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus 11 (52).

2013a. “Sengo shisō to shite no Tōhoku: Takahashi Tomio o chūshin ni.” In Gurōbaruka no naka no Nihonshizō: "Chōki no 19 seiki o ikita chiiki, edited by Namikawa Kenji and Kawanishi Hidemichi. Iwata Shoin.

Translations and Coauthored Works

Maxson Hillary. 2020. “Kakeibo to gendai Nihon no katei ryōri no seiritsu.” Translated by Nathan Hopson. JunCture, no. 11 (March): 46–57.

Hopson, Nathan, and Ran Zwigenberg. 2018. “Can the Frontier Write Back?Verge: Studies in Global Asias 4 (1): vi–xv.

Yamamuro, Shin’ichi. 2017. “The Philosophy and Possibilities of An Chunggŭn’s Unfinished On Peace in the East.” In Peace in the East: An Chunggŭn’s Vision for Asia in the Age of Japanese Imperialism, edited by Eugene Park and Tae-Jin Yi, translated by Nathan Hopson, 177–99. Lexington Books.

Sasagawa, Norikatsu. 2017. “An Chunggŭn and the Political Philosophy of Immanuel Kant.” In Peace in the East: An Chunggŭn’s Vision for Asia in the Age of Japanese Imperialism, edited by Eugene Park and Tae-Jin Yi, translated by Nathan Hopson, 111–30. Lexington Books.

Projects

Conference Organizing
I am organizing the “Translation as Method in Japanese Studies” (22-23 February 2024) workshop as the second event commemorating the inauguration of our MA in Japanese Studies. The participants, Aya Homei (Manchester), Hiro Fujimoto and Hans Martin Krämer (Heidelberg), Sayaka Chatani (NUS), and Ruselle Meade (Cardiff) all have experience with translation to and/or from Japanese for both research and teaching. The AM lectures are open to the public. The PM sessions will be practicums for our MA students.

 

Research
My main long-term project is a book manuscript on the social history of nutrition science in Japan, 1910s-1980s. In addition to several articles published in recent years, I am working on several articles and chapters that will contribute to this monograph.

In December 2023, I will complete an article on Japanese conspiracy theories about the “Americanization” or “Westernization” of the national diet since 1945. I am especially interested in the role of the “collaborator” or “traitor” in the moral politics of conspiracism.

In March 2023, I will present new research on a yearlong rural nutrition improvement pilot program in the hamlet of Taido, Gunma prefecture in 1932. While intended as a showcase for Japan’s world-leading national nutrition optimization program, I will argue that it was in fact a demonstration of the limits of governmental nutritional activism.

Next, I will finish off an article about school lunches in the 1960s and 1970s, the decade in which the contents and practices of the school lunch program became both practically universal and uniform. This article focuses on a set of primary sources from the city of Nagoya, where I lived and worked 2014-2021.

In addition, I have been invited to contribute a chapter to the edited volume Women and Medicine in Modern Japan, to be published in 2025. This chapter will expand on my earlier work on the history of nutritionists in modern Japan. I will be translating and analyzing a chapter from the memoir of one of the most interesting and influential nutritionists in Japanese history, Kondō Toshiko (1913-2008). Kondō was arrested several times as a communist activist and expelled from of one of Japan’s top women’s colleges before graduating from the world’s first nutritionist training college, interning at the Tokyo Hygiene Institute, and becoming Japan’s first factory nutritionist. After WWII, Kondō became one of the most influential figures shaping the modern Japanese diet, working in the health ministry’s Nutrition Section (1948-1953) before founding the Nutrition Improvement Promotion Association. There, she promoted the tricolor nutrition education system for children now promoted by the Japanese government.