Discover Japanese Gastronomy Through The Solitary Gourmet Manga


WordsManon Baeza

Winning hearts since 2005, the Solitary Gourmet has become a firm favourite among fans of manga and Japanese gastronomy alike. Conceived by Masayuki Kusumi, the lead character comes to life at the hands of illustrator Jiro Taniguchi, best known for his numerous works that combine genres from westerns to literary adaptations or animal sagas. 

The Solitary Gourmet takes the form of an album of black and white drawings following its main character through various restaurants. We know very little about this mysterious figure, not even his name, however we can deduce that he works in commerce, and is almost certainly an independent businessman. Throughout the story we see him stopping here and there to eat, seemingly unworried and unrushed, from Tokyo to Osaka and Takasaki.  

Wherever he finds himself, this businessman always manages to find quirky spots where he indulges in all aspects of hearty, working class cuisine. The duration of a meal is almost ritualistic, appreciating his solitude and the silence that surrounds him. Each Japanese speciality brings back forgotten memories or gives way to new veins of thought, enriched over time. His journey through food also allows him to travel in time, to access his student years, or to think of his wife that he so loved before she left him to return to France. These memories are almost all we know about the protagonist. This recurring nostalgia for the past gives way to a mystical atmosphere giving the narrative a certain melancholy. 

An atypical novel, the Solitary Gourmet is an homage to Japanese culinary traditions. At each gargantuan meal, Taniguchi recounts a new story and creates a new atmosphere unique to the local area. Almost like a tourist guide, it is through his depictions of the city that we learn of the frenzy of the Hyakken-dana road in Shibuya, the numerous businesses that line Akihabara, the wild industrialisation of Ginza and the corner shops of Tokyo; the only place where we ever hear our protagonist moan about prices. 

Each story illustrates the numerous dishes in minute detail, whetting our appetite through travel. Seemingly spinning out of control during each meal, the character’s orders always seem to be excessive and often end with a cigarette. As a sort of ode to the Japanese art of living, Solitary Gourmet celebrates moments of solitude in this ultra connected epoch. 

Adored by both food fans and those passionate about Japanese culture, this book is celebrated by both local and international readers and has become a key work for understanding Japan, its food and its people. It reads as a tasty ode to melancholy. 

A celebration of Japanese gastronomy, this work of art plays into the hands of a Western obsession with Japan’s food. The story was adapted into a TV series which has long been popular in Japan. Unfortunately, this show is not available abroad but another series by Masayuki Kusumi, “Samurai Gourmet” was picked up by Netflix. Its story also follows a man’s culinary discoveries but this time with the addition of a samurai character for a humorous touch. Time to binge!