The “Japanese Turn” in Fine Dining in the United States

I decided to call what I was finding the “Japanese turn,” which I define as follows: First, the Japanese turn was an extended historical moment that began in the 1970s and lasted through 2018 when Japanese cooks became a presence at many haute cuisine restaurants in Europe and Japanese cuisine influenced fine dining in France and the United States. Second, the Japanese turn was first manifested in France in the 1970s, then in Los Angeles and New York City in the 1980s, and developed further in the 1990s and early 2000s, spreading to the Bay Area as well. Third, the Japanese turn began just as fine dining was being redefined by nouvelle cuisine, the “new cuisine” that emerged in France in the 1960s and 1970s, and by the several regional cuisines it spawned in the United States in the 1980s and 1990s. This reimagining of fine dining in Europe and the United States “opened the door to Asia,” as historian Paul Freedman put it, and thus enabled the “Japanese turn.” Now, in the twenty-first century, Japanese culinary influence can be found at many top fine-dining establishments in these cities.

From “The ‘Japanese Turn’ in Fine Dining in the United States, 1980-2020,” Gastronomica (2020)


Popular Japanese Responses to the Pearl Harbor Attack

At seven in the morning on December 8, 1941, Japanese sitting down to breakfast heard the following radio broadcast: “An Imperial Army and Navy Headquarters announcement: At six in the morning on December 8, our imperial country’s army and navy forced initiated hostilities with American and British forces in the Western Pacific.” Needless to say, the news came as a surprise, but it also had another, unexpected effect.

After four and a half years of a seemingly unending war in China and months of frustrating negotiations with the United States . . . the news of the attack offered a sense of relief. Forty-one-year-old Sakamoto Tane, who lived in Kōchi, a port city on the island of Shikoku, expressed those feelings in her diary when she wrote, “At long last the war has started.”

At 11:00 a.m. an imperial rescript formally declaring war on America, Britain, and their allies was issued, followed by a huge, spontaneous response. In many cities, people made their way to local shrines to pray for victory, and this went on for several days.

People were suddenly interested in the news again, as shown in what happened in Yokohama: five hundred people applied to register their new radios, and seventy brought in radios needing repair, their dials broken from continuous twisting and turning for better reception. Furthermore, many Yokohama-ites also felt sure the enemy would start bombing Japanese cities. The Yūrindō Bookstore reported that “a lot of books on air defense were sold,” and a local department store “did a brisk business in air goods, metal helmets, and the like.”

From “Popular Japanese Responses to the Pearl Harbor Attack, December 8, 1941 to January 8, 1942” in Beth Bailey and David Farber, eds., Beyond Pearl Harbor: A Pacific History (2019)


Hawai’i Regional Cuisine

The Hawai’i Regional Cuisine chefs’ agreement to buy local was revolutionary. It called into question how they had viewed their own culinary productions and became a new way of looking at food and their relationship with the land and sea and with those who worked the land and who fished in local waters. This agreement also meant not relying on the big wholesalers that supplied restaurants and hotels….

In addition, the August 1991 meeting led to the acceptance of the term “Hawai’i Regional Cuisine.” The group considered “Hawaiian Regional Cuisine,” but Sam Choy, the only part-Hawaiian in the group, reminded them that the descriptor “Hawaiian” refers to the indigenous cuisine and could not be appropriated. After much discussion, the chefs settled on “Hawai’i Regional Cuisine (HRC),” which emerged just as regional cuisines in other parts of the country were gaining recognition….

The emergence of Hawai’i Regional Cuisine was revolutionary in a third way. The presence of Sam Choy, Alan Wong, and Roy Yamaguchi at the first meeting represented a frontal challenge to the long-standing racial hierarchies that had elevated Caucasian chefs who had come to the islands from Europe and the mainland and had subordinated non-Caucasians.

