Veronika SchäpersYoko Tawada

Okonomiyaki (Fried As You Like)

Veronika Schäpers, Yoko Tawada

Okonomiyaki (Fried As You Like)



Edition Size



Hand-painting, Letterpress


Accordion, Custom box


Artist Book


8.25 × 8 in


Tokyo, Japan

$ 2,500.00


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Bibliothek der Freie Universitat Berlin

Bibliotheque Nationale de France

Boston Athenaeum

Carleton College

Deutsche Nationalbibliothek

Herzog August Bibiothek

Multnomah County Public Library

Reed College

Stanford University

Swarthmore College

The University of the Witwatersrand, Wits Art Museum (WAM), Jack Ginsberg Centre for Book Arts

University of Basel

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), William Andrews Clark Library

Washington University in St. Louis

Letterpress by polymer plates in German and Japanese on Bicchu-Ganpi paper. Illustrated with sauce-patterns printed by letterpress (German edition). Illustrated with original drawings by Veronika Schäpers with a mixture of glue and ink (Japanese edition). Accordion fold. Two sheets of oiled paper printed with calligraphies by the lantern workshop Oshimaya-Onda, Tokyo. Transparent acrylic box with title. 32 pages (D), respectively 6 pages (J). 21 x 20 cm (D), respectively 20 x 20 cm (J). Edition of 32 Arabic numbered and 6 Roman numbered copies. Tokyo, 2010.

Okonomiyaki – the name of this popular Japanese dish could be translated into “fried as you like”. But the text of the Japanese author Yoko Tawada is not a cooking recipe, but an accumulation of text fragments that can be mixed freely like the ingredients of an okonomiyaki, put into new order, or even be omitted partially – just as you like.  When explaining her text, Yoko Tawada even calls her «okonomiyaki principle» a new genre in which she has written more pieces since; for example in her opening speech of the exhibition がさごそ[gasagoso] at the Japanese-German Center Berlin (Oct. 2010), where the book was shown for the first time.

“The idea for this book came up when I met Tawada at the New York Public Library where both of us were invited for a symposium (Ehon – The Artist and the Book in Japan, New York Public Library, 2006/2007) Shortly before we met, I had read an essay of hers titled «Wohnen in Japan» (Living in Japan) in which she describes the following:

Sushi, which symbolizes light and luxurious simplicity, clarity and health, represents Japanese cuisine in the U.S. and Europe. Although this dish is popular in Japan as well, it shows only one aspect of the multifaceted cuisine, and it is easy to find Japanese dishes that juxtapose the aesthetics of Sushi, like for example Katsu-Kare (Schnitzel on rice, served with curry sauce), Pizza-Manju (Chinese dumplings, filled with various Pizza ingredients), or the pancake-like okonomiyaki, for which you can use almost all ingredients you like. Mayonnaise, brown sauce and seaweed powder are combined as well as tuna and filet steak. This pancake tastes much better than you would think, and in Japan, it is more popular than Sushi.

It is not the case that mainly rich people, critical intellectuals or the young avantgarde eat sushi, whereas the pancake is food for rather simple people. Also, it is wrong to say that sushi represents “good old tradition”, where other dishes derive from “bad foreign influence”. The anthropologist Kunio Yanagita says that modern sushi – like many other Japanese dishes as well – has no long tradition at all, because food in Tokyo has changed drastically in the last 100 years. People in Tokyo were always keen to try new tastes and implement them into their own cuisine (Yoko Tawada: Wohnen in Japan (Living in Japan); in her essay collection «Nach Japan», pp. 248ff, Konkursbuch Verlag, Tübingen 2007).

The theme of this essay is the idealistic and blurred perception of the Japanese Culture in other countries, and after reading it, I invited Yoko Tawada to create an okonomiyaki book together. Okonomiyaki in the first place stood as a synonym for cultural misunderstandings. Tawada, who has been living in Germany since 1982 and writes in German as well as in Japanese, in my eyes was the perfect author for this subject, because she knows both cultures very well and is not tempted to write polemically about each other’s misunderstandings. But even though we decided to work together, it took us another three years until the book was finally completed.

Every fragment of the text is allocated to one ingredient an okonomiyaki is made of. I started to work with patterns that appear when you pour sauce and mayonnaise over a fried okonomiyaki. Everyone has his own method of pouring the sauce like simple spiral forms, subtle lines, or even comic strip-like characters. I made a mixture of glue and ink which has the texture of the popular Japanese Kewpie mayonnaise and filled it in an empty bottle of this brand. Then, I asked friends to paint their patterns on a 30 x 30 cm sized card board, so I got a wide range of variations. I transferred these patterns into polymer plates and printed them on very smooth and shiny Bicchu-Ganpi paper. Every pattern faces a detail of an enlargement which brings the ‹sauce-patterns› onto a new aesthetical level. The blue-black printed pages are overlaid by another layer of Bicchu-Ganpi with a circle printed in transparent white resembling the moon or an okonomiyaki – according to the theme of cultural misunderstandings. Because of the fine paper and the delicate colors, the reader may on the first hand think of the moon, but reading the text fragments printed on the fold of each doublespread, the picture of an okonomiyaki arises. This impression is also mirrored in the layering of the papers since the okonomiyaki is a dish in which there are not only plenty of ingredients mixed, but also layered on top of each other.

The theme of layering is also shown in the Japanese edition. The Japanese text (which is not a translation of the German one) consists of fifteen fragments like its German counterpart, each of them belonging to the same expressions as in the German text. Nevertheless, Tawada’s associations differ, which shows her different way of thinking and feeling in both cultures and languages.

The Japanese frangments are printed one by one; I fold the paper in a way that every fragment is placed in a single box pleat. The transparent white ink is seen as a single strip appearing from time to time between the text-fragments. The sauce-patterns are not printed by polymer plates like in the German edition, but painted directly onto the paper with the same glue-ink mixture I used for the boards.

Both editions are composed of the same «ingredients»: fifteen text-fragments, Bicchu-Ganpi paper, letterpress in black and transparent white, the O-shape, box pleats and sauce-patterns; but the outcome is very different – just okonomi!

The third part of the book consists of two sheets of oiled paper printed with a Japanese calligraphy. The original was painted by the owner of a traditional lantern manufacture in Asakusa, Tokyo. In this workshop, paper lanterns for restaurants are made and painted. These lanterns are hanging in front of restaurants with traditional food and the guest can see by the sign on the lantern what kind of dish is served inside. The font is an old fashioned Edo moji, and on the oiled sheets, you can read «Yoko Tawada» and «Okonomiyaki». The yellow, smelly paper evokes the odor which one finds stuck to his clothes after spending some time in an okonomiyaki restaurant.

All three parts of the book are protected by fold cardboard jackets and put together in an acrylic box printed with a matted circle shape and the title in German and Japanese.”

— Veronika Schäpers