From Hawai’i Regional Cuisine: The Food Movement That Changed the Way Hawai’i Eats (2019)


Popular Resistance in Wartime Japan

Popular resistance clearly existed in wartime Japan. Most ordinary Japanese had reservations about their government’s policies, and many actively resisted the power that government agencies exercised over their daily lives and devised tactics to thwart the small army of officials and police. Their resistance assumed different forms. First, it expressed itself as visceral, and often violent, reactions to the rules and regulations that affected them. Those offended reacted to the rules and regulations that deprived them of small pleasures: cigarettes, saké, seasonal delicacies such as matsutake mushrooms, and sweetfish. They resisted their neighborhood associations’ demands that they see off conscripts from their communities, that they line up for the distribution of food and other commodities, that they rehearse fire drills, and so forth. And they complained constantly about the ever-dwindling supplies of food. Popular resistance also assumed the form of heartfelt concerns about government policy and military strategy, concerns that became huge anxieties after Italy and Germany surrendered. Resistance also came in the form of hopes that “defeat” or even “surrender” would bring an end to the privations, suffering, and carnage. Finally, popular resistance also assumed the form of strong emotional reactions to war news like the reports of the collective suicides of Japanese troops at Attu, Saipan, Iwo Jima, and other battle sites and, in the last year of the war, to the news of the “special attacks” by navy and army pilots flying into enemy ships.

From Daily Life in Wartime Japan, 1940-1945 (2015)


Controlling Vengeful Feelings

A warrior could apply for permission to carry out a vendetta. All he had to do was apply to the appropriate Tokugawa official if he lived in a Tokugawa territory or to the appropriate domain office if he lived elsewhere. On his application he gave his name, social status, home address, and age. It was understood that only the relatives and underlings of those being avenged would be allowed to carry out a vendetta. It also was understood that the vendetta could not take place at temples or shrines, on the grounds of the shogun’s castle in Edo, and other designated locations.

Vendetta applications were usually approved. When a warrior’s application was approved, he was expected to carry out the vendetta and then to report to the authorities that he had done so. They then checked to make sure that he had done what he said he had done, that he had not harmed anyone beside his target, and that he had not damaged the property of others.

The first vendetta to be registered and carried out involved a brothel owner named Katsura Sakanoe, who had attacked the maternal grandparents of the warriors Soga Kyūnosuke and Miura Jūgoro. The two men registered with the Kyoto magistrate and killed Katsura on July 15, 1639.

Vendettas were not always successful. On average, they took three years to execute, and sometimes longer. One in 1670 took twenty years and, many years later, another took fifty-three years. Sometimes the avenger was driven away or killed. And occasionally the avenger became the target of another vendetta, although this was prohibited. The vendetta was to stop after the original target was killed. And if the avenger had to give up—because his target died, he ran out of money, or he lost heart—he needed official permission to end the vendetta.

From “Vendettas and the Tokugawa Order” (2008)


Using Diaries to Reconstruct the Past

At first glance, we might think that diaries give historians exactly what they need. After all, they tell us how ordinary Japanese felt about the war, their government, their military, and their enemy. Isn’t this what historians want and need? The diaries give us an abundance of what philosopher Arthur Danto calls “true descriptions of the world.” A “true description,” as Danto defines it, would be a statement like the following from Hisako Yoshizawa’s diary: “Just before two o’clock, an air-raid warning sounded, and a bombing raid followed.” But Danto points out that historians always configure “true descriptions” and that their configurations are their representations of the facts contained in each “true description.” So Danto might say of those of us who use wartime Japanese diaries in our research that we necessarily configure the “true descriptions” contained in these diaries, that this is how we make sense of what we read, that this is what “gives us access” to the wartime Japanese. Frank Ankersmit, one of Danto’s contemporary interpreters, reminds us that when we configure the true descriptions in wartime Japanese diaries and generate a representation of, say, Japanese home-front life during the war, we do something that the writers of the diaries could never “do themselves” because these diarists were not aware of “their own representations of the world.” Moreover, when we “enclose” wartime Japanese in our “representations,” to use Ankersmit’s term, we also “distance” them because our “representations have no counterpart in how they experience[d] their lives and the world.” To say that our “representations have no counterpart in how [wartime Japanese] experience[d] their lives and the world” seems paradoxical. What Danto and Ankersmit are saying is that no matter how hard we try to recover the wartime experiences of ordinary Japanese, we historians are destined to fail. That is, our “everyday history of wartime Japan” is necessarily our version of the everyday history of wartime Japan, a voice-over that drowns out the voices of ordinary Japanese.

From “Writing the Everyday History of Wartime Japan” (2007)


August 9, 1945

The same sort of strange bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima three days ago was dropped on Nagasaki today, and it was wiped out. This bomb possesses extraordinary power. Photographs showed that the Chinese ideographs written in black on signs at train stations had burned, and it was explained that white things wouldn’t burn. Up to now, we’ve been ordered not to wear white garments, not even when it was hot, because they were easy for enemy planes to see. Now we’re warned not to wear black garments because they burn easily. So what in the world is safe for us to wear? We don’t know anymore. The thought of a single aircraft destroying a large city in an instant is driving us to nervous breakdowns and I feel as though I have no choice but to die or go crazy. I can’t help but hate those responsible for placing human beings in this situation and continuing the war. At this point, continuing the war will save neither us nor our country. When one comes to this point and when those responsible realize that they have no escape and contemplate the punishments they will surely receive, I believe they will continue the war because they simply don’t know whether or not fighting until the last Japanese falls is a good idea. In this country, where human morality is based on the relationship between masters and followers, we submit to our leaders’ will and simply do as we are told. Because ours is a country in which each person lacks any kind of individuality and because our citizenry doesn’t realize that they themselves have the power to revere their own individuality, we have fought this unprofitable war right up to the present, muttering all the while, “We will win, we will win.” At the very start of the war, Japanese declared in unison, “Today we take pride in our good fortune to be born a Japanese.” I myself could only lament “my misfortune at being born a Japanese today.”

From the diary of Aiko Takahashi, a Tokyo housewife, in Leaves from an Autumn of Emergencies: Selections from the Wartime Diaries of Ordinary Japanese (2005)


Joe DiMaggio Arrives in the Hawaiian Islands

During World War II, the military fielded several teams across the country. In fact, baseball was so big in wartime Hawai’i that when the ship that brought Joe DiMaggio to Honolulu docked, a car was there to rush him to Honolulu Stadium, where 30,000 local fans were patiently waiting. The Seventh Army Air Force was playing Navy SubBase. Joe quickly changed into a Seventh Army Air Force uniform and stepped up to the plate and hit a towering 435-foot blast over the left field fence and right out of the stadium. What Joe didn’t know was that he was there because Bridgadier General William Flood was sick and tired of seeing the Seventh Army Air Force team get whipped.

Joe was one of four major leaguers that Flood imported to play on his team, and there were nearly three dozen major leaguers playing for military teams in Hawai’i. The Yankees were well represented. In addition to Joe, there was Red Ruffing, the coal miner’s son from Nokomis, Illinois, who had pitched the Yankees to victory in the 1939 World Series but who was having problems with his pitching arm and his drinking. Joe Gordon, a slugging second baseman who actually outhit Joe in the dismal 1942 season was there, as was a newcomer, the diminutive Phil “Scooter” Rizzuto, who later became the voice of the Yankees. There were others: Joe’s younger brother Dom; Hugh Casey, who pitched for the Brooklyn Dodgers; and Wally Judnich, who played for the Browns. Two other baseball greats were there: Johnny Mize, the slugging first baseman of the St. Louis Cardinals, and Harold Henry “Pee Wee” Reese, the wide-ranging shortstop for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

The various military teams, with their major leaguers, played one another and the other teams in the Hawai’i Baseball League—the racialized league that included the Rising Suns, the Chinese Tigers, the Braves, and the Wanderers—much to the delight of local fans. Can you imagine going to a game at your hometown ballpark to see Pee Wee Reese, Johnny Mize, Joe Gordon, Joe DiMaggio, and others play? At it turned out, Joe didn’t play much. He had an ulcer that sent him to the hospital several times during his stay in the islands, and he also missed and worried about his estranged wife Dorothy and his son, Joe Jr.

From “While Joe DiMaggio Played Under Hawaiian Skies…” (1999)


“The wrinkle at the edge of his eyes, behind his spectacles.”

There are many ways to read a novel like Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient. We might ask, Who is Michael Ondaatje? and read the novel in the light of what we learn about him—his age, social origins, ethnicity, education, and career as a writer. We also might ask, When and where did he write the novel? and try to flesh out its context. We might inquire, too, about Ondaatje’s audience and ask, Whom was he writing for? Knowing his audience might explain why he wrote what he did and in the way he did. And we can ask, What can one say about the language of The English Patient? What is its literary geneaology? What are its models and precursors? What texts does it echo, invoke, or subvert? What cultural codes, philosophies, or religions does it use? And finally, we might ask, What does the novel tell us about power? That is, what does it tell us about the relationships of particular individuals, men and women, different ethnic groups and classes, and the practices, ideologies, and institutions that allow some to dominate others? Which individuals and groups does the novel seem to affirm or, as the case may be, slight or deny?

When I was thinking about what I would say tonight, I considered asking these questions but decided to take a different tack. What helped me decide was the way that The English Patient ends.

And so Hana moves and her face turns and in a regret she lowers her hair. Her shoulder touches the edge of a cupboard and a glass dislodges. Kirpal’s left hand swoops down and catches the dropped fork an inch from the floor and gently passes it into the fingers of his daughter, a wrinkle at the edge of his eyes behind his spectacles.

In a final brilliant act of illusionism, Ondaatje brings Hana and Kip together: Hana pushes a glass off the edge of a cupboard and Kip extends his hand to catch it, but what he catches is not the glass but the fork his young daughter has dropped. Fourteen years have passed since Kip rode off on his motorbike, and nearly as long since Hana gave up trying to reach him. They are living in different places and in different worlds and can meet only on the pages of a novel and in our minds as readers. Perhaps this explains the “wrinkle at the edge of . . . [Kip’s] eyes behind his spectacles,” a wrinkle that I read as a wink and a signal from Ondaatje that The English Patient is not what it seems.

From “The Ex-sapper’s Wink” (1997)


On Eccentrics

You contend that eccentrics are hard to handle, and your misgivings are understandable. Being unfamiliar with the nature of human emotions and social customs, you worry about the damage that eccentrics might do; in fact, you are obsessed with this issue. You should realize that this is the result of your not being fully educated and lacking broad perspective. As long as you are unable to get past this barrier, you will never be able to govern the province.

An eccentric is like an unruly horse. As long as you fail to quiet it, you will be too nervous to mount it. This is natural. Even if you succeed in mounting this horse, you will sit there unsure that you have the means to control it. There will be stable hands and horse dealers who have no trouble mounting unruly steeds, but even they can hardly be said to have mastered every equestrian technique. Even if they had, it might not matter, as horses are active creatures and one never knows how wild they will be. Your problem is that you have a tendency to worry, and this may be why things are not going well. If you broke in an unruly horse, you would realize that there is no need to worry. Unless you are willing to be thrown many times, you will never be able to mount unruly steeds.

You observed that today people are given to scolding others for their failings and thus work at eliminating their own. They are convinced that they cannot afford to put eccentrics in the wrong positions, and they complain that eccentrics are hard to employ. If one is unwilling to be thrown, one will never be able to mount a horse. Similarly, if one is unwilling to make the mistake of putting eccentrics in the wrong positions, one will never be able to use their talent.

From Master Sorai’s Responsals: An Annotated Translation of  Sorai sensei tōmonsho (1995)